Is It All Genetics?

Oh, there’s no way of beating that Kristoff, he was born with a barbell in his hand and could squat 500 as a kid in high school. His genetics are unbeatable. 

How many times have you heard “the G word” thrown around as a reason why someone else is the best athlete around and unstoppable? Maybe you yourself have said that you can’t stand up to someone else’s genetic gifts? 

Blaming your lack of a stake in the competition or attributing someone else’s success to genetics is a sham of out a cop-out. 

I’m not here today trying to bash anyone for having played the genetics card. I’m sure we’ve all made comments for or against someone being genetically gifted before, myself included, as it’s one of the trending things to talk about in sport. However, I’ve never stopped trying because of a potential advantage someone else naturally had over me. Today I’m trying to motivate you to look at the situation the same way and take what you can control into your own hands, because maybe “great genetics” aren’t all that great after all. 

There is no genetically perfect athlete. 

genetics-test-tube.jpg

Accept this as a fact. There is no genetically perfect athlete competing against you, so there is still some aspect of your skill that can shine through in any situation. Until we start genetic engineering or “gene therapy” to program super-soldiers and perfect athletes from the womb or by manipulating their genetics, it is almost impossible that all of the stars have aligned to fit into place to create the “perfect" athletic genetics in any one person. The number of genetic factors that are linked to athletic performance is astounding and, mind you, still not fully elucidated so we don’t even know every single gene that affects sports performance, so how could we know if someone really is a perfect athlete or not?

This isn’t to say that there aren’t genetically gifted athletes running around and doing their thing. We see them in professional sports, at the Olympics, and for strongman, we see them compete at World’s Strongest Man and The Arnold Strongman Classic each year. 

In most sports, you won't make it all the way to the top if you don't have the physical gifts that the other athletes have. Strongman stands out for sure because you have to be well over 300 lb. to even get a chance to square off against the best of the best. 

More to my point is to use what you’ve been gifted with to your advantage. 

Use what you’ve been given to your advantage.

As mentioned, it’s virtually impossible that you are bested in every way when it comes to your sport of choice, whether it is strongman/strongwoman or anything else and when competing at your own level of competition. Use this as fuel to motivate you and to not get discouraged in your training and when competing. At the end of the day, who really cares if you are the best in the world, the best in your country, or even the best in your city? People might think that it’s nice for a glimmering moment, but it won’t really amount to much of anything at the end of the day. You’ll be left wondering “what do I do next?” just like the rest of us. If you’re revolting at the thought of not being the very best, sure you’ve got some drive and motivation there and that's good, but you also need to check your ego at the door. It’s the journey that really matters, not the end goal. If you love every second of the pursuit to “greatness” that’s what you’re going to find is really meaningful. When accomplishing great things comes from the drive to push yourself to constantly improve rather than the finish line you’re trying to cross, that’s where ultimate satisfaction and meaning will come from. 

A recent example of this is in the way Eddie Hall handled winning World’s Strongest Man 2017. Eddie stated that he would retire from the sport after winning WSM. He had crossed that finish line and now he was done. That was his mentality at the time and even before the competition, as he stated in his documentary (highly recommended Netflix documentary by the way). There’s a lot of ego involved there if striving for true greatness is the ultimate goal.

With Eddie being a great strength athlete and having built himself up to be such from a background as a more endurance-based swimmer in his teen years, we’ve already seen inclinations that Eddie likely isn’t truly done. Eddie also has the mindset to constantly push himself, so stepping back from competing after winning once likely won’t be satisfying to him in any way, shape, or form.  

The psychology of success.

What we see in these two instances are the two classes of "mindset" that psychologist Dr Carol Dweck covers in her area of research and writes about in her book Mindset: The psychology of success.  

In the first example, Eddie is exhibiting the side of him that is stuck in a fixed mindset. We recognize the fixed mindset in so-called "Know-it-alls" that always have to be right and shy away at any signs of failure, not because they aren’t skilled per se, but they don’t want to be taken from their shrine of glory. Eddie made it to the top in the world of strongman, proved that he could do it and then said he was retired so that he could go out on top and never have the title taken from him. Dweck talks about different athletes in her book who have displayed this type of mindset and how they tend to not leave the same legacy as those athletes with growth mindsets that continually strive for success. 

