Nature and Nurture – What makes us good in competition?

by | Jul 28, 2013

The recent Wall Street Journal Book Review for The Sports Gene by David Epstein sounds like a good read!

Hmmm… How much of Michael Phelp’s aquatic success was due to his DNA and how much was diligence and hard work???

Hmmm… How much of my own VO2 max capacity is due to Mom and Dad and how much to my hours of elevated heart rate???


“Sport skill acquisition doesn’t happen without both specific genes and a specific environment, and often the genes and the environment must coincide at a specific time.” The best study on this is called the Heritage Family Study, which subjected 98 two-generation families to stationary bicycle-training regimens to increase fitness, as measured by aerobic capacity, or VO2 max—the amount of oxygen a person’s body can use. All the families received the same training of three workouts per week of increasing intensity, and DNA was taken from all 481 participants. The results were startling: The range in VO2 max improvement spanned from 0% to 100%, depending on the family heritage. About 15% of participants showed little to no improvement, while another 15% increased their VO2max by 50% or more. According to the study’s principle investigator, Claude Bouchard, “the range of response to training was six to nine times larger between pairs of brothers than within pairs.”

In other words, genes matter. How much? “Statistical analysis showed that about half of each person’s ability to improve their aerobic capacity with training was determined exclusively by their parents,” Mr. Epstein explains. “The amount that any person improved in the study had nothing to do with how aerobically fit he or she was relative to others to begin with.” Rather, it had to do with genetic inheritance.

I plan to read the referenced Heritage Family Study to learn more about the coincidence of genes and environment.

So – Thanks Mom and Dad, and thank me too.


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