Muscle Building Genetics: Separating The Myth From Reality

You might have heard many people tell you that your ability to build muscle mass will depend on genetics. But to what extent is that true? For many people who blame their inability to gain muscle mass and get in shape on their genetic disposition, here’s the truth about the role your genetics play on your bodybuilding endeavors.

Most people understand that getting a toned, well-muscled body is not achievable overnight. We are all born with muscles; they support our skeletal system in a plethora of ways by supporting bones and helping us move. But when it comes to building muscle, an equal role is played by nature and nurture. Nature refers to genetic disposition, while nurture refers to all the efforts you make in the form of diet and exercise to build muscle mass.

Understanding Your Muscles

Regardless of your genetic disposition, you can push yourself to build lean muscle mass. This is owed to the force-velocity relationship – the force you generate with muscles is dependent on the velocity with which every motion is resisted. In simpler words, your workout will result in muscle gains if the right amount of resistance is used. Genetics will play a role in how strong your musculature is to begin with, but this is not something that cannot be changed with proper workouts.

It is important to understand that your body has three distinct types of muscles:

  • Cardiac muscles – These surround your heart and help in pumping blood.
  • Smooth muscles – These are found around your digestive and reproductive system and work involuntarily to sustain these systems.
  • Skeletal muscles – These muscles surround all bones and are the muscles you work on when you workout. They are voluntary muscles and will relax or contract based on your efforts.

But muscles alone do not determine your musculature.

All muscles break down into muscle fibres, which are also further categorised into:

  • Slow twitch/ Oxidative muscle
  • Fast twitch/ Glycolitic muscle

Understanding The Role Of Genetics On Muscle Building

Genetics plays a role in determining the proportion between the two muscles and this cannot be changed irrespective of how much you workout. However, physical training can alter the efficiency of these muscle fibres, so that slow twitch muscles enhance your endurance levels and fast twitch fibres generate more force. The result – your muscles are more toned and hence well-defined, and you can delay fatigue and lift heavier weights if your muscle fibres work more efficiently.

Your muscle strength is determined by muscle mass, and genetics will play a role here too. Genetics will decide if you have a predisposition to optimum muscle gains, according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology in 2004. But the power behind each rep is not something that genetics governs. Even though genetic makeup plays a role in muscle adaptability, that doesn’t mean that you cannot achieve maximum gains for your physical frame and build a leaner, stronger body.

Should Genetics Be Blamed?

For most people who have athletic shortcomings, genetics becomes a perfect excuse. After all, it is true that we are born with a blueprint that determines how strong our muscles will be, our tendency to store fat and hormonal levels that are based on genetics to some extent. But it is also true that with the right workout and disciplined diet, anyone can get in shape and build lean muscle mass. The key is to understand your limitations based on genetic disposition and not to emulate a professional bodybuilder. The fact that ‘I cannot get ripped because I have a genetic disposition to gain fat or be too petite’ is nothing but a myth.

Your success at the gym lifting weight is based on three key components – Nutrition, Training and Recovery. And statistics show that most people get two out of these aspects right — the nutrition and training aspects. But what most people do not understand is that recovery, which includes both rest and sleeps patterns, also plays a big role in your muscle gains. And then they blame genetics because they cannot achieve their muscle gain goals.

A combination of right nutrition, optimum workout and adequate rest will always result in better shape. If you are small and petite, don’t aspire to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, because that is simply an impractical goal. Instead, aim to get a symmetrical physique that is still ripped and aim to look like Frank Zane. The answer to your bodybuilding woes lies in setting up the right goals and following them diligently.

How To Beat Genetics And Optimise Muscle Gain?

If you have understood the concept of proper nutrition and the right workout regimen, chances are that your rest periods are inadequate. To give your body more recovery time, you need to work out less often or reduce the workout length and add more rest between two difference exercises. Another great approach is to take a good hard look at your body and determine which parts are weaker. Think of your body as a piece of art and yourself as the artist; with the right exercises that target the areas which are lacking in muscle definition, you can create a more symmetrical and impressive physique. If you have naturally wide hips, don’t waste time by trying to get them in shape. Instead, work on shoulders so that they are wider, and create a more symmetrical physique.

Also, change your approach to exercises. Forget working out and start training. Yes, there is a difference. Working out refers to lifting weights and doing exercises that are good for you. Training refers to increasing your capacity and ability to perform a skill. So if you have been working out with the same weights for a year, you are not training. Your body has become accustomed to that much weight and you cannot expect gain if your body is no longer challenged. Push yourself by ensuring that you train only your muscles and not your joints.

If you want to defy your genetic disposition and still maximise your muscle gains, think of training as a 24×7 project, where you concentrate on training, eating, resting and learning – all together.

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