Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger? | David Epstein

  • Published on Apr 29, 2014
  • When you look at sporting achievements over the last decades, it seems like humans have gotten faster, better and stronger in nearly every way. Yet as David Epstein points out in this delightfully counter-intuitive talk, we might want to lay off the self-congratulation. Many factors are at play in shattering athletic records, and the development of our natural talents is just one of them.
    TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design -- plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.
    Find closed captions and translated subtitles in many languages at
    Follow TED news on Twitter:
    Like TED on Facebook:
    Subscribe to our channel:
  • SportsSports

Comments • 2 729

  • Borat Sagdiyev
    Borat Sagdiyev 19 minutes ago

    Social Engineering

  • Kasper Joonatan
    Kasper Joonatan Hour ago +1

    This is an interesting speech, but why did he NOT USE THE METRIC SYSTEM? :(

  • eventfulnonsense
    eventfulnonsense 5 hours ago

    Idk, it might be selective evolution or adaptation? With regards to environment at necessity? Imo, the next universal evolution for humans is, Bionics. Limbs and Organs replaced by mechanical ones. It might not better, stronger and faster, but rather living longer and healthier.

  • Hasan
    Hasan 6 hours ago


  • Matthew Lee
    Matthew Lee 8 hours ago

    I know a guy who ran a mile in 4:20...he ran on concrete and dirt...

  • rpols22
    rpols22 8 hours ago

    Very good video. Drugs have played a bigger role than he lets on, but we'll let that slide. He forgot one thing about the swimmers, in 2008 the Olympic pool was changed from 8' deep to 12' deep which was hands down the biggest jump in performance for every swimmer. Less water turbulence. Every swimmer's times dramatically dropped.

  • BlackHelix
    BlackHelix 9 hours ago

    I'll save everyone nearly 15 mins.... yes.

  • fredy gump
    fredy gump 11 hours ago

    In other words, if you don't have the right body type, don't bother.

  • Ahmet Mete
    Ahmet Mete 12 hours ago

    I feel like we got weaker but back then media was limited and no internet plus today if someone can run 100m in 8 seconds he can record that and post it globally but back then they couldn’t do that

  • Henry Ruan
    Henry Ruan 14 hours ago

    this guy speaks with absolutely no emotion at all. Looking at his eyes is like staring into a black hole...

  • C. A. G.
    C. A. G. 15 hours ago

    It should be obvious that athletes are not getting better, faster or stronger. The only reason that records continue to be broken and that modern athletes far exceed the objective accomplishments of the past in weight lifting, running, jumping, batting or endurance, is simply because of climate change warming the planet, the air is thinner due to the elevated temperature and that fully accounts for the ease with which athletes move about. Question answered. Duh.

  • Ethan Williams
    Ethan Williams 16 hours ago +3

    They are getting better and stronger with resources such as reviewing film after games, new workout equipment, new substances, iq courses, etc.

  • Andrew Hernandez
    Andrew Hernandez 17 hours ago


  • William Anderson
    William Anderson 18 hours ago

    gay white nerd

  • Marcos sá
    Marcos sá 19 hours ago

    You could apply those concepts to music

  • Blonde Caveman
    Blonde Caveman 19 hours ago +2

    But still Ronaldo better than Messi.

  • Czterdziestysiódmy
    Czterdziestysiódmy 20 hours ago +1

    Looking at thumbnail I was thinking that the guy is doing fuckin karate chop or something XD

  • Martin Hoff
    Martin Hoff 21 hour ago

    the same is true for powerlifting, certain bodies are buildt so that they perfom better in certain lifts, that why you see deadlift specialists that deadlift 100-200lbs more than they squat etc.

  • mkrakowian
    mkrakowian Day ago

    Pity that women are underrepresented in this presentation.

  • Mr. Whit
    Mr. Whit Day ago

    I'm not very far in, but it's hard to take this guy too seriously when he uses Bolt's time from 2013 (9.77) instead of using the World Record Bolt set in 2009 (9.58). Why would you not take Owen's fastest time and compare it to Bolt's fastest time?

