One of the most enjoyable parts of fitness is seeing ourselves improve. For every single person in our gym (and the world), there was a day where they could not do a push-up or run a mile. Whether you accomplished those goals as a child, at 50, or are working on getting them for the first time, the achievements along the way and the end goal make the efforts you put in as an athlete all the more enjoyable!
There is a thing that looms over all of our heads though…is there a day where that stops? I mean NFL players retire, the elderly definitely don’t move as fast as they used to, and that dreaded knowledge of aging creeps into our minds. But, is there actually an age limit on getting stronger?
The Answers That Satisfy The Child In All of Us:
Well, at least my inner child.
The place where our heads usually go is more of the “when are we at our strongest?” And, while that answer is gonna be “it depends,” there are some markers that we can kind of go with.
For speed, the average sprinter in the Olympics is 26.2 years old in the past 2 events, while the oldest to ever medal is 40 years old! On top of that, Usain Bolt got his final gold medal at 31 years old.
For power we look to the sport of Strongman where the average age of an athlete is 30 years old and competitors can get all the way into their 50s before hanging up the wraps.
To cover the other side of power, the average power lifter is 34 years old with the oldest person to hit a competition lift was 100 year old (and yes they were from Florida).
While looking at these ages, it is pretty clear that our late 30s is where we peak on average, but it doesn’t mean that the strength is gone!
Let’s Talk Science
I’m you noticed a pattern in those ages we talked about, we tend to hit our peak power in our late 20s to early 30s. The reason being is that is around the time our production of testosterone starts to drop off. In-fact, the average adult loses 3-5% of their muscle mass every decade!
Now, take a moment to analyze what I just said. The production of testosterone drops off, it doesn’t stop! This is why you see athletes still able to compete well past that 50 year old mark!
Testosterone is a fantastic hormone that helps synthesize muscle in our bodies. The reduced production of this hormone just means that it takes longer to recover from activities and in turn makes it harder for us to build strength over time, since our muscle is synthesized during rest.
Another thing to note is our muscle fiber composition. Our muscles are made up of 3 different muscle fibers. Type 1 fibers (long distance and high repetition movement) are our most abundant fibers and the easiest to repair! Type 2a (workhorse strength; moving weight form point A to point B over time) would be our second most abundant on average and require a bit more time to recover as they are thicker muscle fibers than Type 1. Lastly, we have Type 2b fibers (explosive movements such as jumping, sprinting, and throwing), these are our largest muscle fibers and they run out of energy quite quickly; making them the hardest fibers to recover and rebuild. If you look at these muscle fibers and compare their uses to the actions needed to perform a sport, you can see why the age drop off is sooner for a sport like sprinting (running very fast for a short amount of time) than for a sport like strongman (moving large loads over the time span of a minute.
On top of this, since you can build type 2a muscle fibers more easily, you can build your lifting numbers over a much longer period of your life than something like sprinting. That’s why we have the phrase “Old-Man Strength!”
Strength Gains Are For All Ages
While we may say goodbye to our peak threshold for power at around the age of 30, that is really only a concern to elite athletes! The rest of us have other passions and goals that we rather pursue and we want to build strength to enjoy those passions to their fullest!
Even though our testosterone production slows over time, we still have it and plenty of it! All we have to do is perform strength building movements 3 or more times per week, like our athletes do here at Vegvisir, and focus on building a good recovery routine! (That means going to bed on time without distractions, sleeping 7-9 quality hours of sleep in a dark room, eating healthy, and taking time to enjoy life).
Over time that will result in strength gains! And, if one day you hit a plateau on one lift, that’s alright and is gonna happen! The beauty of CrossFit is that you can just focus on building strength in another movement and round out your fitness abilities!
If you prioritize your health and keep up your fitness routines, who knows, maybe it’ll be your grandchildren cheering you on as you become the first person to compete in a powerlifting meet at the age of 101!