Genetic Factors

There is no doubt that hard work and years of training are attributed to the success of elite athletes. It takes years of well-programmed training and optimization of variables to reach a level of greatness that only a few percent of the population is able to achieve. But there’s more to it; in addition to the hard work, there are genetic factors that play a role in the success. 

Genetic Factors

  • Biomechanical advantages

    • One’s muscle attachment sites is the biggest factor for their strength potential. If you look at elite level strength athletes, they often have similar muscle attachments and body types. Very rarely do you see a tall, skinny person setting powerlifting world records. 

    • A great example of one who utilized their biomechanics and body type to achieve the highest level of performance was Michael Phelps. His body type was basically made for swimming. 

  • Myostatin deficiencies/mutations and satellite cells

    • This will lead to increased hypertrophy (muscle size).  Myostatin is a protein that limits the growth of muscle cells. When there is a mutation/deficiency of myostatin, the muscles are able to grow more. Satellite cells are cells that offer their nuclei to muscle cells in order for them to grow. Therefore,  if satellite cells are of larger quantity (due to genetic predisposition), then they are able to facilitate muscle growth adaptation. 

  • Levels of specific muscle fiber types

    • High levels of fast twitch muscle fibers are found in power athletes, such as olympic weightlifters, strength athletes, and sprinters. These are the athletes that perform short bursts of maximal effort work. Fast twitch fibers are larger than slow twitch muscle fibers.

    • High levels of slow twitch muscle fibers are found in elite endurance athletes. Slow twitch muscle fibers do not fatigue as quickly as fast twitch muscle fibers. These fibers are aerobic and do not accumulate metabolic byproducts as quickly as fast twitch muscle fibers. 

  • Oxygen delivery factors

    • Endurance athletes have to efficiently supply their muscles with enough oxygen. Elite endurance athletes have increased capillary density surrounding muscles, thus allowing for increased level of oxygen delivery. 

Power of Programming

Even if you’re not predisposed to be an elite level athlete (which is 99% of the population), that does not mean you should not work hard in your training. You can still make significant strength and athletic gains through proper programming, consistency, and hard work. You may not have the best muscle attachments that give you optimal levers for a specific lift, but if you follow a sound program, you will see progress and you can still be extremely strong. Don’t use genetics as an excuse. 

If you’re looking to be an elite athlete, you’ll have to work hard but also be aware that genetics does play a role in your journey to reach that level. There are athletes who hit the genetic jackpot for certain sports, and their road to being elite may look a lot different than yours…it may be shorter, it may require less work, it may not require as much detail in programming. It happens. As they say “Comparison is the thief of joy”…focus on your own hard work, embrace the process, and the rest will follow.