  • Garrett Higginbotham

    lol this guy practiced this speech for months

  • Anthony Lemkendorf

    I’ll Save you 15 minuets with one word : DOPING!

  • Nimaite
    Nimaite Day ago

    The marathon comparison is very misleading. The 1904 Olympic Marathon is notorious for being one of the worst organized physical contests in history. It was on a very hot day, and it was run on very dusty streets. Most of the people running in that race didn't even finish, and as mentioned in the video, one of the competitors was taking rat poison and was denied water through the entire duration of the race (this wasn't his decision, it was his coach's. The guy was begging for water). That's the reason why the winner finished with a time of 3:28:53. The olympic record at the time was 2:58:50, Which is only about 50 minutes slower, not an hour and 20 minutes. If the winner of the 2012 Marathon had raced against the 1904 winner, I would bet just about anything he wouldn't win by an hour and 20 minutes.

  • Cristian Salas
    Cristian Salas Day ago

    I was actually having this conversation with a friend of mine before watching this video and I feel this guy explained everything better than me

  • Helios601
    Helios601 Day ago

    The PEDS have gotten better, and technology of equipment

  • Talgat Timuruly
    Talgat Timuruly Day ago

    if you don't play sports, obviously you won't understand what it takes to get better and stronger over time. technology doesn't have to do with anything in sports. the brands and companies just make money off of it. and obviously you don't look like you play any sports, you just assume and don't really know because you never experienced getting "stronger" or "better"

  • Me You
    Me You Day ago

    Olympic weightlifting is a good example here.
    Heaviest clean and jerk was 1988.
    266kg has never been bettered since!!!

  • Nicholas Cummings

    Lol fighters are also getting better, martial arts are improving, so is alot if things, it's how people work

  • Lonegunman productions

    great video but needs to mention that every single competitive athlete now days is on drugs! there is a documentary actually called bigger faster stronger all about steroid use in american sports and olympics......

  • Radu Dragos
    Radu Dragos Day ago

    Amazing,just amazing.

  • .
    . 2 days ago

    TLDW: yes

  • Jonn Xhaferii
    Jonn Xhaferii 2 days ago

    ask Daft Punk

  • MrMoneyHelper
    MrMoneyHelper 2 days ago

    He didn't really say that people of today have improved over people of the past. He just said that selection is better for specific sports. What could be quantified is whether muscles of today work better than muscles of the past. Such an experiment could be started today and answered in a couple of decades. Oxygen intake and utilization could also be tested today and in the future.

    PETER PETER 2 days ago +1

    nope. we only get more greedy, more self oriented, and more lazy. sad reality... but ...we can fix that..if we want to...

  • AL_D
    AL_D 2 days ago


  • Charlie Robertson
    Charlie Robertson 2 days ago

    This blew my mind

  • Seamus Gaelic
    Seamus Gaelic 2 days ago

    So typical to have a Jew speaking about professional athletes as they are known for profiting from the industry nearly more than the athletes, if not definitely more so.

  • Ash Scott
    Ash Scott 2 days ago

    Of COURSE today's athletes are better. A mistake someone makes for the first time in 1960, is a mistake everyone in 2018 can read about. Every new breakthrough in our understanding of biology, nutrition, recovery, etc is information that will be freely available to athletes of the future at the earliest point of their career. The information age means that people are exposed to all these sports they may never have heard of. People have more chance of finding that one sport that captures their imagination. Our quality of life means that people have the time to train, and funding means that those with promise, don't have to waste time working a day job. These examples are exremely cherry-picked. Nobody is saying the modern person is naturally more athletic. Nobody denies that the reason modern athletes are better, is down to superior knowledge, acquired over time. So...I'm not entirely sure what this guy is arguing. He seems to be railing against a strawman of his own making

  • Matthew Morrison
    Matthew Morrison 2 days ago

    I think it’s better training and smarter nutritional information

  • Fred
    Fred 2 days ago +1

    one word

  • Alex Santeri
    Alex Santeri 2 days ago

    5:20 bike aerodynamics have little to do with the record, a lot more has to do with bikes weighing a lot less.
    11:15 This "radiator" hypothesis sounds like bullcrap too. It is more likely the long legged were able to run-down antilopes and other animals who would give up from exhaustion, while shorter legged people were not as good hunters.
    The presenter, David Epstein, is a reporter not a scientist.

