Genetics And Athletic Performance: What’s The Connection?
Exercise • • minute to read • By INFS, INFS Faculty
Do you love playing sports or working out but feel like you’re not seeing the results you want? You might be blaming yourself for not working hard enough, but the real culprit could be your genetics. In this article, we’ll explore how your genetics can affect your athletic performance and what you can do about it.
What do we mean by genetics?
When we talk about genetics in sports, we’re referring to the physical and physiological attributes that are inherited from our parents and family members. These attributes can include things like: Height Muscle fiber type distribution Limb length Muscle insertions Baseline muscle mass Flexibility Mobility Elaborate on each of these attributes and how genetics can play a role
- Height: Height is largely determined by genetics, and it can have an impact on an athlete’s performance in certain sports. For example, taller athletes may have an advantage in basketball because they can reach higher for rebounds and shots. However, shorter athletes may have an advantage in sports that require agility and quick movements, such as gymnastics.
- Muscle fiber type distribution: There are two main types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch (type I) and fast-twitch (type II). Genetics can determine the distribution of these muscle fibers in an athlete’s body, which can affect their performance in different sports. For example, athletes with a higher percentage of fast-twitch fibers may excel in explosive, power-based activities like sprinting or weightlifting, while those with more slow-twitch fibers may excel in endurance activities like long-distance running.
- Limb length: Limb length can impact an athlete’s leverage and range of motion, which can affect their performance in different sports. For example, athletes with shorter limbs may have an advantage in sports that require quick changes of direction, such as basketball or soccer, while those with longer limbs may have an advantage in sports that require reach and extension, such as swimming.
- Muscle insertions: Muscle insertions refer to where the muscle attaches to the bone. This can affect an athlete’s leverage and ability to generate force. For example, athletes with higher muscle insertions on their biceps may have an advantage in sports that require pulling motions, such as rock climbing or rowing.
- Baseline muscle mass: Baseline muscle mass refers to the amount of muscle mass an athlete has before they start training. Genetics can play a role in determining an athlete’s baseline muscle mass, which can affect how quickly they can gain muscle and strength through training.
- Flexibility: Flexibility refers to an athlete’s range of motion and their ability to move their joints through their full range of motion. Genetics can play a role in determining an athlete’s flexibility, which can affect their performance in sports that require a high degree of flexibility, such as gymnastics or dance.
Mobility: Mobility refers to an athlete’s ability to move their body through different planes of motion. Genetics can play a role in determining an athlete’s mobility, which can affect their performance in sports that require a high degree of mobility, such as martial arts or yoga.
It’s important to note that these attributes are not the only factors that can influence an athlete’s performance. Factors like training, nutrition, and mental toughness can also play a significant role in an athlete’s success. However, genetics can provide a foundation for an athlete’s physical abilities and can influence how much work they need to put in to achieve their goals.
How Can Genetics Affect Athletic Performance?
Genetics can have a significant impact on athletic performance. For example, if you have bad genetics for bodybuilding, it may be harder for you to build muscle mass compared to someone who is genetically gifted for muscle building. Similarly, if you have bad chest genetics, you may struggle to develop your chest muscles even with targeted training.
But it’s not just about muscle development. Genetics can also affect your performance in other ways, such as:
- Endurance: If you have a high proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers, you may be better suited for endurance sports like long-distance running.
- Power: If you have a high proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers, you may be better suited for explosive sports like weightlifting and sprinting.
- Flexibility: If you have naturally tight muscles and joints, you may struggle with certain types of movements that require flexibility.
- Injury risk: Some people may be more prone to certain types of injuries due to their genetics.
Examples of Genetic Marvels in Sports
While genetics can be a limiting factor for some athletes, others have been able to leverage their genetics to achieve incredible success in their sport. Here are some examples:
- Phil Heath: 7-time Mr. Olympia Phil Heath was a basketball player before he discovered that his body had an incredible ability to put on muscle mass and react to resistance training. He switched to bodybuilding and became one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time.
- Michael Phelps: Swimmer Michael Phelps has an unusually long wingspan, which contributes greatly to his success in the pool.
- Usain Bolt: Sprinter Usain Bolt has long legs, which give him an advantage in the sprinting events.
What Can You Do If You Have “Bad Genetics”?
If you feel like your genetics are holding you back, there are still things you can do to improve your performance:
- Focus on the Aspects of Your Performance You Can Control
While you can’t change your genetics, you can focus on improving the aspects of your performance that you have more control over. For example, you can work on your technique, nutrition, and recovery. By optimizing these factors, you can still make progress and improve your performance.
- Use Supplements to Support Your Goals
There are many supplements on the market that claim to improve athletic performance. While some of these supplements may be effective, it’s important to remember that they’re not a substitute for hard work and dedication. However, they can support your goals and help you get the most out of your training.
Q: Can bad genetics really hold me back in sports?
A: Yes, genetics can have a significant impact on athletic performance. However, it’s important to focus on the aspects of your performance that you have more control over and not let your genetics discourage you.
Q: Can I improve my genetics for sports through training?
A: While some attributes can be improved with training, the potential for improvement is still limited by genetics. For example, if you have bad genetics for building chest muscles, you can still train to improve them to a certain extent, but you may not be able to achieve the same level of development as someone with genetically gifted chest muscles. However, this should not discourage you from training and striving to improve your performance in your sport. Focus on the aspects of your performance that you have more control over, such as technique, nutrition, and recovery, and put in your best effort to maximize your potential.
Q: How can I analyze my genetics in bodybuilding?
A: There are various genetic testing services available that can analyze your DNA and provide information about your genetic predispositions, including those related to athletic performance. These tests can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and tailor your training and nutrition plan accordingly. However, it’s important to note that genetic testing is not a substitute for hard work and dedication, and the information obtained should be used as a tool to inform your training rather than a determinant of your potential.
Q: Can bad genetics for abs be overcome?
A: While genetics can influence the development of abdominal muscles, you can still improve them with targeted training and a proper diet. However, keep in mind that the extent to which you can develop your abs is still limited by genetics, and some people may find it more challenging to achieve a defined six-pack due to their genetic makeup.
Q: Are genetically gifted athletes always successful?
A: While genetics can provide certain advantages in sports, success still depends on hard work, dedication, and other factors such as technique, strategy, and mental toughness. Even genetically gifted athletes still need to put in the effort to hone their skills and compete at their best.
Q: How can I tell if my bodybuilding progress is limited by genetics?
A: While genetics can influence athletic performance, it’s important not to use them as an excuse for lack of progress. Instead, focus on putting in your best effort and monitoring your progress over time. If you find that you are consistently struggling to make gains despite consistent training and nutrition, it may be worth considering a genetic test or consulting with a sports scientist or coach for guidance.
Q: Can bad genetics be overcome with supplements?
A: While supplements can support an athlete’s goals and improve their performance, they are not a substitute for hard work and dedication. Additionally, supplements cannot change your genetic makeup and are therefore limited in their ability to overcome genetic limitations. However, some supplements may be more effective for certain individuals based on their genetic profile, and it’s worth consulting with a healthcare professional or sports nutritionist for guidance.
Budhrani, P. (2022, July 13). Overcome your genetics. INFS Faculty. Retrieved from https://www.infs.co.in/blog/overcome-your-genetics/
Sports genetics: The science behind athletic performance. (2020, September 29). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved fromhttps://health.clevelandclinic.org/sports-genetics-the-science-behind-athletic-performance/
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