Do you have the “Sports Gene”?

Shadow of a Runner on an Athletic Track

Is your performance really dictated by your genes or can your reach the top through training?

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that it is not quite as simple as that.  Sports journalist David Epstein presents the current evidence in the nature vs. nurture debate in his fascinating and easy-to-read book The Sports Gene (no sports science degree required). He shows that whilst innate characteristics certainly play a role in athletic performance, it may not be the ones that you think, and it definitely isn’t as simple as identifying a “sports gene”.

He covers everything from baseball professionals to chess grandmasters (the two have more in common at the elite level than you might think), the practise hours of top violinists and the role of accumulated practice (including a 30 year-old non-golfer who has decided to test the 10,000 hour theory to see if he can become pro and make the PGA tour).  He features athletes who have achieved amazing feats following years of dedicated practice, and others who just seem to be naturals.

For us distance runners, one of the most interesting chapters is “Can Every Kalenjin Run?” (the 4.9 million Kalenjin people make up 12 percent of Kenya’s population but more than three quarters of the country’s top runners).  Epstein presents the currently available research including theories that range from a background of cattle-raiding, a better running economy due to proportionally long legs and thin lower legs, a politically (relatively) stable country, lifestyle (running to school), location (living at altitude), diet, a drop in distance running performance from other countries and huge potential financial rewards (Kenya has an annual per capita income of $800) as the factors that have led to the dominance of Kenyan, and in particular Kalenjin, runners in elite distance racing.

One of the messages that comes through loud and clear is that there is no one single characteristic that distinguishes one athlete from another.

“Because we are each unique, genetic science will continue to show that just as there is no one-size-fits-all medicine, there is no one-size-fits-all training program.  If one sport or training method isn’t working, it may not be the training.  It may be you, in the very deepest sense.”

It’s one of the reasons that generic training programs don’t work.  Or at least, they don’t result in the best possible performance from an individual – we’re all different and respond differently to training.If you’ve reached a training plateau or don’t think that you’ve reached your full potential, consider one of our custom training programs.  We can’t promise you a gold medal, but you will have the satisfaction of being the best that YOU can be.



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