Are Your Genetics Holding You Back? Here's How to Fix Them

Several years ago, I took a class on performance-enhancing drugs in American society from Dr. John Hoberman, one of the world’s foremost authorities on sports doping. The course content covered more than just anabolic steroids; we discussed marijuana, tranquilizers, antidepressants, even breast augmentation -- but not gene doping. “That’s just science fiction,” Dr. Hoberman said.

He’s right: genetic enhancement in humans is still pretty far off, and maybe that’s why so many strength athletes become obsessed with their genetic potential. In fact, it seems like some people will go to any length to find a reason their Iron Evolution hasn't gone from suck to great. Whether it’s the fact they’re ecto- or endomorphic rather than mesomorphic, their leverages, or even their height, it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, it’s not their fault -- it’s their parents’.

In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t think much of those who get hung up on genetics, or on any other excuse for why they can’t succeed. It’s a defeatist attitude, and it’s straight-up stupid. In reality, the one trait that really matters is entirely under your control. That trait is grit.

Grit is psychologist Angela Duckworth’s term for the combination of passion and perseverance that predicts success in nearly any endeavor. That’s because if you’re passionate about something, you’re going to put a lot of effort into it, and it you have perseverance, you’ll keep putting in that effort even when times are tough. Sound familiar? It should, because nearly every high-level powerlifter, bodybuilder, and strongman will tell you that the real secret to strength is hard work and consistency.

Dr. Duckworth’s research is great, but it’s not that unique (little is in academia). I just chose her term because you can get this sweet Grit shirt if you ever need a reminder about what really counts. But I imagine more people are familiar with the 10,000 hour rule theorized by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson. It states, basically, that anyone can reach the elite level at any endeavor if they put enough quality time towards improving themselves.

Now, I’m a historian; I’d be pretty negligent if I didn’t acknowledge the importance of context. Your background -- parents, culture, and yes, genetics -- does matter, sort of. Who you were and where you came from undoubtedly influences what you choose to do and who you become. The key word there is “influences.” Context influences, but it doesn’t determine anything. You could come from nothing and still achieve greatness through sheer grit. Hell, that’s the American dream.

So why even think about your genetic potential? As it turns out, you shouldn’t. Psychologist Carol Dweck has arueged that putting any value on your genetic potential can have negative consequences -- even if you literally have the best genetics in the world. That’s because it’s so easy to get caught up in the idea that, because you do have great genetics, you don’t have to work hard. And genetics or not, hard work is always essential to success, so getting stuck in that mindset is a surefire way to derail progress and waste whatever genetic potential you might have. The flip side, of course, is equally detrimental; obsessing over your terrible genetic potential will similarly stymie any desire you might have to work hard.

So, to get to the title of this article, you can enhance your genetic potential. It’s simple, really:

  • Realize that you won’t reach your goals overnight, or even over a couple of years. Embrace the journey.
  • Accept the reality that you will face obstacles along the way to your goals. Injuries, illness, and life will all get in the way of your training.
  • Above all else, commit to working as hard for the whole journey.

If you can do those three things, I guarantee you will be successful -- so get after it.

Loading Comments... Loading Comments...