Your parents had sex. That’s right. Mom and Dad got frisky and their genes randomly joined forces to make the ultimate anabolic melting pot…a baby. So even before Mom and Dad could turn off Ed Sheeran and put the lights on, they had given you the unique soil in which the rest of your life would be planted.
In a recent recording of the 3DMJ Podcast, I had the pleasure of sitting with Alberto and Jeff to discuss genetics and competitive bodybuilding. During the conversation, the episode quickly became one of my favorites, so I wanted to elaborate on one of the topics discussed. Keep in mind that I am by no means an expert on genetics, so what follows is simply my opinion. Now let’s dive in!
Whether it’s athletics, chess, writing, speaking, computer coding, or entrepreneurship, there are those who are genetically crafted for certain activities. I’m sure a few names pop into your head regarding genetically gifted athletes. Perhaps Michael Phelps or LeBron James? Maybe Simone Biles, Dwayne Johnson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Wilt Chamberlain? Usain Bolt? Bo Jackson?
While these individuals worked extremely hard for their entire lives to perfect their crafts, there is no denying the fact that they were starting with different hardware than the rest. Did the nickname “Wilt the Stilt” come about because of Wilt Chamberlain’s particular practice style? Did Arnold become the “Austrian Oak” because of his optimal training split and precise diet? I’m sure that the first time Lebron picked up a basketball or Simone took a gymnastics class, they were…well…different.
Hard work, dedication, and a growth mindset can make almost anyone improve substantially and rise to a higher level; however, legends are born when those attributes are combined with hand-crafted genetics. Remember when you were 10 years old and there was that kid who was just good at everything? Let’s call him, Gene (get it?). Gene was always picked first for kickball, dodgeball, pick-up basketball, touch football, and probably even for something obscure like a three-legged race. With individuals like Gene, it just always seems like they excel faster than everyone else, despite putting in the same amount of work. What gives?
As 10-year-old Gene grew up, did he meet with private coaches after practice, gravitate toward positive role models in his sport, avoid drinking and partying, pay attention to sleep and nutrition, get awarded academic scholarships, and go on to dominate college and possibly even professional sports? Or did he become a narcissistic, lazy, overweight, alcoholic has-been who relied solely on genetic gifts until he couldn’t and now drinks at the local bar wearing a varsity jacket and talking about the glory days? Genetic gifts, combined with hard work, create legends. Genetic gifts in the absence of hard work create tragedies.
As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The genetically gifted have a responsibility to understand the power that they possess and come to terms with the fact that they have likely achieved results despite the methods used. This opens the door to both disinformation (purposeful) and misinformation (accidental) distribution. Disinformation distribution would be 2x WNBF champion, Brett Freeman, promoting a “butt blaster” to build world-famous glutes rather than years of dedication to his craft, months of hard dieting, and exceptional genetics. To be clear, Brett always does the latter and never the former! Likewise, a fictitious example of misinformation distribution would be genetic freak, Taylor Atwood, sharing that he enjoys apple cider vinegar on his salads, and people interpreting that as the key to becoming one of the strongest humans on the planet. This hypothetical example is no fault of Taylor other than the fact that he is a gifted athlete. Even Dwayne Johnson saying something as innocent as, “I got where I am today because I worked hard,” can be misleading because the majority of folks out there can work as hard or even harder than The Rock, but never come close to his results. The point is…the genetic elite have a responsibility that most of us mere mortals do not.
I was recently watching a documentary that explored the keys to sustainable living and overall longevity. It chose to highlight an area of Italy, called Sardinia, where there is a very high number of centenarians compared to most of the rest of the world. The documentary explored the Sardinian lifestyle, culture, daily activities, diet, and much more, highlighting things like the fact that they eat fresh foods, use olive oil, drink espresso, enjoy wine, and go for daily walks. What can we take from this information? Processed food is killing us? Walking is healthy? Olive oil is a superfood? The truth is, we can’t draw many conclusions from this information because these folks are the outliers of human society. Just like we can’t recreate the way that Usain Bolt performs a leg press and expect to have his speed, we cannot use the methods of the genetic elite and expect similar results.
So how does this relate to competitive bodybuilding? In my opinion, genetics matter more in sports that are not highly technical and do not require high-level skill acquisition. With some posing practice and halfway decent training and nutrition planning, someone with elite genetics can dominate damn near any bodybuilding stage. Compare this to archery, golf, and even the kicker on an American football team, where the skill component is tremendously greater. This gives the genetically inferior an opportunity to “makeup ground” and possibly “catch” the genetically elite.
Bodybuilding is one of the most genetically determined sports out there and we must understand that even if we bring the absolute best physique to the stage, the outcome is still 100% determined by who is standing next to us on stage and who is sitting in front of us at the judge’s table. While many things are in our control when developing a high-quality physique, the actual placing in a bodybuilding competition is very much out of our control. It’s like entering a crop-yielding contest where everyone starts with different soil and the judging criteria are vague and unclear regarding size, shape, taste, color, etc.
That is why as competitive bodybuilders, the most important belief is this…if we put time and effort into something, we will get better. That’s it. We can’t all be genetically elite (don’t take it out on me, go yell at your parents…actually, you should call them anyway as soon as you are done reading this article and tell them you love them. Life is too short!), we must embrace the progress that we make over time while loving the journey and the process along the way.
As the saying goes, “You can’t make a racehorse out of a pig, but you can make a really fast pig.” So regardless of what genetic gifts your mom and dad gave you, you can still become a damn good bodybuilder. We are all different and our physiques tell a story of who we are and where we’ve been – focus on making yours the best it can be. I suppose the competitive drive and comparison to other competitors is unavoidable. After all, why else would we compete? I think sometimes comparing ourselves to those who are better than us can be a great tool in our growth and development. Just remember that while the genetic elite may provide some direction, they will never provide the destination. So be sure to identify and prioritize what you can control (your love of the process) rather than what you cannot control (a competition’s results).
Here’s to becoming the fastest damn pig out there…