How much are genetics to blame for our inability to build muscle, get ripped or get in shape? The answer may surprise you - very little.

The following article is an excerpt from my book 101 Fitness Myths. It's something that I believe needs to be tackled since too many people are being held back by self-imposed obstacles. So lets look at genetics, myth and reality.

"I just cant get big/ripped/in shape/stronger - because of my genetics"

I hear this a lot - both in the gym and casual conversation. Genetics are a favorite scapegoat for athletic shortcomings. We blame genetics for our failure to build muscle or lose body fat. But how much do genetics really influence your success in the gym?

The answer is less than you would like to believe. While everyone has inherited a certain blueprint, which includes having good and not-so-good muscle groups, certain hormonal levels, and fat storage tendencies, it is also true that ANYONE can get in amazing shape.

You are trying to build the best body for you, not to emulate someone else.

Think of your body as a plant. Given the right conditions, a plant will grow and blossom. If it doesn’t, that means something is wrong - a parasite, not enough light, or too much water, perhaps. The same applies to your body: There is always an explanation for why you’re not progressing.

Success in training has three pillars: training, recovery, and nutrition. Most people at best get two out of three right, in fact I am going out on a limp here saying that most people's workout are ok, whereas there nutritional and sleep habits are a disaster. You can not expect to have a great physique if you neglect the basics.

Most of us don't have the potential of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that doesn’t mean we cannot achieve our own goals. By way of example, look at the guy next to Arnold: Frank Zane.

He had narrow clavicles, a long torso, fourteen-inch arms, and weighed 190 pounds at a height of 5'10". In short, he had one of the worst possible genetic make-ups for a pro bodybuilder.

Yet, he won Mr. Olympia three times, beating Arnold!

How did he do it? He stuck to his diet, trained with unmatched intensity, and did not take no for an answer. He realized that he couldn’t compete with Arnold on the basis of mass; so he created the most symmetrical physique, which many people still consider as close to perfect as a human can get.

Frank Zane’s story is inspiring. Your first step is to honestly assess yourself, your schedule, and your training experience, and devise the plan that’s right for you.

What is my goal? Mass in the upper body? Lean legs?

If your progress has been snail-like, then you might need to work out less often to give your body enough recovery time. Another approach would be to focus on certain body parts that you deem weaker and train them twice a week. Look at your body like a piece of art. You are the artist; it’s up to you to create the perfect physique for your particular body.

For example, if you have wide hips, don’t waste your time with oblique training to make your hips narrow; train your shoulders instead. The wider your shoulders are, the narrower your waist will appear. If you have long arms, curls wont cut it.

Add pull ups to every workout, yes to every one. Have your training partner touch you (in an appropriate way) at the muscle you are trying to work, studies show that muscle recruitment is up to 30% better due to the sensation of touch.

Also, stop working out and start training. Training means, “to increase the capacity to perform a skill or work.” If you are still training with the same weights after twelve months, you are simply not better. Push yourself to the limit in every workout to achieve your goals. Train your muscles, not your joints.

By simply going through the motions, you wont get as much stimulation as you could, instead try to feel every rep. Training is a lifestyle; whereas working out is neat and cute like a French class you take every two weeks. The only way you’ll really learn French is by moving to France and speaking only French.

The same applies to your body; it is a 24/7 project––training, eating, resting, and learning.

Remember, creating a physique is not a race against other people. You are doing this for yourself. If someone else gets in shape quicker or with seemingly less effort, don’t be discouraged. Don’t psych yourself out with complaints about your genetics because you can’t change them. The time you spend complaining could be much better used cooking a healthy meal or working out.

Keep working hard!

jenny maxwell
Posted on: Tue, 11/05/2013 - 07:16

I understand that anyone can improve their body... but this article does not even give a hint as to how much heritability influences body shape. I think it's more than "less than you would like to believe." This is fluff.

Posted on: Wed, 08/07/2013 - 07:00

Hey really good information man. I like your attitude about bodybuilding. It truly is a lifestyle. I've been in sports since I was like 3-4 years old and I've always been "training" not just working out. That's the only way you can get serious results. Not 80% diet and 20% workout.... it's 100% in everything if you want results.

Keep up the good work man.. ;)