  • SuperRnine
    SuperRnine 2 days ago

    Is this where we stop to point to the obvious ?

  • Darren Gagliardi
    Darren Gagliardi 2 days ago

    To address this topic without factoring in PEDs makes it rather incomplete. But it's helpful, because the PED impact may drown out the other factors that he mentioned, which also have a large impact. I dare say if you factor in PEDs, along with the other factors he mentioned, you can probably account for a huge proportion of the improved results over time. The actual improvements attributable to (non-PED related) increased physical performance appears to be surprisingly small. Very interesting talk.

  • Mike Martin
    Mike Martin 2 days ago

    Am I the only one who noticed his math was wrong when he said fewer than ten new men per "DECADE" have made the 4 min mark ? He should have said fewer than 10 new men per year , still impressive but a big difference.. just surprised me he would make a mistake on a probabaly heavily rehearsed speach.

  • 92Cope
    92Cope 2 days ago

    how about the guy in 1936 ? if he had better Shoes or Better equipment to train ?

  • Aaron Daly
    Aaron Daly 2 days ago

    This presentation somehow touched on every single one of my interests

  • DAngelo Jenkins
    DAngelo Jenkins 3 days ago

    Cant be applied to wrestling cuz thats just skill

  • Oscar Acevedo
    Oscar Acevedo 3 days ago

    With the aid of modern techonoly, and physical science, yes.

    MELLON HEAD 3 days ago

    I wish he'd analyze Combat sports

  • Manish Mahanti
    Manish Mahanti 3 days ago

    So.... where does my body fit in all this?
    It fits nicely on my comfy bed.


    Not Really, just roids
    But yes, we must emancipate from mental slavery

  • Dusan Afflek
    Dusan Afflek 3 days ago


  • Tomas Trinacty
    Tomas Trinacty 3 days ago

    I think its normal and it is not that amazing, as we are getting better with technologies and sharing information in the world. Of course you will find a recorder in 8 bilions people with a selection as we got nowdays. Its normal we are getting better at everything, that is just life isnt it?

  • riptorn
    riptorn 3 days ago

    There's more people now so there's more competition.

  • hussein hassanali
    hussein hassanali 3 days ago

    Brilliant talk!

  • Gator 659
    Gator 659 3 days ago

    I saw this guy a while back on a Subway commercial.

  • D O M I N A T O R 1389


  • Joey Paglia
    Joey Paglia 3 days ago

    Uhhh nobody said we are evolving. We know it’s because of health and how we train more. (Not because of technology, stop taking credit engineer)

  • Joey Paglia
    Joey Paglia 3 days ago

    That keep US cool when running? When WE run? Dude your not running. Stop acting like your also getting better at sports. No dude

  • Joey Paglia
    Joey Paglia 3 days ago

    Lol this dude should focus on something else this dude is not athletic sooooo stay in your lane little guy. You clearly don’t spend much time playing sports and you should stop discrediting all of OUR improvement to technology. It’s like your a technology guy taking all the credit from athletes and crediting yourself your technology.

  • Joey Paglia
    Joey Paglia 3 days ago

    Yeah and this dudes body type is not meant for sports

  • Joey Paglia
    Joey Paglia 3 days ago

    Well how about you focus on other sports outside of running. Like team sports. Technology does not effect how you shoot free throws. People are better at it now.

  • Ari Gabriel
    Ari Gabriel 3 days ago +1

    you can only compare athletes from the same generation... footballers nowadays are more athletic but have more scientific advantages nowadays

  • ADD112
    ADD112 3 days ago

    Anyone else figure this guy was last pick in gym class?

