Strong regions and physical barriers in soils may slow root elongation, leading to reduced water and nutrient uptake and decreased yield. In this study, the biomechanical responses of roots to axial mechanical forces were assessed by combining 3D live imaging, kinematics and a novel mechanical sensor. This system quantified Young’s elastic modulus of intact poplar roots (32MPa), a rapid <0.2 mN touch-elongation sensitivity, and the critical elongation force applied by growing roots that resulted in bending. Kinematic analysis revealed a multiphase bio-mechanical response of elongation rate and curvature in 3D. Measured critical elongation force was accurately predicted from an Euler buckling model, indicating that no biologically mediated accommodation to mechanical forces influenced bending during this short period of time. Force applied by growing roots increased more than 15-fold when buckling was prevented by lateral bracing of the root. The junction between the growing and the mature zones was identified as a zone of mechanical weakness that seemed critical to the bending process. This work identified key limiting factors for root growth and buckling under mechanical constraints. The findings are relevant to crop and soil sciences, and advance our understanding of root growth in heterogeneous structured soils.