Are We In Control of Our Fitness Destiny?

I’ve always wondered this.  And when I have a question like this, I always try and devise a thought experiment to test myself.  I present the following:

Suppose I wanted a swimmer’s body.  I find their long, lean musculature and low fat content appealing and I must make myself look like that.  So, I begin swimming.  I swim 1 or 2 hours 5 days a week for a year or two.  Do I end up with a swimmer’s body?

Lets assume I do end up shedding body fat and stimulating my muscles to grow long and lean.  Success!  Or is it?

Let me present it to you this way.  During the olympic swimming events on television, we notice that all the swimmers have a similar body type.  They’re all tall, have long arms/short-ish legs, broad shoulders, and relatively short torsos.  You don’t see a guy who looks like Tom Cruise (relatively short and compact) standing on the starting blocks next to Phelps.  Is this because the swimmers bodies became that way from hours in the pool?  Or is it because all other body types are eliminated from competition because they aren’t as optimum for swimming as these body types?

I would argue it is for the latter reason.  In my thought experiment, my swimming didn’t MAKE my body change to a swimmers body type.  I am genetically inclined towards swimming and the fact that I swam uncovered that. My inclination towards a swimmers body type is a variable that has no effect on the result (although lucky for me I like the swimmer body and am genetically inclined for it!).  This is called a narrative fallacy.  We make up a story to confirm something that seems obvious after the fact: I wanted a swimmers body, I swam a lot, and I got what I wanted!


While exercise can yield exceptional results, if what we want isn’t checked against reality we’ll end up disappointed.  Fact: I’m never going to beat a guy like Phelps for a gold medal in the olympics (unless he lets me).  I can practice and become a great swimmer, but he has a distinct genetic advantage with his body type.

I see this often with strength training (throwing weights around).  Men often desire to look like the guy on the cover of Muscle and Fitness magazine (me too), and women fear they’ll end up looking like the guy on the cover of Muscle and Fitness magazine (not a typo).

The Diamond Business

In reality, men (myself included) are disappointed and women’s fears won’t materialize.  It takes a rare human to build exceptional muscles or to be an olympic gold medalist swimmer.  This rareness, and exceptional marketing, are what make these qualities so appealing.

The best analogy I’ve seen for this is between diamonds and water.  Water is cheap, diamonds are expensive. Water is more important to our existence, but is affordable compared to diamonds.  Why?  Tech has made water cheap and readily available and supply and demand are well balanced.  Diamonds demand is high relative to their supply, thus they are able to be sold at a higher premium.

So it is with muscularity and rare physical features.  We envy the physiques in magazines because of their rareness.

Limiting Factors

DNA determines the nature of all living organisms.  Think of a time long ago when we didn’t have grocery stores. When food wasn’t as readily accessible more muscle would not have been an advantage for us humans.  When energy sources were scarce, sustaining even normal amounts of energy demanding muscle tissue would’ve been an issue.  Fat was our friend in those times, and our life support system (what a love/hate relationship right?).

We possess a disincentive towards having too much muscle.  There are other limiting factors — muscle length, your skeleton, neuromuscular efficiencies, and many other genetic factors.  How our body has adapted to keep us alive through tough times is the most interesting to me.  And it may be that we aren’t yet fully adapted to the radical tech improvements of the last century or two.

Kind of A Downer Right?

You may be thinking, “so if I’m not broad shouldered, narrow hipped, and have average length limbs I’ll never be a power lifter?”  Or for the ladies that if you’re an endomorph you’ll never be able to achieve the body type you envision no matter how much you work out?

I’ve got good news.  Epigenetics to the rescue!  Obviously, people around us beat their genetic makeup and modify (to some extent) their DNA.  How is this possible?  Largely through environmental influences.  Return for a moment to my thought experiment.  If I hadn’t developed the swimmers body (wasn’t genetically inclined), but took advantage of epigenetics would I be able to be an olympic medalist?  Likely not.  So we’re still limited.  Just not to the extent we once thought we were.

I’ll get into epigenetics next week and talk about what kind of environmental factors change our DNA.

The O-Board Says…

A. Every 90 seconds
Power Snatch build up

B. For Time
10 Power Snatch
25 Russian Twist 20/14

200m Run

10 Power Snatch
50 Russian Twist

200m Run

10 Power snatch
50 Russian Twist

200m Run

10 Power snatch
25 Russian Twist

200m Run

Posted by: Stets