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Eur J Appl Physiol (1991) 62:394-399

,u,o°..A p p l i e d
doumal of

and Occupational Physiology
© Springer-Verlag 1991

Peak anaerobic power in master athletes
B. Grassi, P. Cerretelli, M. V. Narici, and C. Marconi
1 Department of Sciences and Biomedical Technologies, University of Milan, Italy
2 I.T.B.A. Section of Physiology, National Research Council, Via Amprre 56, 1-20131 Milan, Italy
Accepted February 26, 1991

Summary. The age-related decline in maximal physical
performance of healthy subjects may be attributed both
to the aging process per se and/or to a progressive reduction in physical activity. In two groups of master
athletes, power (P) or endurance (E) trained (n = 115;
aged 40-78 years), the degree and rate of the agerelated deterioration of the maximal instantaneous
muscle power (peak power, Wpeak), and the relative
contribution of quantitative (muscle mass) and qualitative factors possibly underlying such deterioration were
determined. Two groups of young athletes (n = 20; 1726 years) and healthy untrained subjects (U, n --- 37; 2267 years) were also tested for comparison. The following two variables were assessed, firstly the lower limb
muscle plus bone volume (LMV) by anthropometry,
and secondly Wpeak, by means of a standardized vertical jump off both feet, performed on a force platform.
The results obtained were that LMV of E and P, as well
as of U, was about the same between age 20 and 45
years, whereas at older ages a progressive reduction
was observed; the LMV values were higher in P than in
E and U. The Wp~ak, expressed in W and in -~
body mass, both in E and P, decreased linearly as a
function of age, being at age 75 years about 50% of the
value measured at age 20 years (corresponding to a reduction of about l% . year- l) ; when Wpeak was expressed per kg of LMV, the percentage reduction between athletes aged 20 and 45 years was the same as
that observed for Wp~ak,in W and W. kg-1 body mass,
whereas between age 45 and 75 years the difference was
almost halved; in all age-groups (with the exception of
the oldest) Wpeakwas higher in P than in E and in U. It
was concluded that at 75 years Wpeakwas reduced, both
in absolute units and per kg body mass, to about 50% of
the value measured at age 20 years; up to about age 45
years such deterioration was mainly attributable to
qualitative factors, whereas after that age quantitative
(muscle mass) factors were also involved.

Offprint requests to: C. Marconi

Key words: Aging - Muscle - Anaerobic power - Master athletes

The age-related decline in maximal physical performance of healthy subjects is the consequence of the impairment of different functions and of the deterioration
of various organs and tissues due to the aging process
per se, and of a progressive reduction of physical activity, Master athletes, undergoing regular training programmes and participating in competitions, represent
an ideal model for investigating the consequences of
aging per se on the deterioration of the various determinants of maximal physical performance. Whereas the
factors responsible for the degree and rate of reduction
of maximal aerobic power of master athletes have been
widely analysed (Robinson et al. 1976; Barnard et al.
1979; Heath et al. 1981; Hagberg et al. 1985, 1988a;
Pollock et al. 1987; Rivera et al. 1989; Tanaka et al.
1990), studies concerning maximal anaerobic performance are to our knowledge still lacking. It is well-known
that with advancing age untrained subjects undergo a
reduction of muscle mass as a consequence of the decrease of both number and diameter of muscle fibres
and of an increase in the content of intramuscular connective tissue and fat (for a review see Larsson 1982).
As a consequence, at least 50% of the age-related deterioration of maximal aerobic power of healthy untrained individuals aged 22-85 years has been attributed to the reduction of muscle mass (Fleg and Lakatta 1988).
The aims of the present cross-sectional study were to
investigate, in endurance (E) and power (P) trained athletes, aged 40-78 years, the degree and rate of the agerelated deterioration of the maximal instantaneous
muscle power (peak power, Wpeak), as well as the relative contribution of the quantitative and qualitative factors responsible for such deterioration. It would appear

