What Age Do Female Swimmers Peak?

To talk about the peak age in swimming, we can find resources from official sources. Usually, we get used to successful swimmers from a very early age. So is swimming’s peak at such an early age? Let’s find out what is the peak period of swimmers in general, and female swimmers in particular.

You can refer to the US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health the peak age table to see the differences in peak ages among swimmers.


Age of peak swimming performance

Age of peak swimming performance

As you can see, athletes’ peak age is usually quite early. The age of peak swim performance has been investigated for freestyle swimmers for distances ranging from 50 m to 200 m among swimmers aged 19 to 99 years. However, studies have yet to investigate the 10 to 19 year-old age group. The aims of the present study were to investigate the age range of peak freestyle swim speed and to find differences in age range and peak freestyle swim speed between male and female freestyle swimmers from 50 m to 1500 m at a national level.

And the results are not surprising at all. Men were fastest at ages 22–23 years for 100 m and 200 m; at ages 24–25 years.

And for women, they achieved peak freestyle swim speed at ages 20–21 years for all distances. In the 50 m, women were fastest at ages 15–20 years (These findings suggest that peak freestyle swim speed is achieved at lower age ranges in women when compared to men at 50 m to 200 m. The gender difference in peak freestyle swim speed decreased with increasing swim distance from 50 m to 200 m). There are some swimmers who truly do peak very young but by and large, the most successful swimmers enjoy long careers, far into their 20’s.

Why do female swimmers peak so young?

Swimming differs from most other sports because it isn’t just about size and strength. To be a good swimmer, you must know the most efficient way to move your body through the water, along with having excellent technique and endurance. This allows for many young swimmers to be just as good, or better, than their older counterparts. 

It’s easy to assume that swimmers peak young because the youngest swimmers are the ones that make the most headlines. In the 2012 Olympics, Katie Ledecky shocked the world as she smashed record after record at the young age of 15. Her success earned her the spotlight and lots of media attention.

Katie Ledecky, 16, celebrates setting a new world record time of 8-13.86 in the 800-meter freestyle at the world championships on Aug 3, 2013

Katie Ledecky, 16, celebrates setting a new world record time of 8-13.86 in the 800-meter freestyle at the world championships on Aug 3, 2013

This may have made it appear like swimmers are the best when they are in their early teens, but Katie was a rare case. In 2016, the average age of a swimmer on the US Olympic swim team was 23.7, with ages ranging from 15-30. And it is very easy to understand that young swimmers are simply more exciting, thus earning themselves more publicity, and we can call it, the youthful eagerness. 

Why do female swimmers no longer peak when they over 25s?

There are a lot of reasons why female swimmer do not success at swimming after they in late 20, early 30s.

Financial reasons

Unfortunately, swimming is not nearly as lucrative of a sport as pro football or basketball, meaning that many pro swimmers are forced to pay their own way.

This means that once a swimmer graduates from college and no longer has the financial support of their university, they most likely won’t be able to meet the high costs of competitive swimming.

It’s very rare that swimmers are able to find the funding they need to continue training at a high level. This gives many swimmers the incentive to retire, meaning they quit the sport way before they are done improving, leaving the spotlight open for younger swimmers to shine.

Financial comfort is important because swimming is such a demanding sport. Not that most Olympic events are for weekend warriors, but swimming, in particular, requires a lot of pool time and the occasional “dry” workout. At 35 hours a week, it’s not the sort of thing you can do with a full-time job. And the money helps swimmers take in staggering amounts of food to refuel. No wonder the U.S. Olympic swim team is skewing older these days.

Growth spurts and puberty

Growth spurts and puberty can both have a significant impact on swimming, growing changes everything about your technique. Suddenly your arms are longer, and your feet are bigger, throwing your stroke out of whack. Your balance is off, and your center of gravity is way different.

Puberty causes lots of changes, and these changes can be extremely difficult to overcome, especially for female swimmers.

When a woman hits puberty, her body composition completely changes due to weight distribution. After puberty, women carry more weight in their hips, thighs, bottom, and chest. This rapid weight gain is normal, but, along with a new height, it can completely throw off a swimmer’s technique and balance in the water.

Age is just a number

But, however, there is still very some bazaar case proving: Age is just a number. We can talk about Dara Torres – a nine-time Olympic medalist, set the U.S. record for the 50-meter freestyle in 2007 summer when she was 40, and Jenny Thompson who won a silver medal in 400m freestyle Olympics when she aged 31.

Jenny Thompson who won silver medal at age 31

Jenny Thompson who won silver medal at age 31

Dara Torres - who had a wonderful comeback when she won medal at age 40

Dara Torres – who had a wonderful comeback when she won medal at age 40

These swimmers conclusively prove there is no such thing as a “peak age.” Their careers continued to improve as they aged.