Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

We can help shape how we look, despite genetics

Take a look around you and you'll see an endless range of body types: scrawny, lithe, pudgy, toned — even Hulk-like upper bodies paired with skinny chicken legs. We might tell ourselves we're fitter than one person because we're more dedicated or that we're scrawnier than someone else because of genetics. But how much of one's body shape is predetermined, and how much can we control?

"It's a bit of both," says Elizabeth Brooks, a personal trainer. "I've seen the most ectomorph person change their shape into a bodybuilder type." (An ectomorph body is generally lean, while endomorph is usually stockier. Mesomorph is muscular and athletic.)

Brooks continues: "Genetics gives us a certain base, but nurture is a huge part of how we look."

From an athletic perspective, genetics plays a part in determining what type of sport we might excel in, but there are also exceptions — athletes with extreme passion and discipline who overcome their physical baseline limitations. (Think Muggsy Bogues, an extraordinary 5-foot-3 NBA point guard in the '80s and '90s.)

No, you can't will yourself to be taller, but there are plenty of other things you can do to run faster, jump higher and respond more quickly. "There are more and more studies that show that the importance of genetics in determining sports specificity can be overshadowed by mental drive," says Eric Thomson, a sports medicine doctor.

So, what about the guy with the chicken legs?

"It usually has to do with not training properly," Brooks says. "A lot of guys will just work the upper body to get the big trapezius and shoulders and do nothing for legs."

Or they'll do the wrong things.

"Body-weight exercises are great for general conditioning, but to build strength and muscle mass, you have to add external loading," she says.

She suggests starting with high rep counts and lower weights and then eventually working up to low rep counts and higher weights.

To build calves, she recommends such drills as standing barbell calf raises and stair running.

On the flip side, though, there are people known as "nonresponders," who, no matter how hard they try, see no change in muscle mass or overall strength, says Max Prokopy, director of SPEED, a sports performance clinic at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

"Several studies indicate about 5 to 10 percent on each side of the bell curve will be 'nonresponsive' and 'hyper-responsive,' respectively," Prokopy says.

In other words, the hyper-responsive people are the ones we are all jealous of. They tone, slim and/or build easily.

And even if you are in the middle of the bell curve — you're the type who has some responsiveness to training — you still might have a hard time building muscle in a specific area of the body, Prokopy says.

It depends on the type of muscle fiber — fast-twitch (important for power and strength-building) and slow-twitch (important for endurance) — that is predominant in a certain muscle group.

"Certain muscles do seem to favor certain fiber types. For example, the biceps tend to be more fast-twitch dominant," Prokopy says.

But what if you're working out regularly and still not making significant gains? Can you blame your muscle fibers?

It's possible, but the issue is more likely nutrition-based, Brooks says. Achieving big muscles requires additional protein and, yes, calories. She recommends talking to a nutritionist about what that diet should look like.

"Bodybuilders say that 85 to 90 percent of how you look has to do with your diet," says Brooks, who earlier in her career was a bodybuilder.

In the end, genetics matters, but so do discipline and smart training.

Says Thomson: "We have a genetic baseline of what our body type will be — endomorph, mesomorph, ectomorph. However, what we do with that body is more influenced by our passion, support and adaptability."

Gabriella Boston is a fitness trainer and freelance writer. Contact her at gabriellaboston.com.

We can help shape how we look, despite genetics 06/23/16 [Last modified: Thursday, June 23, 2016 12:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Forecast: Remnants of tropical wave continues to bring rain through the weekend

    Blogs

    After relatively dry weather through the first half of the workweek, the tropical wave remnants continue to bring an increased threat for showers and storms across the state and Tampa Bay.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast
  2. Harvey regains tropical storm strength in Gulf of Mexico

    Blogs

    MIAMI (AP) — Harvey regained tropical storm strength as it drifted in the Gulf of Mexico toward Texas early Thursday and forecasters said it could become a hurricane.

    Leo Sermiento, left, and Emilio Gutierrez, right, fill sandbags in preparation of a tropical system on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, on South Padre Island, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the State Operations Center to elevate its readiness level and is making state resources available for preparation and possible rescue and recovery actions amid forecasts a tropical storm will make landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast.
  3. Largest Powerball jackpot won by single ticket in Massachusetts

    Blogs

    DES MOINES, Iowa - Powerball Product Group Chair Charlie McIntyre says the $758.7 million jackpot claimed by a ticket sold in Massachusetts is the largest grand prize won by a single lottery ticket in U.S. history.

    A Powerball lottery sign displays the lottery prizes at a convenience store Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in Northbrook, Ill. Lottery officials said the grand prize for Wednesday night's drawing has reached $700 million, the second -largest on record for any U.S. lottery game.
  4. Florida education news: Computer coding, guidance counseling, career planning and more

    Blogs

    SESSION STARTERS: State Sen. Jeff Brandes refiles legislation to allow Florida high school students to swap computer coding for foreign language credits.

  5. Rays morning after: Offense showing some life

    Blogs