Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

What's Your Training Age?

How old are you?  I can't think of a more loaded question in sports, other than "how much do you weigh?"  Sports in general take a superficial view of age, whether with young kids or with masters aged adults.  Mostly we think of age in terms of years having lived.  For training purposes, there are three general ways to think of age:

  1. Chronological age - How long as it been since you were born.  This number is usually simple to determine, unless we're talking about Latin American baseball players or Kenyan runners trying to qualify for "Junior" competition...
  2. Biological age -Your age based on your stage of child and adolescent development.  Kids can have the same chronological age, but have vastly different biological ages.  The thirteen year old that's 5'10''with a five o'clock shadow is at a different stage than the kid who is 4'6'' and 90 lbs. This number becomes less important for adults in terms of athletics, but it does relate to the third way, which is...
  3. Training age - How long have you been training.  What's important about this number is not the exact number itself, but instead the concepts behind it. 

Within training age there are three different dimensions...

  1. Sport specific - How long have you been competing in your sport
  2. General training - How long have you been training (lifting, conditioning)
  3. Lifestyle – General measure of how active you have been

Admittedly, training age is not exact as it does not account for quality of experience.  Fifteen years of bad training is not better than five years of good training.  Training age does not quantify the interplay between the different factors that can affect training age.  Someone who grew up on a farm for twenty years and never formally “worked out” may have physical tools beyond someone with formal training.  Nevertheless, we can still make appropriate qualitative adjustments with this knowledge. 

With adults, masters aged athletes should not train the same merely because they are well past adolescence.  The former collegiate swimmer who later takes up triathlon has a far different training age than someone without an athletic background despite a similar chronological age.  Unfortunately, coaches and trainers often ignore the overall experience of the athletes in front of them and provide inappropriate training beyond the athlete’s capability.  Just because two people have the same time goals and are competing in the same events does not mean they merit a similar training program.

Similar concepts apply with youth athletes.  An All-Everything football star who hardly lifted weights in high school has a training age near zero when he first sets foot in a college weight room.   The kid who did gymnastics from age four but later quits and takes up a different sport during the teenage years has a different training age than the kid who played baseball twice a week for a few years and was otherwise sedentary. 

Chronological age is more than just a number though and is not to be discarded with the modern recognition of biological and chronological age.   For instance, we naturally lose muscle mass with age.  To maintain muscle mass, not only for athletics but for long term quality of life, some form of resistance training is required to regardless of biological age or training age.  For performance, training age is the most important consideration in adults, although the relative importance of chronological age increases with time.    

Training age is something we’ll never quantify in exact terms but must always consider when designing programs and prescribing exercises.   If we consider training age not only as a general number but also as a guide within the general dimensions of sport specific training age, general training age, and lifestyle age our training interventions will be most appropriate in the long term.       


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