WSBB Blog: Early Retirement
As the old saying goes, 'time waits for no one.' If you have been around a powerlifting gym, you have inevitably heard older lifters talk about how they used to be able to do this or used to be able to do that. The problem is that they used to do when all that matters is what you can do now. Unfortunately, many of these so-called "older lifters" are often in their early to mid-30s when they begin talking like this. It makes you wonder if these athletes have retired due to their physical state or mental state.
Success in strength sports requires an athlete to possess significant amounts of discipline, dedication, and sacrifice to reach the top of the sport. For most, living their lives this way for decades becomes difficult. As you begin seriously training for competition in your late teens and early twenties, it is easy to live your life dedicated to strength sports. As a young adult, you have limited responsibilities, leading to more free time and money to devote to strength sports. As a strength athlete grows older, responsibilities begin to add up, leading to most strength athletes giving up their pursuit in their late twenties or early thirties.
It Has Only Just Begun
Strength sports are not like other sports. Conventional knowledge amongst the population is that once an athlete hits their late twenties and early thirties, sport skill begins to deteriorate, leading to declining levels of sports performance. This thinking is because the average person's perception of what is possible in sport is based upon common sports such as football, basketball, and baseball. All sports that an athlete begins playing very young, having up to eighteen years of playing experience before they even hit the professional leagues.
Strength sports are a bit different. A large majority of strength athletes do not begin training until their late teens or early twenties. This means that by the time the strength athlete turns 35 and reaches their fifteenth year of training, they have about as much time spent in sport as a college football player does. At that point, a college football player has incurred more mileage and injury on their body than the average strength athlete. Yet, the college football player still has eight to ten years of professional playing ability left while the powerlifter with fifteen years is talking about retirement. Realistically speaking, a powerlifter with ten to fifteen years of experience under the age of 35 is still capable of putting together a high-level career that lasts another five to ten years.
Deterioration of Strength and Skill
As mentioned above, conventional knowledge is that sports skills and physical ability deteriorate for conventional sports athletes in their late twenties and early thirties. This is because, at that point, the conventional sport athlete is reaching their twenty to the twenty-fifth total year playing that sport. It makes sense; twenty to twenty-five years of playing a sport at a high level will cause enough wear and tear on the body that the athlete will inevitably lose their step, leading to retirement.
A strength athlete's timeline is a bit different. Understanding the science behind strength and physical performance, we know that peak strength levels in human beings occur between 34-40 years of age. Meaning a healthy strength athlete will begin peaking around 34, totally peak around 36-37, with performance deteriorating as the strength athlete reaches the age of 40. Oddly enough, this would mean that strength sports athletes begin to experience loss of ability around the 20th year of sport participation, the same as conventional athletes. The only difference is the age when sports participation begins and ends. Even then, only the absolute strength capacity of a strength athlete deteriorates; skill typically does not. Unlike conventional sports athletes, strength athletes generally retain their movement proficiency, albeit with less weight on the bar.
Father Time Must've Been a Strength Athlete
All of this is good news for strength athletes. Unlike conventional athletes, you do not face timelines that force you into retirement before your mid-thirties. Fortunately, strength is one of the last physical skills to begin to deteriorate, making it reasonable for a strength athlete to compete at record-setting levels into their 40s. As many of you know, Louie was lifting some of his heaviest weights into his 50s.
It all comes down to your discipline, intelligence, and dedication. Can you discipline yourself to be able to focus on training and life responsibilities simultaneously? Do you understand how to train optimally, reducing the number of injuries you accrue throughout your career? Can you dedicate your time and focus on one goal for fifteen to twenty years? If so, you can compete at a high level for many years.
Supertraining; by Dr. Mel Siff
Science and Practice of Strength Training; by Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky and Dr. William Kraemer
Westside Barbell Book of Methods; by Louie Simmons
Special Strengths Development for All Sports; by Louie Simmons
Fact and Fallacies of Fitness; by Dr. Mel Siff