Many people, including some of the experts, spend a lot of time talking about how much control our genetic makeup has over us. For some things, like adult height, eye, hair, skin color, and congenital conditions, this is absolutely true. When it comes to fitness, when we look closely, we see we have more control than we think. Here is a general control breakdown of some things that concern us exercisers.
Role of Genetics in Your Fitness Progress
Mostly Out of Our Control
These are a few physical attributes that we have little to no control over:
- Intelligence – our level of awareness regarding our workouts. How easy is it to learn something new? Have we ever thought of performing an exercise differently? Has it even occurred to us to think about our workouts?
- Initial health – how healthy our bodies are to start with.
- General muscle shape – long tendons and short muscle bodies, or short tendons and long muscle bodies. Or somewhere in between the two extremes?
- General muscle composition – the proportion of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch fibers favor explosive, strength-oriented, short-duration movements (like sprinting and weight lifting). Slow-twitch fibers lend themselves to endurance, longer-duration movements (like distance running).
- Basic health – allergies, susceptibility to certain illnesses, how long we can go without coming down with something, how quickly we heal from an injury.
These aspects of our physical selves have a huge genetic component. We can make changes within a certain range, but that range is pretty narrow.
Mostly Within Our Control
Here are three physical components we have a major impact on, through our eating programs and exercise routines:
- Muscle development – how big and how strong (up to our genetic limit – the part not in our control) a muscle or muscle group becomes.
- Body composition – how much of us is lean body mass and how much body fat is pretty much up to us.
- Aerobic fitness – the real measure of athletic endurance. The old adage says, “An army travel on its stomach [properly nourished].” People run on their lungs. How much aerobic capacity/endurance an individual has depends, for the most part, on training.
There’s no getting around it – the raw material we were born with has an effect on what we are physically capable of. A lot is determined by genes, but some things are not. We can have a genetic predisposition toward certain health and fitness conditions, but our lifestyle choices have a huge say in whether we develop an illness, a type of fitness level, or many other physical conditions. It’s one manifestation of the classic nature-nurture controversy.
Elite and professional athletes need to be concerned about how their genetics affect their athletic performances. For the rest of us, our genetics, in a general way, set the degree of difficulty in achieving our fitness goals.