It happens to all of us. Barring a major injury, we don’t know exactly when it occurs. But there is a moment when we’re at our strongest, and for years afterward we may hang tantalizingly close to that mark, but we’ll never top it. We peaked. When, on average, does it happen for men and women who train with weights? We looked at elite weightlifters, powerlifters, and strongmen to reveal answers.
POWERLIFTERS & WEIGHTLIFTERS
A study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, computed the lifts of elite powerlifters (competitors in the World Championships from 2003-17) and weightlifters (competitors in the World Championships and Olympic Games from 1998-2017) to determine when they were at their best. The average peak age for powerlifters was 35 and weightlifters was 26. The differences between men and women were small. The nine-year gap between the two barbell sports is likely because of the greater emphasis on reflexes and athleticism in weightlifting, with powerlifting being a better overall test of one-rep strength.
The researchers also computed the competitors’ five-year improvements prior to their peak strength. For powerlifters the average was 12%. For weightlifters it was just under 3%. These gains may seem minute for a half-decade of toil, but they can make the difference between bronze and gold, and they underscore how difficult it is to improve at an elite level.
We at The Barbell conducted our own survey of the forty-two annual World’s Strongest Man contests (1977-2019, none in 1987) looking at the top three finishers each year. We determined that the average age of World’s Strongest Man medalists was 30 (29.64). The youngest W.S.M. champion was 25, the oldest 37. A greater likelihood of injuries in strongman than powerlifting, as one study shows, may explain the 5-year difference in strength peaks. Also, strongman events tend to involve more athleticism and endurance than the three powerlifts, and this may favor younger men.
The average for the three strength sports is 30 years and two months. Not coincidentally, a man’s natural testosterone and GH levels are still at their peak around 30 but decrease approximately 1.5% annually thereafter.
If cresting at 30 has you depressed, we’ll leave you with two final thoughts and a brief video. First, the standard deviation was plus or minus seven years for powerlifting’s 35, meaning some elite competitors peaked at 42 (and some at 28). Second, even if you’re as strong as you’ll ever be at 30, you can stay near that level for another decade or so by continuing to train and eat right—and, if you choose, by replacing or increasing testosterone and/or GH.
Still bummed? We’ve got some video Prozac. Check out 182-pound Janos Fabri pulling a 574-pound (260.5 kg), beltless deadlift (3.14 x bodyweight) at 72 and then mean-mugging. No limits, grandpa, no limits!
(Opening photo by Alora Griffiths)