The Olympic lifts have always been a staple in the CrossFit community. Thousands of CrossFit Affiliates around the world teach the classic lifts to a full spectrum of members both young and old, fit and unfit. BTWB is in a unique position to be able to capture weightlifting data from a wide variety of casual athletes who do CrossFit but may never participate in an actual Olympic Weightlifting meet. In this series of data-driven articles looking at different aspects of the Snatch and Clean & Jerks we will break down the lifts by gender, age, bodyweight, etc. using data from over 100k athletes. Read Part 1 and Part 2.
Age and It’s Effect on Olympic Lifting Maxes
As you may have suspected, 1RM lifts tend to decrease with age. That is generally unsurprising, but by how much do they decrease? To answer that question we studied proprietary data from BTWB users, organized along both age and gender lines. Keep in mind that this data is looking at the maxes of different age groups at a point in time. It does not necessarily follow that your own max lifts will decrease similarly with age. It’s possible that some of the difference in weights in older lifters is due to more years of being sedentary before starting to lift rather than an inherently lower potential to lift heavy. Many of the older lifters didn’t start performing the olympic lifts until just a few years ago, and it shows. The good news is if you pick up lifting later in life it’s likely that you can continue to PR for many years even if you will probably start at a weight lower than you would have in your 20s or 30s.
We separated athletes into age groups of 10 years (e.g. 20-29 as “20s”). Below we’ve charted Snatch and Clean & Jerk for both men and women. Each line represents a different percentile across age groups (95th,75th, 50th, 25th). For both lifts and genders, we see a similar pattern of lower weights across the board as age group increases. This suggests that aging is correlated with lower max lifts. We’ll highlight the trends with a few data points from each chart.
The largest drop-offs are in the 95th and 75th percentile lifts. The 95th percentile Snatch for a man in his 20s is 244 lbs (111 kg), compared to 165 lbs (75 kg) for a man in his 60s. At the 50th percentile, the maxes drop from 140 lbs (64 kg) to 99 lbs (45 kg), respectively.
On the Clean & Jerk we see similar trends. The 75th percentile C&J is 235 lbs (107 kg) for a man in his 30s compared to 195 lbs (88 kg) for a man in his 50s. At the 50th percentile, the maxes drop from 205 lbs (93 kg) to 172 lbs (78 kg) for the same age groups.
The decline in the 95th percentile lifts is very dramatic for the women. The 95th percentile for women in their 20s is 148 lbs (67 kg), while the 95th for women in their 60s is 85 lbs (35 kg).
We see a similar trend at the top for C&J as well. On all the charts we see the distribution getting more bunched for lifters in their 60s, but this is especially pronounced for the women’s C&Js.
In the chart above we look at the decreases between age groups as percentages. We averaged the decreases for both Snatch and C&J across the featured percentiles. Decreases tended to be larger in higher age groups. For both men and women there isn’t much of a drop off between the 20s and 30s. Overall we see a larger drop off for women compared to men. Women showed a 14% and 18% decreases in two oldest ranges, compared to 11% and 10% for men, respectively. This could be due to a higher percentage of men lifting weights through their 50s and 60s compared to women.
The overall decrease for men and women from the 20s to 40s were both 15%, but when we include the change from 20s to 60s the women showed a substantially larger decrease compared to the men (40% vs 31%).
(Hopefully) the major takeaways from this data for our older athletes are:
- Don’t worry if the young bucks at the gym are moving more weight than you. You are likely among the fittest in your age-group (especially among the general public).
- Work hard to keep PR-ing and maintaining your strength as you age. Be the exception to the trend!