2 8.04 0.9 67.9 6.3 18. whose physical and physiological characteristics are shown in Table 1.3 1. at least 24-48 h after a competition or a heavy training session. Muscle plus bone lower limb volume (LMV) was calculated by a volumetric reconstruction obtained from circumferences.9 Height (m) Body mass Body fat (kg) (%) Experimental procedure The following variables were assessed: Anthropometric variables. n = 3 6 ..7 3. 8 E and 12 P.4 50-59 14 53. Wpeakd e c r e a s e d to a b o u t 50% o f the average reference v a l u e for age 20 years.7 The b o d y mass values (mb) were s i m i l a r for all ageg r o u p s o f m a s t e r athletes.0 2. A standard squatting position (knee angles of 90° ) was adopted to avoid the possible effects of negative work performed by the lower limb muscles before the onset of the push phase.. and 8 in crosscountry skiing.3 SD 5.9 69.79 1. age range 22-67 years) were also tested for comparison (Table 1).9 >70 4 74. The value from the best jump was used for data analysis. 2.0 2.06 0.9 5. as well as of untrained subjects Age range n (year) Age (year) Endurance athletes mean 17-26 8 19. the level of significance was chosen as P < 0. a moving average of all individual values was also performed by averaging seven y values on either side of any y (STATGRAPHICS Statistical and Graphic System.1 3. 1987)..69 1.8 5. Statistical analysis A two-tailed unpaired Student's t-test was utilized to evaluate the statistical significance of the differences between groups. Control groups of young athletes (n =20.8 2. as determined from the results of their performances.05 o 20 T .6 >70 7 74.1 15.2 2.66 SD 0. as well as for untrained subjects (U).3 mean 1.8 17.06 0.07 mean 64. and were close to their peak physical condition.0 1. in b o t h investigated g r o u p s of m a s t e r athletes.week-l).0 60-69 17 62.4 3.3 16.9 67. according to the method of Davies and Rennie (1968).73 1.3 16.9 15.5 3. 6 in road-cycling. During the jump the subjects kept their hands on their hips to avoid any interference by movements of the upper limbs. At 75 years. The Wpeak was determined from a standardized vertical jump off both feet performed on a force platform. When the study was conducted the subjects were training regularly (1-2 h . The protocol was approved by a scientific committee of the National Research Council of Italy.5 68.72 -1 for 3-5 days .. in fasting conditions.04 0.7 26.5 23. The percentage of body fat was determined from skinfold measurements by standard methods (Durnin and Womersley 1974).4 7. Some physical and physiological characteristics of endurance and power athletes.3 5 4 .0 7..05 0.6 60-69 9 63. cross-country skiers) and a power (P) group (sprinters.0 67.09 71. USA).0 SD 2.1 72.06 0.76 1.395 1.e- %- * p( 0. Results Anthropometric data SD 3. Since grouping subjects by decades might introduce a bias in the analysis of the relationship between the investigated variables and age.5 LMV (I) 8 7 * 6 1.77 1.7 72.73 1. w h e r e a s thereafter a r e d u c t i o n o f m u s c l e mass was also involved.7 7.1 2.04 0.3 Power athletes 17-26 12 17. Methods Subjects One-hundred-and-fi•en master athletes. STSC Inc.06 0.9 7. I / ~i~"~l Jo 20 50 60 io 80 AGE (years) Fig. lengths and skinfolds. The average power throughout the push phase of the jump (W) and the maximal vertical displacement of the centre of gravity during the jump (Iv) were also calculated (Ferretti et al.2 mean 9..08 0.5 3.9 9.0 4.3 Untrained subjects 22-26 9 23. aged 40-78 years. Table 1. volunteered for this study after signing an informed consent.1 76. road-cyclists.. Muscle plus bone lower limb volume (LMV) as a function of age for endurance (E) and power (P) athletes.5 8.04 0.1 4. Most of them (101 out of 115) participated in track and field events.9 3. According to their specific training the subjects were divided into an endurance (E) group (long-distance runners. t-lLiLiLiLiLiLiLiLiLl~--~-0 . The great majority of subjects ranked in the top 20%-30% (at the national level) of their age-class.7 40-49 9 43.69 0. -"U 9 1. Such d e t e r i o r a t i o n u p to age a b o u t 45 years was m a i n l y a t t r i b u t a b l e to f u n c t i o n a l factors.80 1.* .8 3.8 2.3 12.8 3..1 65.9 1. The p e r c e n t a g e o f b o d y fat i n c r e a s e d a l m o s t l i n e a r l y with age (Table 1). 1.0 40-49 9 45.. All experiments were carried out in the morning.3 6.1 15..66 0. as described by Jones and Pearson (1969).03 68. N o signifO--OE o--OP A .1 1. age range 17-26 years) and healthy untrained subjects (U.3 4.4 20.5 7.5 50-59 25 54.6 2.1 77.71 1..2 6.2 29.-. Each subject performed at least five jumps separated by intervals of at least 60 s.. The subjects. Bars indicate standard deviation . Statistical significance symbols refer to E and P. were divided by decades into four age-groups.8 60-69 7 64..05 0.72 1.. The subjects were familiarized with the procedures before performing the tests. All subjects underwent standard physical and laboratory investigations to exclude the presence of disease.8 19.8 74.0 40-49 30 43.9 4.5 6.7 50-59 11 55. Peak power.71 1.05.5 3.0 3. jumpers).

