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DNA Testing – Can You Predict Your Potential for Gains?

We all want to build muscle, lose fat and gain strength. We all want to look and perform like an elite athlete. Some of us are prepared to put in the work required, but even with herculean work ethics just aren’t destined to reach those levels.
Genetics matter!

Whatever your genetics you can improve your physique and performance, but you probably won’t reach world class standards. Even with great consistency, grit and determination you might “only” reach decent levels of muscle mass or strength.

Knowing this is frustrating for a lot of people. I’ve had several people say stuff like, “if only I knew what my potential was I’d know if I’m prepared to put the effort in.”

As someone, who definitely has better genetics for being skinny, lean and performing well in an endurance type sport like rowing, but desperately wants to be big and jacked I can understand the thought process to some extent.

My overriding thought is, do what you want, chase the goals that get you fired up, and simply focus on being the best version of yourself. Progress is a great motivator. However, I know other people are more extrinsically motivated. Being able to benchmark their results against others motivates them. We are all competitive to some degree. Being good at something 9and more importantly in many cases) better than others motivates a lot of people to put the effort in.

So, can we predict your potential to make gains in size and strength from a simple assessment?

If you could it would save you years of training to find out.

A DNA study in 2016 tried to answer this question.

After taking saliva samples from athletes they used 14 different gene variants to classify them as either “power” or “endurance” athletes. They didn’t tell the athletes their results at this stage. They then put them on an 8-week program focused on either heavy, high-intensity lifting (10×2) or lighter, lower-intensity lifting (3×10-20). At the end of the study they then compared gains in “power” and “endurance”.

Some participants were “matched” to the program designed to stimulate their genetic pre-disposition, while others were “mis-matched”. For example, a “power” athlete was matched when undertaking the high-intensity heavy lifting protocol. Another “power” athlete was mismatched when placed on the low-intensity protocol. The same was done with the “endurance” dominant athletes.

Afterwards results were compared for athletes that had trained in matched versus mismatched training programs.

The results showed that while there were performance improvements across the board, the athletes pre-disposed to “power” responded significantly more to the heavy training. They saw a 6.5% improvement in performance compared to 1.8% using lighter loads and higher reps.

There explosive power increased significantly more too. This was measured on a countermovement jump test. They gained 7.1% following the heavy lifting program compared to 2.3% with the lighter style training.

Meanwhile, the “endurance” type athletes responded better to the lower intensity lighter training. Their cycling performance was improved by 6% using the low-intensity protocol, but only 2.6% with the heavier style. More surprisingly, they displayed a 7.6% improvement in countermovement jump after light training, but only 2.8% heavier training. This is extremely surprising.

Based on this study it seems that you can make excellent progress whether you are more explosive dominate or endurance dominate naturally. The key is finding the training protocol that best suits you and your physiology.

That is why when assessing clients, I take my time to measure multiple metis specific to their goals, their body structure and their previous training history. I’ve not quite branched out into DNA testing though because there is still much more research needed for us to get a full understanding of how our genetics influence our results.

While this study is informative, it does have some limitations. For example, they only tested 14 gene variants. There are thousands of gene variants which contribute towards athletic performance and your adaptations to specific training programs.

It is, however, some exciting and pioneering work in an area which is rapidly expanding. Soon our understanding of what creates elite protamine and where an individual lies on the potential spectrum based on third DNA will be much more advanced and very soon I think we will be able to predict success and plan training to maximise success with extreme accuracy.


Jones et al. A genetic-based algorithm for personalized resistance training. Biol Sport. 2016;33(2):117-26.

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