Why genetics are not that important
If you follow this blog you might have read my recent post called ‘Blame your parents‘. If you’re new here or haven’t read it, please click on the link and have a look at it before you continue with this post. It’s ok, we’ll all wait for you.
Hopefully the take-away message was clear: genetics play THE deciding role in how far you can go, without drugs, when it comes to training.
You can’t out-work or push harder to become something you’re not going to be, in the same way that stretching every night once you’re past the age of 25 is not going to make you taller (I’m not sure if it helps even when you’re still growing, but it might a tiny bit, you never know).
I stand by that, and it’s something I hope you forgive me for going on about, simply because once you understand that you can set yourself realistic goals and, I believe, be happier in general with your efforts and the person you are. It also helps when separating the fact from fiction in the hyped-up world of fitness advertising.
So is the title of this post a typo? Shouldn’t it be “why genetics ARE that important”?
It’s not, because I’m going to add another word to ‘genetic’.
The idea of potential is a powerful and evocative concept. It promises a lot but doesn’t have to have any substance. If someone says I have ‘potential’ I see it as a challenge, as if they’re issuing a ‘prove-me-right’ card because despite having the potential you haven’t really done anything yet.
Potential implies there is a limit: the thing is that it is basically impossible to determine exactly what that limit is.
If we take my Deadlift Challenge as an example, I know that after all this time and training I’m probably closing into my ‘all-time maximum’, above which I’ll never get without using steroids.
Right now it’s at 240 kgs. Based on my natural size, weight and the fact that I’ve been training hard for years and years, I can basically guarantee that I’m never going to pull 300 kgs.
At my current weight, that would be a 3.5-3.6 x bodyweight lift. Unless you’re a extremely, extremely rare genetic anomaly, and/or you take steroids (more likely) genetically it is extremely, extemely unlikely I could ever do it.
To the extent that I may as well say impossible. That is far beyond my genetic potential.
But 250kgs? 260? Maybe even 275 kgs? Maybe my genetic limit is 245 kgs and I’m already nearly there, and I’ll never be able to go past it.
I have no way of knowing other than continuing to train hard and to see what happens.
There is defintely a genetic ceiling for everyone, and like me ever deadlifting 300 kgs or being 200 lbs at a genuine 8% bodyfat naturally there are certainly numbers you can instantly discount as attainable, because they will never happen without drugs, no matter what fitness guru/fake natural X says.
But equally, in-between your current level and impossible lies a number which IS your genetic potential.
There’s nothing stopping you working your way towarsds that, and finding how close you can get to it.
This is why although you should acknowledge your genetic limitations, there’s no need to pay too much heed to them.
The truth is you’ll NEVER reach your genetic potential.
Why? To do that you’d have to completely maximise the natural and physical gifts you are given. This basically means doing everything possible to be as good as you can be, at all times. If we take strength and muscular size as an example, this means that from the age of 14 you’d have had to train perfectly, eat perfectly, rest, recover and never suffer an injury up to the age of something like 32, where you’d peak.
That is obviously impossible, and hardly desirable, for anyone. Even those who come closest to achieving this, Olympic athletes, will have injuries, set-backs, days off etc.
You might look at yourself and think that you don’t have the bone structure to be muscular. Or that you put on fat too easily to ever be lean. Or that you have narrow shoulders, or your legs are too short.
Recognising your genetic limits and knowing what is possible IS important, but you personally have no idea how far you can go with your body and your genes.
Between your current level and the impossible, there lies an acheivable number or body shape.
Unlike something like height the best thing about physical training is that you CAN do something about it.
Maybe your friend seems to be able to build muscle faster than you. Maybe you don’t have the bone structure or ability to ever be a fitness model or beat more gifted people at strength sports.
If you’re an adult man and naturally lean, slim and tall (an ectomorph- see more on body types here) it is important that you recognise that genetically you don’t have the best ‘talents’ to be muscular, broad-chested and extremely strong.
But how close can you get to that, if that is your goal? No-one knows, until you try.
While genetics set the limits on what you can do remember you’re in control of how close you get to them.
THAT’S why genetics aren’t that important.
If you see a fitness advert or a trainer that tells you that ‘you can be whatever you want to work hard for’, don’t believe it because it’s not true. You can’t.
Instead, set yourself an ambitious but realistic target that takes into account your body shape and training history.
Then go for it. Once you achieve it, set another one. Then another.
You’ll never reach your genetic limit, believe me. So don’t worry about it, and instead enjoy seeing how far you can get.
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