Definitions as in Fig. falling to about 50% of the value for young athletes at age •E op o a 10 20 30 .. o .~ ** "~---'-'-'-e 50 60 70 80 AGE (years) Fig. lower panel). i i o ~e. Peak power 7000 Wpeak (w) °0o B 5000 o °o 8 2 o o e o o ha" . .).. 0 1 1000 • 20 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 1 O0 0 10 n i i a n a i 20 50 40 50 60 70 80 500 Wpeok (w.. averaged for each age-group. are plotted in Fig. •.!"--:L.~.... 2. 200 lo0 10 20 30 40 r I I I I ':'>.-'~. 2 as a function of age. at all ages. are given in Fig..:o . per kilogram body mass (W. Definitions as in -1. . _ o t • • o "i*'• *" -'~o00 O--o° K 4-0 i 50 i 60 i 70 80 Wpeo~ O0 o o o o o ° o (W. T o-__ l . whereas with increasing age a progressive reduction of LMV was observed in all groups.Fb z~.rA-"-----~" • .1-1. 1..--u 50 .i •. . --j "'T~. 4 together with the results for • p ( o o u T' ** - "-." o • coo• ' 70 ' 80 Fig. Percentage changes of body mass (rob) and muscle plus bone lower limb volume (LMI/) as a function of age. The changes of mb and LMV of master athletes. 4. upper panel). appear in Fig.op 7000 Wpeak (w) 5000 Wpeak (W.l-') 400 300 .% . 3. 20 10 .° ~. A refers to untrained subjects (U). q. Same data as in Fig. o ~. .-zk o ~ • 60 o--oE o--. as a function of age. between the 20 and 45 year age groups.. in absolute units. 1 .kg-I)80 el o • " o o "'"---L I T~ 3000 o • e "'6 l~o~.o. The LMV data are shown in Fig.. expressed as a percentage of the values for young athletes. Individual peak power Wpeakvalues as a function of age for E and P athletes in absolute units (W.• o ..396 125 (%) T 1 O0 l T I 75 u--. decreased with age almost linearly. The same data. 40 "' I . becoming non-significant for the two oldest groups. o o o 300 ~ ~ 40 8 o ** o~ e. In both E and P groups W p e a k .am b LMV . oo • 200 100 ".-~-~? ~ ~. Values for endurance and power athletes have been combined and are given as mean and standard deviation icant difference was observed between E and P in any of the age groups. 60 50 70 80 AGE (years) Fig. 40 30 .. The LMV was greater in P than in E.~.o. I 0 2'0 5'0 40 5'0 6'0 7'0 8'0 5OO Wpeak (w. p ( 0 . N o difference was observed for E and P. although after the age of 55 years the difference was tapering off progressively. middle panel) and per litre L M V (W.: .... 3 for E and P athletes in absolute units and normalized for mb and for LMV.*~°': o • 2 3000 • 1000 The W p e a k values for individuals. as well as for U. The LMV values for U were very similar to those obtained for 80 I 60 O o 400 8 i: o • e o o o ~'J ~ -°o:o • •"0'% -•-o o o• 2'0 3'0 • % 4-'0 5'0 60 AGE (years) 2O . Statistical significance symbols refer to E and P. 3 (expressed as mean and standard deviation) for the different age-groups. The values were significantly lower in the latter groups than in U.'~ 0 "" T T . .