In the second example with Eddie, it's arguable that he has developed more of a growth mindset over the years of training he has put in. Growth mindsets are equated with openness to learning and taking failures as an opportunity to improve in some way. Growth mindsets are how we unlock our nearly limitless potential and they can be developed through practice. A lot of it comes down to a willingness to learn from your mistakes instead of giving up at the first signs of adversity. Growth mindsets are not innate as much as they are learned and developed through our experiences, so if you're feeling down at the thought that you are stuck in a fixed mindset, don't be discouraged. The first step is to take responsibility for your failures and instead of thinking about the judgement of yourself in the situation, ask yourself what you can learn and how you can improve next time.

With that in mind, let's look at some more examples of why there is no one genetically perfect athlete, especially when it comes to strongman. 

Strongman is a great example of how you can use what is to your advantage to continuously seek improvement and win in the competition if that is a goal you have. You don’t put all your eggs in one basket in strongman/strongwoman. The dynamic and varied nature of the sport makes it extremely unlikely in any circumstance that one athlete is going to be unbeatable. Some athletes are better at the moving events that require more speed, some are statically strong and do the best in max lift events, and others have a balance of the two skills and can thrive in high rep events. Each competition scenario is different and so each athlete can somewhat level the playing field to gain an upper hand in total points depending on the day. Obviously, in some situations, there are athletes with more experience and more overall skill that have pushed their abilities even on their weaker events past the skill of someone who you would expect to hold the upper hand. This is another area where anyone can see progress through determination and motivation, as you can push yourself harder in training and progress faster to overcome weaknesses and excel where you previously felt defeated.  

Recovery vs. Performance

The genetics involved in sports not only revolve around performance itself, but also recovery. So, for example, even if you feel you are out-performed in certain ways, consider that like The Wolverine, your gift for recovery may be better than other athletes and so if you also have the motivation in place you can push yourself harder and recover quicker and eventually you may surpass the skill of other athletes that had you bested at the start of your journey. 

Keep in mind that there are so many different ways for you to make improvements and get better over time. There’s never a guarantee that you can’t beat someone else simply because of a case of superior genetics.

Train Intelligently

smart brain.jpeg

Genetics might not be in your control, but think about how many other factors are in your control to improve upon. Putting together an intelligent training plan - a complete lifestyle training plan really - can accelerate your progress in ways that I’m sure will surprise you. It all comes down to how determined you are to reach your dream. Don’t get bummed out and feel down about yourself; mindset can be honed. You have the ability to change your thought processes and motivation levels for the better and when you do that, everything else that gets put together in making great athletes is in your power to improve as well. Start wherever it’s easiest for you to improve as an athlete and expand outward from there. Small victories have a tendency to snowball into greater accomplishments and you'll gain momentum as your confidence grows. 

Meditate, write out a system to help you reach your goals, and change your mindset to turbocharge your internal drive. 

With your internal world honed in on your goals, execute that discipline. Eat the nutritious foods that support your goals, ACTIVELY recover when you feel run down and know you need to recover, and when it’s time to train - put the pedal to the metal and get after it. 

When you put all the components in place you too become unstoppable. Let’s forget about what our genetically gifted rivals might or might not be doing. The reigns of control are in your hands to guide. So take what you can control and drive forward. 

PN Genetics - Chapter 11

Precision Nutrition released a deep-dive book for free all about genetics that you should check out if you’re interested in this subject. It is scientifically very dense, but they’ve written it in such a way that you can get the takeaway points from each chapter very easily even if you don’t fully read into all the details written about each gene that’s covered. Chapter 11 of the book looks at a whole host of genes that are known to be associated with athletic performance, so if you want some additional encouragement about how unlikely it is that your fellow competitors have you beat genetically in every possible way, take a look at that chapter. Some people might go on and on about how you can't defeat a genetically superior athlete, but convince yourself that you can. Because it is our mindset that makes us truly unstoppable. 

Check out the PN book here: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/genetic-testing-ebook

There’s also a good conversation about genetics on a recent Iron Radio podcast episode that you can check out here: http://podplayer.net/#/?id=43211203

Fortissimus