Great article – long – but a nice read
Genetics role in athletic performance is a long debated subject. Why is it that people of a certain race or genetic background seem to perform better at certain sports than others? There are a number of explanations out there including the nature vs. nurture debate.
To understand this properly lets briefly look at genetics and what they are…
Genetics: What Are They And Do They Matter In Athletic Performance?
Genetics are units made up of a sequence or code of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). The ‘genes’ are the fundamental building block of all life, human, plant, insect, reptile, every living organism. Families pass on their genetic coding from one generation to the next and over time certain characteristics of genes are added, subtracted and altered. This is called evolution.
It is evolution that is likely responsible for genetics role in athletic performance. This would point to environment as a major factor, not just in short-term or single lifetime terms, but over many generations, for athletic performance. If you are part of a race or tribe that over many tens of thousands of years has to, out of necessity or need for survival, engage in certain regular behaviours then over time genetics are altered through the process of evolution to more efficiently perform these tasks of necessity. That’s the theory anyway, it makes sense but is not entirely proven.
Genetics are the fundamental code that gives people their eye colour, limb length, height, bodily proportions, reaction time, hair colour, lung capacity, weight distribution and everything else that the body tends to lean towards naturally. So, even with little hard scientific evidence explaining why exactly genetics play a role in athletic performance, there simply has to be a factor. The reason I can confidently say this is because if you look at a family with short, stumpy limbs, heavy upper body, higher body fat and a predisposition to flat feet and compare them to another family lineage with long legs, narrow hips, small upper body and naturally efficient gait, it is almost a guarantee that they will not perform at the same level in the same sports. The former will be much better weight lifters and throwers and the latter will be much more efficient runners. This is inevitable due to efficient structure for different tasks, which is determined genetically.
On the flip side, nurture does play a certain role, it’s not entirely genetically determined and I would never try to claim that it is. If the thin runner-types become heavy smoking couch potatoes and the short, stocky ones lead a healthy lifestyle and run every day then of course the genetically un-gifted runners will perform at a higher level. However the family that is not genetically structured for running will have a lower potential for improvement and future elite performance. Both nurtured equally and the genetically natural runners will almost certainly perform better.
So that’s the magic of genes and the role they play. They are the building blocks of life and will determine how efficient your body naturally is at certain tasks. Like it or not, everyone is genetically more suited to certain sports.
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