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It’s All In the Genes…Or Is It?

By Kyle Torrance | in Training | on October 16th, 2019 We've all heard it at some point from someone, or maybe even said it ourselves.  "I'm just not an athlete" or "I'll never be able to do [insert something], I just wasn't born with it" or "They are just gifted, they got the right genes."

And while there certainly is no denying genes play a role in our abilities, both athletic and otherwise, there is a growing amount of literature to suggest just how much our thoughts, beliefs, and expectations can affect real world outcomes.

A recent study shows these results quite clearly. I will summarize here without going into too much detail but references to the studies will be posted below.

In this study, researchers asked 223 participants to perform a maximal effort run on a treadmill.  Researchers tested the CO2:O2 exchange and ventilatory flow rate.  The subjects were also asked about their perceived rate of exertion as well as how hot they felt every two minutes.

After genetic testing of the GREB1 gene (a gene that influences aerobic exercise either positively or negatively),  half the subjects were told they had a 'bad' variant of the gene and half told they had a 'good' variant of the gene regardless of their actual genotype.  After being informed, they were asked to complete the treadmill test again.

Interestingly researchers found that *generally those subjects told they had a 'bad' variant of the gene performed worse the second time around both subjectively (rate of perceived exertion was higher) and objectively (CO2:O2 exchange rate) while those told they had a 'good' variant of the gene performed better the second time around (slower rate of perceived exertion and improved CO2:O2 exchange).

Essentially what this shows is that ones beliefs and expectations about ones genes impacted both perceptual and physiological measures.  Thinking you had a good or bad variant of the gene affected both objective and subjective outcomes more so than actually having the good or bad variant.

Genetic testing has become more affordable and accessible to the general population and while this is alluring to get a glimpse of 'what you are made of' we have to be careful it does not do more harm than good as we may interpret results and create a belief system around them (worse so if results are not favorable).

So what can we take away from this? Well in my opinion we are more powerful and have more influence over ourselves than we may have imagined, and this is very exciting! Gone are the days where we could use the excuse that we just have to 'work with what we were dealt.' And while genes certainly do matter, don't get me wrong, our mindset, our thoughts and our beliefs go a long way in creating the reality we live in.

So if you're one of those individuals who has always told themselves you could never run fast, or get a pullup, or lift something heavy etc.. changing your expectations, while not a guarantee, can go a long way in moving the needle towards growth and achievement.


Turnwald BP, Goyer JP, Boles DZ, Silder A, Delp SL, Crum AJ. Learning one’s genetic risk changes physiology independent of actual genetic risk. Nature Human Behavior. 2019; 3:48-56.    

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