What’s the ideal age for bodybuilding? The average age of male Olympic athletes is 27 and females is 26. Average age of NBA and NFL players: 26. WNBA players: 27. MBL players: 28. A study showed that soccer players peak at 25-27. But what about the very best bodybuilders? Dexterity and speed are of little concern. It’s all about building muscle, shedding bodyfat, and displaying the results on a stage, so it makes sense that elite bodybuilders could perform at the highest level longer than, say, a hurdler or a point guard. But how long? Looking at the winners of the Mr. and Ms. Olympias as well as the Arnold Classic, we did the math. And the numbers say…
From 1965-2021, there were 57 Mr. Olympia contests and 16 different champs.
Youngest Mr. Olympia: 23
Oldest Mr. Olympia: 43.
Most common Mr. Olympia age: 36 (6 times).
Average age of Mr. Olympia: 32.6
The first 11 years were won by three men (Larry Scott, Sergio Oliva, Arnold Schwarzenegger) in their 20s. Two men (Samir Bannout, Lee Haney) won 7 titles while in their 20s in the ’80s, but no man under-30 has won since then.
From 1989 on, average age of Mr. Olympia: 35
From 1989-2021, there were 33 (American) Arnold Classic contests and 19 different champs.
Youngest Arnold Classic winner: 25
Oldest Arnold Classic winner: 45
Most common Arnold Classic winner age: 35 (5 times).
Average age of Arnold Classic winners: 32.3
Over their histories, the Arnold and Olympia are in a near statistical tie at 32.3 and 32.6. However, if we look at both contests over the same modern range (1989-2021), we see a 2.7-year difference. Arnold Classic: 32.3. Mr. Olympia: 35. Further, six times the Arnold winner was in his 20s, while over the same period, no Olympia winners were. The difference is likely because the Arnold is a qualifying contest for the Mr. Olympia and is seen as a stepping stone. So, for example, Jay Cutler won the Arnold at 28, 29, and 30 but never returned to it as he went on to win the Olympia at 33, 34, 36, and 37.
With the Olympia as the ultimate barometer of bodybuilding success, in the modern era 35 is the optimum age for success. And this is only increasing. Lee Haney (1984-91) retired at 31. Dorian Yates (1992-97) retired at 35. But Ronnie Coleman (1998-2005) won only his second O at 35. 35 was in the middle of Jay Cutler’s reigns (2006-07, 2009-00) and in the late middle of Phil Heath’s dynasty (2011-17). Dexter Jackson (2008), Shawn Rhoden (2018), Brandon Curry (2019), and Big Ramy (2020-21) all won their titles at 36 or older, Rhoden at 43. If we look at the 22 Mr. Olympia winners from 2000 to the present, their average age is 36.3.
21 out of 57 times for the Mr. Olympia, the champ was in the 32-36 range.
In our article “Peak Strength” we reported that the average age for maximum strength in powerlifting is 35. So Mr. Olympia success over the past three decades corresponds with that. With modern size standards, 20-something pro bodybuilders after Lee Haney just haven’t filled out enough for the ultimate title (Dorian Yates won his first Olympia at 30, Phil Heath was 31), even though 20-somethings have won the Arnold six times, including 2021. Most elite bodybuilders have been living the lifestyle, progressively improving, for 15-20 years by the time they hit their mid-30s. Natural testosterone and GH levels peak around 30, but 5-6 extra years allow for more workouts, meals, and drug cycles to further gains. Then, age starts to noticeably diminish most bodybuilders as they near the big 4-0. Only 3 out of 57 Mr. Olympia winners have been won by men over 40.
From 1980-2021, there were 36 Ms. Olympia winners and 9 Women’s Physique Olympia winners, 45 total.
Youngest Ms. Olympia or Women’s Physique Olympia: 23
Oldest Ms. Olympia or Women’s Physique Olympia: 43
Most common age: 30 (5 times)
And their average age is almost identical to the Mr. Olympia.
Average age: 32.7
From 1989 on, average age: 34.3
Though the average says 32-34 is ideal for the best female bodybuilders, only 5 of 45 Olympia winners were in that range, while 15 were in their 20s and 7 in their 40s. This is because there’s a much greater divergence from the mean for female Olympia champs than Mr. Olympias, whether historically or recently. For example, the 2017 Women’s Physique champ was 43, the 2018 champ was 23.
Women’s testosterone levels also decrease with age, but so does estrogen; and women’s natural test production is never so great that a reduction will dramatically affect the physique of a drug-enhanced, under-45 female bodybuilder. This may be why there’s a greater divergence, spanning both young-adult and middle-aged winners, among the 45 female Olympians than the 57 men.
Historically, the ideal competition age for the world’s best male bodybuilders is 32-33. However, over the past three decades it’s been 35 and over the past two decades 36. For the best female bodybuilders, the ideal age historically is also 32-33 and 34 over the past three decades, but there’s a greater divergence from those averages among the women champs.