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Fitness Success: Is It All in Your Genes?

fitness geneticsHave you ever looked at a really tall person and thought, “Is he a basketball player?” Or have you seen a really big guy and thought he must play football? Or how about a woman small in stature but strong and muscular and wondered, “Does she do gymnastics?”

Many top athletes can be identified just by their physical appearances. Watching the Olympics and seeing athletes in different sports, it becomes apparent that for the most part, the body fits the sport. Or wait, is it the sport fits the body?

Do Genetics Matter?

Muscles fall into two general categories (with subcategories) – slow twitch muscle fibers and fast twitch muscle fibers. Think of slow twitch for endurance and fast twitch for strength [1]. We all have a mix of both and it’s believed that elite athletes possess more of one than the other and that’s why they excel at their sport. The reason they have more of one type of muscle fiber over another is possibly genetics, but additional factors to their success likely include hormones and exercise choice as well. Add that to differences in height and environmental influences and you can see that there are many variables to take into consideration for the reason one excels and another does not.

Whether you’re an aspiring pro athlete or just trying to be fit in general, genetics do play a role in every area of our life. I often refer to our genetics as a deck of cards. What we’ve been dealt is out of our control, but what we do with that deck is completely up to us. Aside from submitting to a muscle biopsy, you can discover your own muscle mojo with a bit of trial and error. Maybe it’s not as scientific, but the rewards are in the self-discovery and finding what works for you.

Start by Not Comparing Yourself to Others

Just because your friend seems to effortlessly run miles and miles but you, after training for weeks, still struggle to chug out a couple blocks, that doesn’t make you a failure! You might just need to adjust your training to fit your genes. Although there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition, it’s a complete waste of time to look at someone else who is 6 feet tall, watch them spike a volleyball easily over the net, and feel bad about your 5-foot self because you can’t do what they can do.

Very likely when it’s time to do push-ups or pull-ups, you’ll easily pass up your 6-foot friend because of their height and weight. But wait! What gender are they? How long have they been training? How old are they? That’s the problem with comparing. Unless you’re a competitive athlete and being measured against your peers, it just doesn’t matter. You only need to focus on what YOU are accomplishing and what improvements you’re making.

Try a Sport and Not Just a Gym

Once you have a fitness base, you can start trying a variety of sports and exercises to find what fits. I’m a big fan of encouraging people to find a sport they love for a few reasons:

  1. You automatically become part of a community of people who share the same passion
  2. You have specific exercises and training and even nutrition that help you improve for the sport
  3. You can easily measure improvement

The community part is especially important for both what you receive and what you can give.

You can find sports and activities in your area using online sources like and search the directory for activities in your area along with what classes and sports are offered at your local gym and community centers.

Practice Your Passion with a Passion

Consistency is the key to fitness. Even if you decide exercise variety is what you love, do it with consistency. People that are fit reached the level they’re at by committing to exercise and a healthy eating plan and sticking with it over a long period of time.

That’s why it’s so important to find what you love doing. If you love it, you’re more likely to stick with it. Make the transition from, for example, “I play tennis” to “I’m a tennis player.” One is something you do. The other is something you are.

  • Crabby McSlacker

    Love this, as all too often I fall victim to the comparison game. Which is kinda fun when I win, but sucks a little too often to let it become habitual.

    And I’m trying to say “la la la la I can’t hear you” on the sports suggestion. I KNOW it would be a great challenge and an awesome motivator, but organized sports scare me (performance anxiety). Plus they represent commitment–you can’t bail if you don’t feel like it. Which is a good thing, I suppose, but again… scary.

    I’m still just trying to work up my nerve to go to a zumba class, so I think competitive sports are a ways off. But great idea for OTHER people!

  • Joyce Cherrier

    Ok Crabby… I’m going to talk loudly over your la la la-ing… there’s always individual sports so your only competition is yourself. OR how about sports where you team up with your spouse and get to kick arse together – or lose together. Added bonus of having someone to blame for the loss. That’s a win-win.

    If you do zumba I want to see it on youtube. Just sayin :)

  • Matthew Killorin

    Hi Joyce – Excellent points for people of all fitness levels. Your suggestions are also relevant when setting realistic fitness goals. Your example of the 5 foot person not comparing themselves to the 6 footer is a perfect illustration of that.

    • Joyce Cherrier

      Thanks Matthew! Appreciate it!

  • Fitness Weapons

    Great article. I always suggest that my friends get involved with a sport rather than just join the gym. they will enjoy it so much more

    • Joyce Cherrier

      I think that’s one of the reasons crossfit is appealing to so many people. It’s more like a sport and lifestyle than just a daily gym visit. Thanks for commenting Fitness Weapons!