Why Hard Work May Not Always Beat Good Genes

Athletes respond differently to training. STACK Expert Nick Tumminello fits the individual to the program, not vice versa.

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I'm sure you've heard a coach or parent say, "hard work beats talent." But this assumes hard work is the only answer.

When it comes to training, hard work certainly pays off and helps you get stronger. However, not everyone benefits equally from the same amount of work or type of training. In fact, the differences can be dramatic. Some people seem to get bigger from one exercise set, while others train consistently hard yet remain scrawny. That doesn't mean you're training wrong. Some people are more trainable than others because of their genetic make-up.

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Muscular Trainability: The Research

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology compared muscle fiber size gains of 66 individuals after four months of lower-body strength training. The exercises and effort were standardized for each individual. Yet, the researchers found the subjects increased fiber size by 50 percent, 25 percent or not at all.

Why the disparity?

It comes down to genes and the number of satellite cells (a precursor to skeletal muscle), as confirmed by another study published in 2008.

According to David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance:

It seems that some [bodies are] better primed to profit from weightlifting, as the subjects who made up the extreme muscle growth group had the most satellite cells in the quadriceps waiting to be activated and build the muscle.

Other studies have validated these results, finding that men and women exhibit wide ranges of response to resistance training. In one study published in 2005, the researchers found a strength gain range of 0 to 250 percent among 585 subjects.

The Takeaway

There's nothing you can do about your genes and satellite cell count. The first thing to do is work hard to maximize your strength and size potential. If you're not working hard, you need a swift kick in the pants.

But, you can't ignore the fact that some people are low- and potentially non-responders to certain exercise programs geared to building muscle, whereas others are high responders.

If you're not responding to a training program, consider changing programs. Keep experimenting until you find one you respond to. Many athletes have achieved great results by incorporating methods commonly used in powerlifting, bodybuilding and strongman training.

At Performance U, we take pride in the fact that our training approach fits the program to the individual rather than the individual to a set program.

To help you reach your training goals, try different methods and find what works best for you.

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