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Sports Med. 2015 Sep;45(9):1263-1271. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0347-2.

Has Athletic Performance Reached its Peak?

Author information

1
IRMES (Institut de Recherche bioMédicale et d'Epidémiologie du Sport), INSEP, 11 avenue du Tremblay, 75012, Paris, France. geoffroy.berthelot@insep.fr.
2
EA 7329, Université Paris-Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris, France. geoffroy.berthelot@insep.fr.
3
IRMES (Institut de Recherche bioMédicale et d'Epidémiologie du Sport), INSEP, 11 avenue du Tremblay, 75012, Paris, France.
4
EA 7329, Université Paris-Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris, France.
5
Frontiers in Life Science E.D. 474, Paris, France.
6
CIMS, Hôtel-Dieu, Assistance Publique des Hôpitaux de Paris, Paris, France.

Abstract

Limits to athletic performance have long been a topic of myth and debate. However, sport performance appears to have reached a state of stagnation in recent years, suggesting that the physical capabilities of humans and other athletic species, such as greyhounds and thoroughbreds, cannot progress indefinitely. Although the ultimate capabilities may be predictable, the exact path for the absolute maximal performance values remains difficult to assess and relies on technical innovations, sport regulation, and other parameters that depend on current societal and economic conditions. The aim of this literature review was to assess the possible plateau of top physical capabilities in various events and detail the historical backgrounds and sociocultural, anthropometrical, and physiological factors influencing the progress and regression of athletic performance. Time series of performances in Olympic disciplines, such as track and field and swimming events, from 1896 to 2012 reveal a major decrease in performance development. Such a saturation effect is simultaneous in greyhound, thoroughbred, and frog performances. The genetic condition, exhaustion of phenotypic pools, economic context, and the depletion of optimal morphological traits contribute to the observed limitation of physical capabilities. Present conditions prevailing, we approach absolute physical limits and endure a continued period of world record scarcity. Optional scenarios for further improvements will mostly depend on sport technology and modification competition rules.

PMID:
26094000
PMCID:
PMC4536275
DOI:
10.1007/s40279-015-0347-2
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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