  • Luke Kuykendall
    Luke Kuykendall 3 days ago

    I always hear the argument that baseball players were "tougher and better" back in the golden age of the game, in the early half of the 20th century. Just as mentioned in this video comparing Olympic athletes, a lot of variables were at play that permitted old MLB records to be set. Variables that don't match the game today, because of advances in technology both on and off the field, as well as how teams are structured.
    Here's a few examples for you. Back in 1927 when Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, he played 151 games, half of those at Yankee stadium. As a left handed pull hitter, Ruth only had to hit the ball around 295-300 ft. to hit it out for a home run. While the dimensions at the new Yankee Stadium are very similar, the average ballpark now has a 330 ft. distance for the left and right field walls. Back in 1927, there were also 14 fewer teams than there are today, fewer stadiums, shorter porches to the left and right field walls, equals more home runs.
    Then you have pitchers, because bullpens were non existent in the early years of the game, and long before the 5 man rotation, getting 20 wins and 200 K's a season wasn't a stretch. When you really plugin ALL the data, these feats while still impressive, are far less impressive when you make the adjustments.

  • janoy8
    janoy8 3 days ago

    My personal record for running the mile is 7 minutes.

  • Jonathan Jensen
    Jonathan Jensen 3 days ago

    So, in other words, the love for and aggrandizement of these feats, as though they were due to superiority, helps us in the long run by causing us to understand better methods for efficiency, and helps us learn the potential of our resources.

  • Nick D
    Nick D 3 days ago

    Please - where did the statistics and information come from for this lecture - what is the source. Thanks in advance.

  • Selinor578
    Selinor578 4 days ago

    Just WHO is pointing a gun to this guy's head and forcing him to refer to Roger Bannister as SIR Roger Bannister?? He's Roger Bannister. Why can't you just leave it at that?? Does it make you feel more superior when you say SIR Roger????? It just makes you look like a anglo-butt-licking slave.

  • Jerry Tinaza
    Jerry Tinaza 4 days ago

    They can run faster, jump higher, lift heavier....but in the end, we end up six feet under our grave in a coffin, or ashes. Truth hurts

  • serpentide666
    serpentide666 4 days ago

    anyone else thinking 'Brains' out of Thunderbirds??

  • Dhruv Menon
    Dhruv Menon 4 days ago

    The difference between TED and TEDx is so massive.

  • Levi Valenciano
    Levi Valenciano 4 days ago +1

    My personal record for running a mile is just under 4 hours

  • ExMachina70
    ExMachina70 4 days ago

    RIP David Epstein. After this video the crowd of millennial's tore him apart, and departed his genitals as being a racist.

  • ronald white
    ronald white 4 days ago

    Didn't watch this, but Steroids exist, so the answer to the title is, " Yes".

  • ExMachina70
    ExMachina70 4 days ago

    Science sux Jesus did it!

    JEFF LYN 4 days ago

    Buns = Glutes.

  • TheButtonMash3r
    TheButtonMash3r 4 days ago +1

    We're getting harder, too. 😏

  • CANitDO
    CANitDO 4 days ago


  • Sports Talk & Inspiration

    Great information,
    Technological advancements in equipment as well as training methods are often over looked when we compare eras.
    Also of note the advancement in performance enhancements, really makes the accomplishments from the past that much more impressive.
    Extremely interesting topic, if anyone has seen any more videos by Mr. Epstein would love if you were to share them

  • João Lulu
    João Lulu 4 days ago

    Wow I'm a water polo player and I indeed have a big forearm! That's interesting :)

  • Aertist
    Aertist 4 days ago

    I'm surprised he didn't talk about the diets, arguably one of the most important factors. Diets back then and nutrition were very poor to what they are now. With better diets, we are able to reach our physical limitations close than ever before, not only because of technology and body selection.

  • Shiranui Aensland
    Shiranui Aensland 4 days ago +5

    Since the early 80s, the two categories in the NBA that undoubtedly increased today are weight and three-pointers. The average height has been consistently 6'7", while most other stats such as points, offensive rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, fg%, etc... have actually decreased.

