What is a Masters athlete?

When watching sport have you ever thought to yourself ‘I’m too old to do this’ or ‘I should have taken it up earlier it’s too late for me now’ if you have then you’re not alone, luckily now competitive amateur athletes have competed up until the age of 105 (oldest marathon competitor). One of the most popular master’s sports is triathlon, but sports with a master’s category range from golf and football to Olympic weightlifting and judo to name a few, getting in touch with your local sports club or organisation will uncover a myriad of opportunities in sport.  

Competing as a master’s athlete does require some thought and a slightly different approach to training. To understand these differences, we need to understand the physiology of getting older first and what this does to our bodies and our ability to perform.


General ageing is commonly associated with a loss of muscle mass, strength and overall functional ability (Wroblewski et al, 2011) these are all the things someone wanting to get better at sport would want to avoid. This age-related loss of function is known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can include a reduction of around 0.5-1% of muscle mass per year following the age of 40 and advanced levels of sarcopenia are associated with muscle weakness, frailty, increased likelihood of disability, reduced quality of life, and increased frequency of falls (Evans, 1997). Research highlights that the actual cause of sarcopenia is unknown, however sarcopenia can occur as a loss of muscle due to an imbalance between new growth and breakdown of muscle tissue.


Despite all the down sides of ageing, master’s athletes are a great example of how ageing does not have to equal physical inability and loss in strength (Doering et al, 2016) with a growing number of master’s athletes participating in both strength and endurance sport annually (Volpe, 2010). The demand for master’s athlete support is becoming increasingly important as these athletes strive to improve performance and break records whilst funding and frequency of events is also improving.


As an athlete, you can be either professional (paid) or amateur (unpaid) and the definition of entry age for a master’s athlete can vary depending on the sport or event in question. In athletics, the master’s categories begin at 35 and are split into 5-year age groups advancing from this age. The oldest master’s athletes have competed at over 100 years of age which shows the popularity and ability of people competing way past retirement age.

The master’s athlete can be described as someone not content with maintaining just their physical health (Hodge et al, 2008), but is striving for higher levels of performance and achievement in competition. Masters athletes can be very motivated and have high perceptions of ability and belonging (Hodge et al, 2008) so adherence can be greater.


When working with a master’s athlete It’s important to understand the training history of the individual, with Kusy and Zielinski (2014) showing that some master’s athletes could have over 70-years of training experience. Training status can help you to understand what programme would be most beneficial to the athlete to maximise results. Resistance training provides a means of muscle preservation with age and resistance exercise appears to increase muscular power in master’s athletes (Glenn et al, 2015) so including strength training and plyometric exercises of various types could also be beneficial. When programming for the master’s athlete any resistance exercise need to be progressive and specific to the sport. Periods of higher and lower intensity training is also important, especially as master’s athletes can be susceptible to injury and may have 10+ years of wear and tear from competitive training (Knobloch et al, 2008).


Strength and conditioning is important for individuals over the age of 50 to maintain performance and strength. This is to offset the deleterious effects of sarcopenia and increase bone mineral density through bone loading.

A side note to remember is to make sure you have a full medical and health check prior to participating in any physical activity, especially one involving high-intensity movements.


If you are a master’s athlete and would like a sample strength and conditioning programme or would like to find out more, please contact me on mark@optimum-performance.co.uk

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