Body Type and Genetic Predisposition – How Fitness and Exercise Results May Stem From Genes

The effect of genetics on fitness levels has received a lot of attention in recent years. This attention has focused primarily on the obesity epidemic and the role that genetics may play. Less time has been given to the other end of the spectrum: the efficacy of types of exercises based on genetics. While genetics do not explain the totality of one’s fitness level, they do contribute. Knowing about the body’s exercise response can help people design targeted exercise routines more likely to get results.

Fitness and genetics are related. One’s body responds to certain types of exercise based on genetic predisposition. For example, studies have found that genetic factors play a considerable role in the expression of physiological adaptation to aerobic interval training. Note that body type has the most significant impact in aerobic training; another study showed no correlation between body type and maximal alactacid anaerobic power. Knowing this allows people to focus their exercise routine on those activities that will give them the most benefit and to set aside the ones that work against their body type.

Three Body Types

William Sheldon separated bodies into three broad types: ectomorphs, endomorphs, and mesomorphs. Ectomorphs are those with slender, lean bodies, without a lot of muscle mass. Endomorphs are characterized by round bodies, able to easily gain muscle mass, but prone to being overweight. Mesomorphs have what many people aspire to: a body that’s both lean and muscled, gaining muscle and losing fat easily. All three body types are genetically determined. One cannot change one’s body type. That said, people can exercise in a way that works with their body type, rather than against it.

Genetic Responses to Exercise

Before formulating an exercise regime, it’s important to know how each type responds to exercise. Lean ectomorphs have less muscle mass and have a hard time gaining muscle, but they’re perfectly suited for endurance activities like running and cycling. In general, ectomorphs have significantly lower body weight and levels of body fat than the other two body types. Heavy endomorphs are the exact opposite. They gain muscle mass quite easily, but it may be covered in a layer of fat. Endomorphs are not well-suited to endurance training.

Mesomorphs can handle high volumes of both cardio and resistance training. One study demonstrated that mesomorphs had a significantly greater increase in maximal oxygen uptake than others, consistent with studies showing an increase of 10% to 23% as compared to the other types. That said, mesomorphs gain muscle more easily than do ectomorphs.

Fitness Plans Play Up Genetic Advantage

In order to gain the muscle mass they lack, ectomorphs should do high-intensity weight training, with a low number of reps. But they should only train for two or three times a week so as not to burn too many calories. Resistance training should focus on working the whole body – squats, pull-ups, dead-lifts, chest presses, and so on.

Endomorphs require a very different routine. Since they struggle with weight loss and have significant muscle mass, they should be integrating high-intensity cardio into their workouts. They can handle three to five sessions of resistance training, of medium-to-low repetition.

Though they may have the ideal body type, mesomorphs have issues as well. They tend to gain fat more easily than lean ectomorphs, so mesomorphs should make sure to have a cardio component to workouts. But mesomorphs also have the tendancy to overtrain, so it’s important that they include variety in workouts.

Genetics-based Performance

People should remember that these are all broad guidelines. Genetics can improve performance, but they are not a guarantee, for good or for ill. They’re not an excuse. An ectomorph can get ripped and an endomorph can run a marathon. Knowing about genetic predisposition simply arms people with more information, allowing them to tailor more effective workouts so they can train smarter and reach their goals faster.

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