    • Shiranui Aensland
      Shiranui Aensland 3 days ago

      Todd S I understand your theory, but it's evidently nullified by most of the offense being out of position to grab the rebound. Which is why offensive rebounding has hit an all-time low. It went from 15.1 per game in 1980 down to 9.7 in 2018.

    • Todd S
      Todd S 3 days ago

      Yes, but my point is, that with longer rebounds, the big defender blocking out in the paint doesn't have as much of an advantage as with a smaller rebound. Again, I'm merely saying that perhaps the defense's advantage is lessened with more long shots being taken, but not to the point that the offensive team would actually have the overall advantage.

    • Shiranui Aensland
      Shiranui Aensland 3 days ago

      Todd S I believe the distance of the shooters from the basket will most often be farther than the distance that the ball will ever bounce from the basket.

    • Todd S
      Todd S 3 days ago

      OK. Now if rebounds were to, for any reason, start to become longer on average, with other things else staying the same, then it's possible that the defensive rebounding advantage would be lessened. Perhaps. That was my point about longer shots being taken. But there may be other things I'm overlooking. Like fewer players following shots in this era versus others, for one.

    • Shiranui Aensland
      Shiranui Aensland 3 days ago

      Todd S The main factor is that offensive players are standing further away from the basket, and therefore out of position for a rebound.

  • SkyeKingdoM
    SkyeKingdoM 4 days ago

    Rat poison and Brandy is delicious

  • Julius Tate
    Julius Tate 4 days ago

    This was a very interesting presentation!! Really enjoyed it!

  • Alex yu
    Alex yu 4 days ago

    I do believe they are getting fast, stronger, and faster. This is because nowadays athletes train more, eat in smarter ways for their sports, muscles are toner due to better training regiments. In one instance for example, hockey, Canadian hockey players back then i heard in a interview from Phil Esposito, he said back then hockey players dont really train much untill september or few weeks before the NHL season starts. they where fat and out of shape during the 1972 summit series and they found out during the game one of the summit series 72. The soviets train 11/12 months fitness and in grame 1 they where tired and couldnt keep up being burned up by the finess of the soviets. Nowadays kids train for hockey very young there are 11-12 year old kids and even older who look fit non fat and like a bull who can take out an unfit dude. Back then fitness wasnt that much of a big deal nowadays NHL can suspend a player and pput on injury reserve cause your not fit to play... IE Joffrey Lupul.

  • Jeffery Lord
    Jeffery Lord 5 days ago

    didn’t watch the video but any answer other than YES is a lie. look at champion gb packers teams from 60s their o line would be smaller than lbs today

  • Anuraagi
    Anuraagi 5 days ago


  • Sirius Hsu
    Sirius Hsu 5 days ago


  • Alex Spotila
    Alex Spotila 5 days ago

    Would love to hear him talk about World football where body types are all over the map even in the same position look at Messi and Ronaldo and Kanté and Viera.

  • Andrea Lecis
    Andrea Lecis 5 days ago

    If your body looks like you never trained once in a life time, please shut up and go collect postcards :)

  • Walter Mercado
    Walter Mercado 5 days ago


  • AggressivelySpicy Highlights2673

    Equipment plays a huge difference.

  • hllndr
    hllndr 6 days ago

    Compare an individuel to its own. Its getting better if it works harder. Or did Usain Bold always ran the same time/ speed?

  • Euphoric
    Euphoric 6 days ago

    So athletes got specialized?

  • motormanek
    motormanek 6 days ago

    W O R K I T M A K E I T D O I T M A K E S U S H A R D E R B E T T E R F A S T E R S T R O N G E R

  • Martin Hargas
    Martin Hargas 6 days ago

    one of the best prepared ppt I've ever seen

  • T L
    T L 6 days ago

    What's with the guy rubbing and covering his face in the crowd anytime the camera is on him? LOL!

  • Darkstar937
    Darkstar937 6 days ago

    Now that was a presentation !!!

  • IAN Dubz
    IAN Dubz 6 days ago

    His dry humor was great