Which Masters Sport Performance Gets Worse with Age?

A recent study from the Experimental Aging Research asked the question: Of the 6 sports, which had the greatest decline in performance with age?

  1. Athletics (Track and Field)
  2. Swimming
  3. Rowing
  4. Cycling
  5. Triathlon
  6. Weightlifting

I’ve heard several people claim endurance events are easier to maintain while it’s a known fact that sprinters lose speed over the years.

Decathletes like Kip Janvrin (who holds the icosathlon world record) who was still competitive at 40 years old said that the high jump was his worse event.  Somehow with age, there was no more ”pop” in his legs!

And I know many men over 50 go for their testosterone shots every three weeks.  Luckily, they don’t compete and don’t have drug testing.

But the last line of the study says it all:

There may be real physiological differences for these strength events, or there may be other explanations such as training or competitive considerations or smaller numbers participating.

The full study was Aging performance for masters records in Athletics, Swimming, Rowing, Cycling, Triathlon, and Weightlifting (Baker AB, Tang YQ) Department of Anaesthesia, University of Sydney at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia (Exp Aging Res. 2010 Oct;36(4):453-77)

Here is the abstract, and I put the emphasis (and answers) in bold:

Abstract

Record performances for Masters sporting events for swimming, cycling, triathlon, rowing, and weightlifting were analyzed and then compared with the authors’ previously published results for Masters running, walking, and jumping sports events. Records were normalized using the 30s age records as a baseline, and studied through the various age ranges to the 90s. A curvilinear mathematical model [y = 1 – exp((T – T(0))/?)] was again used for the major comparisons, along with slope changes using a linear model [y = ?(T -T’0)] across the age groupings.

All sports declined with increasing age, with rowing showing the least deterioration.

Performances in running, swimming, and walking were reasonably well maintained, followed by greater decline with age for cycling, triathlon, and jumping events.

Weightlifting showed the fastest and greatest decline with increasing age. The relative performances for women, when compared with men’s performances for these Masters events, was approximately 80% to 85%, with jumping at 73% and weightlifting at 52%. These relative performances compared with World Record comparisons of approximately 90% (with weightlifting at approximately 75%).

All these results show no greater decline with age for endurance events over the sprint events, though there was a greater decline for the strength events of weightlifting and jumping.

There may be real physiological differences for these strength events, or there may be other explanations such as training or competitive considerations or smaller numbers participating.

And for me?

I think it’s time to get out my old Concept II Rowing machine and go after the 500m and 2000m events.  Then again, it’s gonna hurt like hell.  My PR for 2000 meters was around 6:40 but the winning medalist times at the World Police and Fire Games were all in 6:20!  The open World Record is under 6 minutes!