physiological and performance characteristics of a 92-year-old world champion indoor rower – dr. Lorcan Daly.

This blog provides a brief overview of the recent testing completed in PESS for a case study entitled the Physiological and Performance Characteristics of a 92-Year-Old World Champion Indoor Rower.

Master athletes who perform at world class levels represent a unique population who can provide potentially valuable insights into the capacity of humans to develop and maintain remarkable levels of physical and physiological function at advanced ages 1. Certainly, these athletes can be considered examples of a healthy aging paradigm given their extraordinary physical conditioning status and the multitude of benefits imparted by exercising across the lifespan 2. Further, undertaking regular resistance and/or endurance training (ideally as a combination) is reported to greatly attenuate frailty and functional losses linked to aging 2,3. For instance, prior work has identified that world class calibre endurance athletes have demonstrated exceptionally high aerobic capacities at ≈ 60 – 75 years of age 1,2,3 and the training undertaken by these athletes is suggested to exert strong protective effects on physiological and performance outcomes throughout aging 3,4. Aerobic capacity, which refers to the integrative ability to consume oxygen from the atmosphere and deliver it to the working muscles for the production of energy, serves as a key marker of cardiorespiratory fitness 3.  As such, understanding the training methods that master athletes undergo to maintain such high levels of fitness could be useful information for athletic trainers, exercise physiologists and clinicians. To our knowledge, no work has yet explored the physiological capacities of a world calibre endurance athlete over 90 years-of-age. Such information could be applicable for practitioners who work with master athletes and may confer a novel understanding into the characteristics of a unique and largely unexplored population. Therefore, we conducted a case study examining the physiological characteristics of a 92-year-old world champion indoor rower.

Following ethical approval from the institution, the participant, Richard Morgan (my grandfather) attended the physiology laboratory in the University of Limerick, PESS building. Here, assessments of anthropometrics (height and body mass), body composition (muscle, bone and fat mass), lung capacity, peak power and physiological responses to steady state exercise on the rowing ergometer were conducted with assistance from chief technician Stephen Clothier and Professor Phil Jakeman. The testing protocols were devised and completed with assistance from Professor Phil Jakeman, who is providing exceptional mentorship in research design, interpretation and teaching methods here in PESS. Bas Van Hooren, a collaborator in this project from Maastrict University in the Netherlands, has conducted similar work in other master endurance athletes and is also providing valued guidance.

Some notable results were observed, although it is unsurprisingly difficult to make comparisons owing to the unique status of the participant. The findings indicated Richard demonstrated a resting metabolic rate of approximately 1200 calories per day, with 60% of the fuel used at rest coming from fat oxidation and 40% from carbohydrate oxidation. Analysis of body composition revealed muscle (47 kg [80% of 59.5 kg body mass]) and fat mass (8 kg [14%]) levels which are far superior to prior data among (approximately) age matched inactive individuals 2,3,4. With respect to performance, Richard demonstrated a 225 Watt (W) peak power output, indicating a high anaerobic power reserve (more than double the 2000 m pace necessary for the 90+ world record pace [≈ 105 W]). It could be expected that the anaerobic power reserve would substantially decrease with aging because of losses in muscle mass (in particular the fast twitch ‘explosive’ muscle fibres which are reported to decline at an accelerated rate) 3,4. Therefore, it is possible that Richards training regime over the previous 20-years may have limited age-related neuromuscular declines and helped him maintain the efficient aerobic system and high anaerobic power reserve recorded. 

A brief interview with Richard in 2015 can be seen here:

The steady state aerobic trial on the rowing ergometer also yielded some interesting results. Similar to muscle mass, declines in cardiopulmonary function and aerobic capacity are well documented with aging, and this deterioration accelerates with advancing age 3,4. In contrast, Richard’s half time to steady state (a measure of [i] how quickly the aerobic system can transition to meet the demands of a given exercise task and [ii] an indicator of overall aerobic capacity/function) was recorded as 60 seconds, a value slightly below norms for healthy young untrained individuals (undoubtedly then, not a bad score for a 92-year-old). Also of note, Richard’s heart rate increased to 151 beats per minute during the sub-maximal trial, which may be the highest rate empirically recorded in an exercising individual > 85 years of age. Perhaps the most widely known marker of aerobic capacity, maximal aerobic capacity (V̇O2max), was predicted to be in the region of ≈ 28, which is also just slightly lower than that of an untrained young individual. Lastly, Richards metabolic efficiency (i.e., the proportion of metabolic energy used which directly translates into work completed on the ergometer) was also quite high (Gross: 18%; net: 22%) suggesting a relatively good return in watts produced relative to the metabolic energy expended.

In concluding, Richard demonstrated well-developed maximal power, aerobic capacity, body composition and a high anaerobic power reserve as a 92-year-old four-time master indoor rowing world champion. To the authors knowledge, this is the only such data available in any endurance master athlete > 85 years of age and may serve as a benchmark for similar aged master athletes. Certainly, this case study adds to the body of evidence highlighting the importance of physical activity at all ages, and we hope it will provide further motivation for us all to engage in exercise across the lifespan – particularly so into advanced ages.


.      Van Hooren, B., Plasqui, G. and Lepers, R., 2022. Physiological, Spatiotemporal, Anthropometric, Training, and Performance Characteristics of a 75-Year-Old Multiple World Record Holder Middle-Distance Runner. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.

2.      Valenzuela, P.L., Maffiuletti, N.A., Joyner, M.J., Lucia, A. and Lepers, R., 2020. Lifelong endurance exercise as a countermeasure against age-related V˙ O 2 max decline: Physiological overview and insights from masters athletes. Sports Medicine.

3.      Lepers, R. and Stapley, P.J., 2016. Master athletes are extending the limits of human endurance. Frontiers in physiology.

4.      Balachandran, A.T., Steele, J., Angielczyk, D., Belio, M., Schoenfeld, B.J., Quiles, N., Askin, N. and Abou-Setta, A.M., 2022. Comparison of power training vs traditional strength training on physical function in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA network open.


Dr. Lorcan Daly is currently a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences at the University of Limerick.

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