|Photo credit: ResoluteSupportMedia viaFoter.com / CC BY|
We can look at the age group world records to see the slow decline in performance. You can look at weightlifting age group records at mastersweightlifting.org and you can look at sprint and running age group records at this Wikipedia page. Keep in mind though, these are just the listed records. Masters sports are not like Major League Baseball, where their are paid statisticians employed be the league. Sometimes it becomes known that so-and-so has run faster than the record, and we just weren't aware of that.
A few questions though... How much do the elite level performances apply to "average" athletes? In order be at the top of your game when you are seventy-five years old, do you need to be a high-level athlete when you are twenty years old? Or are the top performers at seventy-five people that started their sport later in life, thus avoiding "burnout"? Unfortunately I don't have the answers to these questions.
But I can say, that in some cases you can make large performance at age 39, 49, 59 and beyond. This isn't a contradiction with the slow decline I was talking about earlier either. For competitive athletes training in the same sport for eight, ten, twelve, fifteen years or longer, most of us will peak in our late twenties or earlier thirties. For those of us who have practiced a sport four to five years or less, large performance gains are possible, and you should get after it will you still can! I am, in fact, lucky to fall in the latter category of athletes relatively new to a sport, because I get to experience the thrill of improvement. I thought my days of improvement in lifting were over, but perhaps I will have a couple more years. After that I will strive to lose as little as possible. Or I could change sports altogether, and VOILA! New records and achievements all over again!
Besides being relatively new to a sport, how else could someone have increased their top lift, or lower their running time? A few drug-free scenarios come to mind.
If the athlete was training in their twenties inadequately, so that they never achieved very much before, they could improve later in life with proper training. For all of us who did not receive coaching and personal attention in our twenties, and who later on obtain a personal trainer or a coach, we can hope to improve. That being said, I don't like or recommend to compare myself to what I did last year, much less decades ago. Really it's better to do the best possible preparation and training you know how, and let the results speak for themselves. Being an athlete is a lifestyle, and despite all you hear about how much "winning" matters, it's the lifestyle and the process that matters, NOT the outcome. Take care of the preparation, nevertheless, and of course the outcomes take care of themselves.
Yet another scenario in which an athlete could conceivably improve later in life, even if they were properly training, and properly coached previously, is if there were some other limiting factor or barrier to their earlier training. Perhaps they did not have access to the right facilities or equipment. Perhaps they did not eat enough calories and/or protein in their twenties, but now they consume an adequate number of calories. As you may know, if you do not eat enough calories and/or protein, your body will cannibalize existing muscle for energy. This happens all the time for countless people, and I am one of the guilty parties. You don't have to get the calories and protein from animal sources, but you do need to get them somehow (That will be a topic for a future blog post).
Anyhow keep training throughout your life, and enjoy the training process, not just the outcomes!
P.S. My apologies to the athlete in the photo if she is way younger than 39. I am not claiming she is 39. I have no idea how old she is.