4 20. and the difference was non-significant for P. Wp~ak was significantly higher in P than in E.0 2.0 978 95 14.6 1743 150 25. Thus. By contrast.4 3.3% (age 75 years) and was considerably lower than that found in U (19.86). who observed in old subjects an increase of muscle and fibre cross-sectional area similar to that observed in young Body vertical displacement (lv) and average power (W) in absoluted units and normalized for body mass and lower limb volume of endurance and power athletes.7 142. Peak power The Wpeakis an indirect index of the maximal rate of energy release from the hydrolysis of the adenosine 5'triphosphate (ATP) stored in the muscles (Cerretelli et al. 1.3 3. however.5%-29.1 1.3 5.9 3.9 28. No significant difference in L M V was found between E and U.4 >70 4 19.3 125.4 84.6 140.4 175.6 3.7 12.1 20.6 5.6 22.4 17-26 40-49 50-59 60-69 >70 8 30 25 17 7 mean 32.1 5.0 40-49 9 21.4 3.7% (range 2. both in E and P.2 134.0 114. A reduced hypertrophic response to strength training was also found by Moritani and de Vries (1980) in sedentary subjects aged 60-70 years c o m p a r e d to young controls.2 18. The WpCak values for E were very similar to those for U. 1987). which presumably took place also in the athletes.0 1. (1987) but was slightly higher than that reported by others (Heath et al.7 2606 2107 1896 1622 1225 560 350 451 326 224 36.4 3. on the other hand. The present cross-sectional analysis was conducted on a large n u m b e r o f selected master athletes. with the exception of the 75-year age groups.4 50-59 11 19.0 2. The percentage b o d y fat of the athletes in this study ranged from 10.1 5.1 22.6 25. In all age groups L M V was greater in P than in E.6 2. their functional significances will be discussed together. a reduction of muscle mass and an increase in intramuscular fat and connective tissue (Larsson 1982). Hagberg et al. Only athletes observing a relatively similar training schedule in terms of both exer- Anthropometric data It is well-known that in untrained subjects aging is associated with an increase of b o d y fat (Durnin and Womersley 1974).9 24.8 6. 1981. A similar result was obtained when Wpeak was normalized for mb.397 m Table 2.1 SD 4. regular training does not seem to prevent a reduction of muscle mass after age 45 years. The observed reduction of anaerobic p o w e r was probably associated with the decrease of muscle mass. between age 55 and 75 years. The W corresponded in all age groups to about 50% of Wpeak.3 28.0 4. In the present study L M V was the same at age 20 and 45 years both in E and P.9%). between the reference group of young athletes and the 45year age group was essentially the same as the changes observed in absolute units and normalized for mb.5 Power athletes 17-26 12 38.I.5%-18. between age 45 and 75 years the rate of decrease of Wp~k normalized for LMV was almost halved.0 93. 2).6 1.2 16.3 11. at equal mb.5 60-69 9 24.6% (age 20 years) to 18. subjects m Age range n (year) Iv (cm) _ W (W) _ - - W W (W.3 21. The m e a s u r e m e n t of LMV by anthropometric methods did not allow the assessment of changes of intramuscular connective and fat tissues. the actual reduction of active muscle mass between age 45 and 75 years could have been even more p r o n o u n c e d than that which appears to be the case from Fig. At all ages. LMV was about 15% lower in the 75-year age groups (Fig.6%).1 4.1 3.5 18.2 26.6 11. difficult in m a n y ways. The Wpeak. Discussion Cross-sectional studies dealing with the effects of age on physical p e r f o r m a n c e are inevitably biassed by a progressive natural selection of the best a n d / o r most motivated athletes with increasing age. By contrast.7 6. (1988).7 102. such a difference became progressively less pronounced.9 mean 1819 1523 1412 1148 1083 SD 246 353 242 258 110 mean 28.5 50-59 14 29.3 8.3 27 14.5 40-49 9 32. 1982.0 60-69 7 15.0 119. Ferretti et al.4 96.7 2. The above results. A similar trend was observed for U.7 3.3 mean 138.2 75 years.8 16.9 16. disappearing at age 75 years.7 SD 23. (1979) and Pollock et al. as well as of untrained cise intensity and duration and participating regularly in official competitions were selected for this study.~) (W. Longitudinal studies covering a sufficient age span are.1 3.8 108.2 22.6 38. Data on the effects of age on muscle volume in master athletes are lacking. therefore.7 19. 1988b). was an ideal p a r a m e t e r for the evaluation o f the explosive . Therefore.3 22. The W in absolute units and normalized for mb or LMV and the lv measurements are given in Table 2. however. with anthropometry overestimating the corresponding N M R area by about 10.8 1345 137 17.4 3.The relationships between W and Iv vs age were in essence identical with those of Wp~k VS age. 1988) and found to be highly correlated (r=0. were not confirmed by Frontera et al.3 115. at least up to age 60 years.8 Untrained subjects 22-26 9 28. The percentage b o d y fat in the investigated master athletes was similar to that obtained by Barnard et al. Thus. When Wp~ak was normalized for LMV the percentage reduction.6 2. Simultaneous estimates of muscle plus bone cross sectional area at different levels of the thigh by nuclear magnetic resonance ( N M R ) imaging and anthropometry have recently been obtained in our laboratory (Narici et al.3 1542 154 20.~) Endurance athletes SD 4.

