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A Quick Thought About Genetics and Exercise.

Posted Jul 09 2009 4:32pm

Joanne asks me:

What about (insert famous athlete’s name here)’s training program?  It got him/her to such success; shouldn’t we emulate it?

The short answer is no.  The reason?  You couldn’t survive his/her training program.  And even if you could, you might not have the same degree of success.

Shouldn’t we seek to emulate what the best performers do to reap similar yield from our training efforts?  Doesn’t “success leave clues”?

Not always.  Read the definition of survivorship bias and see if you can’t see how it would apply to exercise and fitness.  For every Michael Jordan, there are thousands of wanna-bees who are following the same routine as he is and yielding a fraction of the result.

What could be causing survivorship bias with regard to training programs?  I know I’m going to get flamed for this, but it’s genetics.

Don’t misunderstand me here.   I’m not at all saying that you’re doomed by your genetics; in fact, I’d argue that by maximizing your individual genetic potential you can achieve levels of performance or aesthestics that would floor most people (Bruce Lee is famously quoted as saying, “Circumstances?  Hell, I make circumstances!”).  But what I am saying is that your genetic potential does create a set of boundaries around which you must operate (or suffer the consequences *cue ominous  music).  Your genetics set the rules of the game - and it’s a good idea to play by the rules if you intend to win.

The lesson here is that it’s good to experiment, but nosce te ipsum. If you’re a rank beginner to weightlifting, don’t jump right into Naim Suleymanoglu’s 1995 program.  It’s cliche, but listen to your body - it’ll give you signs as to whether or not you’re progressing properly.

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