Purpose: To determine whether explosive power and isometric strength of the lower-limb muscles in elite master Olympic weightlifters declines at a similar rate to nontrained healthy controls with increasing age.
Methods: 54 elite level masters weightlifters (aged 40-87), who were competitors at the World Masters Weightlifting Championships (1999), were compared with a similar number of aged-matched, healthy untrained individuals. Isometric knee extensor strength and lower-limb explosive power were tested. Extent of antagonist co-contraction during isometric knee extension was determined by EMG and power loading characteristics by using a variable inertial system. Muscle volume was estimated using anthropometry.
Results: On average, the weightlifters were able to generate 32% more peak power (P < 0.05) in the lower limbs and 32% more isometric knee extensor force (P < 0.05) than the control subjects. No significant differences in lower-leg volume were observed between the two groups. Peak power declined at a similar rate with increasing age in the weightlifters and controls (1.2 and 1.3% of a 45-yr-old's value per year), as did strength, but at a lower rate (0.6 and 0.5% per year). The inertial load at which the weightlifters achieved their maximal peak power output was greater (P < 0.05) than the controls. The torque generated at this optimal inertia was also greater in the weightlifters (P < 0.05), whereas the time taken for the weightlifters to reach their maximal peak power was on average 13% shorter (P < 0.05). No differences in antagonist co-contraction during isometric knee extension were observed between the two groups.
Conclusions: Muscle power and isometric strength decline at a similar rate with increasing age in elite master weightlifters and healthy controls. In spite of inertial load optimization, muscle power declined in both groups at approximately twice the rate of isometric strength. Although similar rates of decline were observed, the absolute differences between the weightlifters and controls were such that an 85-yr-old weightlifter was as powerful as a 65-yr-old control subject. This would therefore represent an apparent age advantage of approximately 20 yr for the weightlifters.