Breaking Through the Genetic Ceiling


I remember years ago at a major meet in Europe a few coaches talking in english over dinner, and discussing genetic testing with track and field. With so many different cultures sitting down it was funny to see the wide variety of opinions and philosophies. This was before the Quantified Self movement and it was creepy that one coached mentioned that all lines can be crossed with genetics. Henk’s post on dose response on training comes with two options. Minimum effective dose versus maximum effective dose. Stimulate or overreach? Adaptation will hit a genetic ceiling and team sport is about optimizing and olympic sport is about maximizing, as one great coach told me recently. After hearing a spooky germanic chuckle it reminded me of the movie Flatliners, a 1990 film about playing with near death and bringing back people after the heart stops. Crossing the line Fast forward 13 years genetic testing is commercially available and elite athletes are doing it now to get the edge. Talk about big data.

So how far does one push it? Unnecessary risk is just not worth it, but eventually you need to challenge the body. We are living in a soft world and people are getting hurt because they are weak as kittens, out of shape, and technique is sloppy. One doesn’t want to reduce risk, but manage it. Reducing risk in the weight room is not about eliminating exercises, it’s choosing to see what dangers are present and finding ways to work around or prepare for those areas. Many athletes simply don’t last when what they did to get their isn’t optimized. Sometimes the law of diminishing returns will show up and one must find a way to get better. Maintaining can lead to monotony straining, as variety has purpose based on needs, not just random periodization. In the 1990s random rep and set schemes worked because it cycled load, but randomness is not ideal. I do agree that variety for muscle confusion or keeping people happy with new gadgets and new exercises are not wise directions, but things need to change based on the calendar. Add in the need for timing of adaptations and sequence of peaking/tapering and things are far from easy.

Regardless if one uses HRV or real time muscle EMG smartfabric, one has to prepare for risk by being stronger, more coordinated, mobile, and in great shape. The problem now is the more information we know does it create a god complex and tempt people to overreach just a little bit more to see how far someone can go? I don’t know. What I do know is that genetics don’t measure spirit or heart, and if it DNA and Combine numbers is all that matters, we would never see Tom Brady. Down the road testing and training is going to get better, but it’s the coach that is responsible for the right dose and that is based on trust and experience, not just on the iphone app or saliva test.

Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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