Blame Your Parents or Your Choices? (Genes vs. Lifestyle)

woman exercising with daughterLook around the gym at all the body types, sizes and fitness levels. Many of them have been working out just as long, doing similar routines, eating similar diets. Still, the results may vary.

Are traits like athleticism or thinness inherited or developed? What if it seems like your family genes are holding you back when it comes to fitness? Nature vs. Nurture: we explore right here.

Body Types

Does it seem unfair that skinny guys don’t have to worry about getting lean, or that big guys can build eye-popping chests? Or why is one person’s body responding so well to the bootcamp and yours seem to be stuck?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the categories of body types called somatypes. It’s a way of fitting human bodies into three different general classifications: ectomorph (naturally thin, lean, trouble gaining muscle and fat), endomorph (naturally rounder or softer, trouble getting lean and defined), and mesomorph (somewhere in the middle, a sturdy build that can go either way).

Science may use somatypes to begin to explain how groups of people who train similarly, eat similarly, and live similarly, don’t all end up with similar abilities, body composition or shapes. But there’s much more to it than that, with thousands of points on the scale between three simple body type categories. How you’re made (genetically) and what you do (with diet, exercise and life) both make a real difference.


One way to look at potential for developing your body in certain ways is “heritability” estimates: some high heritability traits are more likely to be predisposed genetically. Lower heritability simply means there’s more room for you to shape and grow in that area.

For example, genetics play a very large role in obesity over all (70% heritability) but there is plenty of room for lifestyle to trump the genetics. Sedentary people who consume a lot of sugar, for example, would be more likely to demonstrate the obesity trait, and an athlete in year-round training would be far less likely.

Your strength, muscle mass, aerobic fitness, mix of muscle fiber types and athleticism in general all range in the 40 – 65% for heritable estimates. Teaching us that diet, exercise and everyday habits matter a LOT.


There’s a genetic element to trainability, too, similar to a somatype. Can big solid linebacker get the same results from a distance running program as a slight ectomorph built for running marathons? Or will a major league pitcher learn to hit as many towering home runs as a designated hitter? Not usually. Some bodies are simply more efficient in some areas.

But we shouldn’t be discouraged, because there are so many complimentary traits and different talents to fill in any physical trainability gaps. The right training program can help a linebacker dramatically improve endurance. And what a player can’t gain in bat speed, he might gain in timing or rotation.

Sure, when it comes to professional athletes or supermodels, genetics can offer a jumpstart, or a higher ceiling for what could be achieved. However, getting to higher levels of strength and performance, while getting lean and fit, will always require a lifestyle that includes exercise and good nutrition.


Now that we know genetic factors can only hold you back to a certain degree, we see there’s really no excuse for not going for the best results you can get. It’s true, we may have different ratios for our muscle fibers, fat storage efficiency, bone size and metabolism. The factors affecting our results are a pretty complex matrix—all the more reason for you to find the right eating plan and workout program for you as an individual.

So, no blaming your parents, your work hours, your DNA, or anything else. You can always ramp up your efforts and fine-tune your routine to make the most of your own body type, genetics and trainability!

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