Getting Older Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Compete

Does being in your 30s and 40s mean your athletic performance has to decline? Not necessarily – science looks at duathlon competitors and baseball players and examines the facts.

I’m getting older. I’m not going to lie, sometimes that worries me as an athletic person. I’d love to say some day that I didn’t just train professional athletes, but that I myself was a professional athlete. However, does being in my thirties mean my time is running short? I know I’m not the only one wondering this, because I get the question a lot.

Well, I can tell you, as a competitor in running events as well as combat sports, there are plenty of examples of successful athletes at an age considered advanced for elite athletes and they still kick my butt. Look at Randy Couture, who didn’t have his first professional fight until a month before his 34th birthday. He went on to win more than one world title, and won championship fights in his forties. But since we aren’t all Randy Couture, what do the numbers and the hard science say in this matter?

Two recent studies in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning looked at the effects of age on athletes. The timing of these studies being published together was appropriate, as one looked at the duathlon, a long distance event, and the other looked at baseball, a sport requiring very short bursts of high intensity. Having all the bases covered (pun intended) was pretty convenient for my examination of the topic.

So let’s look at the findings – power, speed, and agility first, which are what they tested for in baseball. I’ll just go right along as the athletes’ ages increased to make it simple. At about the age of 24, the players exhibited significant lower body power increases over younger athletes. At about 27, the power moved up the body and it was their grip strength was notably higher. At about 30 years old, the athletes were at their heaviest, with a 7% increase in lean mass over teen athletes on average. At this age, there was a slower time in the 300 yard shuttle run, but this could have been a result of the larger average body size, rather than a strength/speed decrement per se. At over 35, pitchers had a 12.5% decrease in their vertical leap. And, that’s it. Everything else was maintained. Over 35 athletes experienced no average loss in any physical attribute not noted above.

Endurance is next. Fastest race times by age were noted from 25 to 39. Yes, athletes at just about 40 were posting top tier times in long distance events. There was a slow decline as time went on, but that might be partially due to body weight, since cycling is not reduced at the same degree as running, the former of which has less of a performance dependency on body weight. Also, unlike the baseball players, these athletes weren’t professionals, so it’s difficult to determine their level of experience, which may have had a role to play in these results.

So we know age has an impact on results, but I’d bet not as much as you thought. If you’re getting older, there’s always time to become competitive.


1. Gerald Mangine, et. al., “Effect of Age on Anthropometric and Physical Performance Measures in Professional Baseball Players,” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27:2 (2013)

2. Christoph Rust, et. al., “Gender Difference and Age-Related Changes in Performance at the Long-Distance Duathlon,” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27:2 (2013)

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.