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At what age are we the strongest? Surprising truth

What is the peak strength age? We have real data now. Oh yes! And no, it’s not 25. I mean, it could be, but statistically, on average it is not. And now prepare yourself for the best piece of news: it is later than 25, in some cases, much later.

In this article, we will have a look at two sports for which we actually have real scientific data: Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting.

I will not keep you hanging any longer. In summary,

Women are the strongest between 26 and 37 years of age.

Men are the stongest between 26 and 35 years of age.

But of course there are individual differences between athletes and some people peak before or after that age window.

To understand the age at which athletes have the best results in their careers, let’s have a look at combined data from world championships and Olympics for the last few years (1998-2017).

Of course, there are other strength sports including strongmen and strongwomen, highland games, American football, CrossFit, calisthenics, or bodybuilding to name just a few.

If you are an athlete of one of these sports, I would encourage you to have a look at the age of the best athletes in your sport. As you will read below, the prime age for strength athletes differs from sport to sport.

Women

The age of the strongest women varies between lifts and weight classes. Higher weight class athletes tend to be older when they peak. Lighter weight classes tend to peak at a younger age.

On average, weightlifting performance in women is at its peak at the age of 26 years, wheres for powerlifting this age is 36. That is a 10-years difference!

I have made a table to show you the exact numbers for each lift. You can also see the youngest and oldest average age of the champions in each lift and their respective weight class.

Snatch
Clean & jerk
Bench press
Squat
Deadlift
Average age at peak performance [years]
Snatch
25.6
Clean & jerk
25.5
Bench press
36.8
Squat
36.0
Deadlift
35.4
Youngest [years] (weight class)
Snatch
24.3 (69 kg)
Clean & jerk
24.3 (53 kg)
Bench press
34.8 (63 kg)
Squat
34.2 (47 kg)
Deadlift
32.7 (63 kg)
Oldest [years] (weight class)
Snatch
27.2 (63 kg)
Clean & jerk
27.1 (75 kg)
Bench press
40.6 (>84 kg)
Squat
38.3 (84 kg)
Deadlift
37.7 (>84 kg)

We also know now that although performance improvement tends to markedly slow down in weightlifting after mid-twenties, powerlifting does not follow the same pattern for women.

This means that the best weightlifting females lift their best in their mid-twenties, and after that, they are less likely to improve, or the improvement is small. However, females who powerlift do not suffer this decrease to the same extend. In the contrary, if you are a powerlifter, you can possibly make your gains “indefinitely”.

That’s great news, isn’t it? There is a chance of improving “forever” which is super encouraging and rewarding.

Men

On average, strength performance in men is at its peak at the age of 26 years in weightlifting, and at 34 years in powerlifting. Lighter weight class athletes tend to reach their peak performance earlier than athletes competing in higher weight classes.

These are the exact average ages for each lift in men:

Snatch
Clean & jerk
Bench press
Squat
Deadlift
Average age at peak performance [years]
Snatch
26.4
Clean & jerk
26.1
Bench press
34.3
Squat
34.1
Deadlift
33.5
Youngest [years] (weight class)
Snatch
25.1 (94 kg)
Clean & jerk
24.7 (85, 105 kg)
Bench press
32.1 (59 kg)
Squat
30.7 (59 kg)
Deadlift
31.0 (105 kg)
Oldest [years] (weight class)
Snatch
28.0 (>105 kg)
Clean & jerk
28.4 (>105)
Bench press
36.4 (83 kg)
Squat
36.2 (93 kg)
Deadlift
36.1 (120 kg)

Additionally, we also know that performance improvement slows down for men in mid-twenties in weightlifting, and around the age of 30 in powerlifting. This decrease in performance may be related to the levels of testosterone also decreasing around this time.

Age and strength

Why the peak age differs between sports?

Both women and men have their best strength performance at substantially different ages in weightlifting and powerlifting. It is about 10 years! This is a huge difference and can’t be a coincidence.

There is definitely not one reason for this difference, but rather an interplay of many factors. One of the factors could be that weightlifting is an Olympic sport. This means that athletes are screened and recruited to the sport at a relatively young age. In weightlifting, the athletes start earlier, accumulate training years earlier, and possibly reach their potential at the younger age.

In powerlifting and many other strength sports, there is no recruitment process on the national level. The athletes come to the sport usually later. They accumulate training years later, and peak also later.

It seems that athletes who need to develop more muscle mass will peak later. This would include higher class athletes peaking later than light-weight class athletes and could also explain while powerlifters peak later then weightlifters.

This may be due to the difference between the types of strength tasks performed in both sports. Weightlifting is a more power-based sport and powerlifting more force-based sport. As it takes longer to develop tissues allowing for maximal force generation, this could be a reason why powerlifters peak later.

What does this mean for you?

You may wonder what this all means for me? The data I have discussed so far are the data for professional athletes. Their job is to get as strong as they can in the shortest time possible. The chances are that you, the reader, is not an elite professional athlete. You may even be already older than the prime age.

Does it mean that we are not able to guess when you will be the strongest?

I think we can still have quite a good guess. These are the things you should consider when making your quess.

If you are not training like an elite athlete, it probably will take you longer to reach your strength potential. Let’s say that it takes 10 years (my guess) for an elite strength athlete to get to their peak performance. It may mean therefore that you can possibly be improving for at least 10 years, but possibly longer than that.

What you also have to consider, especially if you are a man, is the age when you start your strength training. Strength gains are dependent on the amount of muscle mass you can develop. The rate of muscle building is affected by the levels of testosterone. Therefore, men after the age of 30 (when the testosterone levels tend to decrease) will generally build muscles at a slower rate than men in their twenties.

Readings

Here is my summary of the research article with the discussed data:

How old are the best athletes in weightlifting and powerlifting

This is an original research article:

Solberg PA, Hopkins WG, Paulsen G, Haugen TA. Peak age and performance progression in world-class weightlifting and powerlifting athletes. International journal of sports physiology and performance. 2019 Jan 1;1(aop):1-24.

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