Is Being Athletic a Genetic Disposition, or Can it be Achieved Through Exercise?


Have you ever met someone who you think is physically “gifted”? Perhaps he’s always been super strong, fast, and powerful. Maybe she always has a low body fat percentage and excels in her sport of choice, above and beyond the competition. Find out how out athletic genetics affect your overall ability.

The so-called supermen and superwomen around us are intriguing. Are they so athletic because they were naturally predisposed to be athletic, or are they athletic because they worked harder than anyone else? Chances are, it’s actually a little bit of both.

Maybe she’s born with it…maybe it’s her workout program.

Yes, genes will play a role in how athletic you are (or aren’t). In fact, several factors that contribute to your potential power, speed, agility, balance, flexibility, endurance, and other physical skills are heavily influenced by your genetics. These factors include things like:

Muscle fiber composition

e.g., fast-twitch for sprinting vs. slow-twitch for endurance


e.g., length of body levers, aka your bones

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Joint alignment

especially of the spine, shoulders, hips, and ankles

Tissue elasticity

or how flexible your tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joint capsules are



or how fast and efficiently our body burns calories and stores body fat

VO2 max

or how much oxygen your tissues consume during exercise, aka aerobic capacity

Heart size

which influences how much blood you can pump around your body at any given time

Neuromuscular control

including how well your central nervous system influences and receives feedback from your joints, muscles, and the rest of your body
The truth is, some of us are just born with the deck stacked in our favor as far as physical ability goes. Things like family heritage, sex, and even ethnicity and culture all play a role in this.

But while we can’t change everything about our bodies through exercise (especially something like our height), it’s clear that we can influence many of the above factors (and improve our overall fitness level and body composition) by staying active.

There’s even research to suggest that our actions can affect genetic expression. In other words, healthy practices like sleep, sauna use, proper nutrition, and exercise can actually turn on or off certain genes within our bodies. These are genes that will influence how strong we are, how fast we are, how lean we are, how healthy we are, and how long we live.

The Bottom Line: Genes DO Play a Role–But So Do The Choices You Make Every Day
In our opinion, it’s never nature vs. nurture. It’s nature and nurture.

No, not all of us are destined to be professional athletes. But no matter what our family heritage has gifted us with (or not), we all have the ability to get closer to our own physical potential. We do this by maintaining regular exercise, eating clean food, and properly managing our rest, hydration, and stress management.

In other words, if you were born a cat, then sure–you may never become a lion someday. But with enough hard work and dedication, you certainly can become a pretty hardcore cat.


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Sara M. is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and freelance writer living and working near Boston, MA. As a former CrossFit gym owner and current fitness lover, Sara has a lot of personal and professional experience inside and outside the gym. She loves to write about various topics related to health, wellness, nutrition, human behavior, and self-mastery.