Older vs. Younger Athletic Performance — Who is Best?

Older vs Younger Athletic Performance — Who is Best?

This week, a random group of questions crossed my inbox from our Allies from across the pond and I thought it would make a good discussion on the Fitness Blog.  I look forward to hearing people’s experiences with this topic on both sides:  the Young vs the Old.  Here is the first question /​ topic:

1) At what age does the average man reach his full physical strength and fitness like agility,speed,stamina, strength etc? You can give me a range of age.

There is some research out there on this topic as well as evidence that men peak later in life physically than one might think.  Just look at the ages of the fastest times in marathons, triathlons, Olympic weight lifting etc…for the fastest times and strongest lifters.

For stamina /​ endurance, the range is in the 30–35 yr ballpark though there are anomalies on the young and the older side of that spectrum.   Not so much in speed though — seems the young have a monopoly on pure speed.

Strength — Some of the world’s strongest men are 30–40 years old.

Agility /​ Speed Peaks — 25–30 years old.  Take a look at defensive backs in the NFL, most are younger and faster, the older ones are smarter with experience.

HOWEVER, recovery from these workouts /​ tests — the young have the older athletes beat hands down.  Day 2 of training is always harder on the older athlete than Day 1.

2)Once on a TV programme, some British Special Forces instructors told some men, who were in their early twenties I guess, that they were too young to be fully fit.  Does that make sense?  Does it mean that you don’t reach your peak physical condition until later in life?

I was in probably my best condition when I was 27–35 with running, swimming, high rep calisthenics, as well as 1 rep max strength.  It makes sense to me.  It is always fun to be the “old guy” in the group that beats the new 18 year old recruits in every event.  It is not a fair fight though for the most part for someone who has been doing 10–15 years of an activity to “race” someone who is starting out the first time.  However, if you get a kid who is a cross-​​country runner in high school, you will not find many of the “older” instructors who want to challenge him.

3)  I read somewhere that Navy Seals consider men in their thirties to be in the best physical shape,strength,fitness
etc.  Is this true?And why?

I would say if a Navy SEAL is still operational in his mid 30s, and there are many who are, they not only carry a high level of physical ability, but operational history which sets them apart from the younger less experienced.  Also smart training education to increase longevity go a long way in building the perfect operator.  I have seen many SEALs in their mid 20s that are bigger, faster, stronger than most men and what they might lack in operational skills compared to the 30+ year old SEAL can be made up in there ability and mindset to never quit.    The abilities of all special operators is far more than just physical abilities.  Some of the best operators I know will tell you the most important muscles are your brain and trigger finger.  But mental toughness and pure will can aid skills any day.  Skills without the mental toughness and will is not as valuable.

4) It is sometimes said that men in their forties are strongest.  Is this true?  Does this mean that a man will be
stronger at 45 than at 25?

Take a look and the World’s Strongest Men competitions or Olympic Weightlifting championships.  You will not see 18–20 year old men dominating that sport.  Most of the strongest men are 30–40 years old an some 40+.   Some are genetically gifted to be strong but years of training makes all the difference between the 20 year old and the 30–35 year old.

Let me know what you think of this topic.  I thought it would be a fun one to get the New Year going.



  1. Finarfin says:

    Interesting article. I heard that the authoer of \“Born to Run\” wrote that 27 was the time when someone\‘s at their peak when it comes to running. I\‘m not sure in what way he meant it (as in, whether speed, endurance, all-​​around, etc). It was also encouraging to read that a regular runner could be in his 60\‘s and have the same ability as at 19. I assume this is the case in other areas besides running as well (looking at famous soldiers, especially in older times when there were no age limits per se, one can find some pretty tough older folks).

  2. Law Enforcer says:

    im 30 now and i can run long distance and i run every other day to keep my body fit. maybe its because of mind setting that i gained during my training days to pursue of what i think i cannot accomplish and to change that negative thinking that i can make it and not to give up easily

  3. Jane says:

    Yes, I too enjoyed this interesting article. As for feedback, personally, I was able to consistently max the men\‘s PT test in the Army when I was in my late 20\‘s. I was in the best shape of my life back then, I feel. Did my first half-​​marathon in my mid-30\‘s (1:47) and although fun, decided I could no longer afford doing triathlons by age 43 (when I did my last \“middle distance\” tri). Now that I am a \“little past 50,\” I love trail running and cycling, but it takes way longer to recover these days. Realistically, I won\‘t be doing any more half marathons, as my body cannot handle those distances any longer. Aleve seems to help…lol!

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Stew Smith

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.

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