The relative decreases of Wp~ak and W found in the present study were similar to those observed in untrained subjects using a force platform (Davies and White 1983. therefore.[%)9 80 70 60 50 40 30 10 [::3--. By contrast. up to age 45 years. Even though the high jumping performance is affected not only by muscle energetics. as indicated before.. the results of high jumping. i. Averages of the eight best performances for each age-class in the high jump (rn) during the VI World Veterans Championships. No significant difference of Wpeak was observed between E and U.e. particularly evident for type II fibres. The percentage reduction of Wpeak as a function of age. it has recently been demonstrated that in sedentary subjects aged 70 years specific strength training prevented the selective atrophy of type II fibres (Klitgaard et al. Rome (Italy) in 1985. 5. ] II~. up to age 65 years. 20 30 40 50 60 AGE(years) 70 80 Fig. normalized for LMV was slightly higher in P than in E. 5. velocity of nerve conduction and of muscle shortening. applied to both E and P. enzyme activity.. whereas between age 45 and 75 years about 50% of the decrease was attributable to a loss of muscle volume. in the age range 20-45 years the drop of Wpeakwould appear to have been independent of muscle mass. It is reasonable to hypothesize that both quantitative (muscle mass) and qualitative factors could be involved. ~ I ~ . up to age 45 years. but also by other variables such as technical skills. height of athletes. For instance. Beyond this age there appeared to have been a trend in U towards a more pronounced reduction (Fig. This would seem to indicate that. 1989). and occurred despite the constancy of muscle mass (Fig. which occurred both in absolute terms and when normalized for LMV. however. The percentage drop of Wpeakbetween age 25 and 45 years was the same when expressed as absolute units. Aging is known to be associated with a decrease in the number of functioning muscle motor units. for both E and P. 1968). In this figure the average of the eight best performances in high jumping during the VI World Veterans Championships held in Rome in 1985 is plotted for each age class. of an exercise relying exclusively on energy immediately released from ATP " ~ "a. This conclusion can be supported by the finding that in sedentary subjects aged about 70 years a programme of aerobic submaximal exercise has led to an increase in concentration of energy-rich phosphagens in muscles (Moiler and Brandt 1982) and muscle anaerobic enzymatic activity (Orlander and Aniansson 1980). or normalized for mb or LMV. 1000 . This indicated that..).uHJ --'~"\ u. it is noteworthy that the changes in the results with age match closely those of Wpeak measured in the laboratory. 4). with a reduction of mean fibre diameters. At age 75 years Wpeakwas reduced. 1982). calculated from data normalized for body mass. did not prevent the age-dependent decrease of maximal anaerobic power. On the basis of the present data. undergo with age the decrease described in Fig. In both E and P. was influenced by training. Up to age about 45 years such deterioration was mainly attributable to qualitative factors. . to about 50% of the value measured at age 20 years. as well as with a reduction of the maximal speed of muscle contraction (Larsson 1982). Thus. and seemed therefore to be independent of specific muscle training. Bosco and Komi 1980) or by different methods (Cerretelli et al. are also shown ... we could not identify which.398 muscle power developed during supramaximal shortlasting exercises. The Wp~ak values for the oldest groups were about 45%-50% of those measured in homologous (E and P) young subjects. utilization of elastic recoil. qualitative factors may have played a more significant role for P than for E in the decrease of Wpcak. Conclusions The Wpeakdeteriorated with age both in E and P athletes. nor did it modify the rate of its reduction. muscle physical properties. Wpeak. whereas thereafter such a rate was similar in the two groups. etc. muscle fibre type and size. For comparison comparable values for Wpeakof power athletes ( I ) . confirmed also when the WpeakVS age relationship was expressed as a moving average. whereas after age about 45 years a reduction of muscle mass seemed to be involved also. Should this be confirmed by further studies. in absolute units or normalized for mb decreased with age. power training was associated with a greater anaerobic power of the muscles of the lower limbs. A comparison of the present laboratory results with the best performances of master athletes in sports events requiring the development of peak power would appear to be worth while. In this context. was similar to that observed in U. up to age 65 years. These observations. etc. It may be seen that the performances deteriorate progressively. between age 45 and 75 years the reduction of Wp~ak normalized for LMV was almost half that of Wp~k in absolute values. dropping at age 75 years to about 50% of the corresponding value found in young athletes. among the known determinants of muscle power (number of recruited motor units. In the present study this difference was also found for master athletes. •--IlWpeak (W. both in absolute terms and when normalized for rob. with the exception of the oldest group. It is well-known that Wp~k is significantly higher in P than in E young athletes (di Prampero and Mognoni 1981. The rate of decrease of Wpeak. 4). it could be concluded that regular endurance training might reduce the age-related deterioration of Wpeak after age 65 years. Regular E and P training. Cerretelli et al.

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