Bodybuilding Genetics

May 11th, 2007 by Paul Johnson

Among all the marketing gimmicks, magic supplements and the people pushing you books for the magic routine, I have to say point blank: bodybuilding results is mostly genetics. If you're a bodybuilding "newbie" (or maybe even a veteran) your going to hate to read those words, but it's the truth. It's ingrained in our psychology that we hate to admit that anything is mostly muscle genetics. It took me a while myself, before I finally came to terms with that.

If you are a "hardgainer" you will never acheive close to what a easygainer gets, at least not naturally. Just like some people are smarter then others, look better, some people are more nervous, some are introverted, genetics plays a role in everything so why not bodybuilding? Bodybuilding is an ego driven sport, so people are not going to want to admit that they can't look like Arnold or the buff gym rat if the weigh 140 lbs soaking wet. They will convince themselves if they just try a little bit harder on their diet or routine, they will eventually be the biggest in their gym.

Even steroids are not a magical drug. They give you a boost and get you through plateaus, but watch what happens when you get off them after a year or two. You will drastically shrink, often back to your previous size before steroids. And you don't want to be relying on them indefinitely because of the negative effects on your heart, liver, kidneys, prostate, and sexual health.

So what genetic factors are in place?

The answer is mainly due to muscle fiber type and the amount of each type. The more gifted larger bodybuilders often have more fibers and more of them fast twitch on average. Myostatin is another one. When myostatin was manipulated in mice they grew muscle at unbelievable rates. Testosterone levels play a huge role also. People with large testosterone levels should have a easier time building more muscle and keeping lean /losing fat. Metabolism of course is another big one. If you have a fast metabolism you will have a hard time building muscle.

Did I give up? of course not I still train hard. I just realized I needed a more realistic perspective about my abilities. It is unhealthy to obsess and have unrealistic expectations. So if you have been following a strict diet and weight lifting routine for a few months and still don't look that great, just accept that because of your genetics, the gains will be probably slow. You may have to accept you'll never reach your ideal goal in your mind. However, you will look a heck of a lot better than if you did nothing! And that is all that matters in the end.

  1. Dave on May 15th, 2007

    I have to admit, you’re 100% on the money with genetics. In high school when I was playing competitive sports no matter how much I tried to “bulk up” and gain weight, I was never successful. However, 20 years later in my late 30’s I now have the build I was trying to get at back then and all my friends who succcessfully “bulked up” back in high school are no mostly obese and out of shape.

    My dad (and my doctor) always told me that it just wasn’t in the genes for me to get that body mass so young. Regardless, I still always made an effort to tone my muscles as much as possible and it’s paid off in the long run, although I’d never be a professional bodybuilder no matter what.

  2. Jakob on July 25th, 2007

    This is exactly what I expected to find out after reading the title uilding Genetics. Thanks for informative article

  3. thomas on August 11th, 2007

    I have a body type if compared to an IFBB pro would look mostly like dennis wolf\’s(not saying i look like a pro), you know tall slim looking and long torso. I first tried body when i was almost 14, and i did get bigger arms but mostly i didnt put on much weight with just eating normal food together with adding protein powder after workouts. I actually stopped working out due to guitar addiction which was almost all day long.

    alittle over 3 months ago i started lifting again and i my weight was 68 kilos(150 pounds) and around 178 cm tall(around 5.8). Now currently after 3 months of hard training and better nutrition than before i weight 30 pounds heavier, I look more defined and ofc feel much better.

    I know that genetics play a great role in body building but im just saying just because you look more like an olympic runner doesnt prove that you cant be a great body builder or even build muscle, I know not many will be as freaky as markus ruhl but just look at Jay Cutler or Ronnie coleman they\’re not as freaky as him but still are considered better all in all, but hey winning most muscular alone wont make you a champion will it? just look at dexter jackson he was a lightweight before and even if he isnt the biggest out there compared to his height he definately has done well in bb. One last example is Dennis Wolf look how small and tiny his waist is, look how great shape his body has right, I\’d think he was some olympic contestant of some sort that suddenly went on roids….Anyway these are just my opponions and experiences So im not saying anyone can look like a pro since it infact is probably the opposite but for those of you who know Arnold Schwarzenegger did not look big before he started bb he had a more tall and skinny body type and ofc not saying anyone who\’s skinny and tall has arnold genes either but Why not TRY a couple of years of healthy diet and proper workouts and see then instead of just giving up when in high school when your dad tells you that you\’re a wuss because there are so many ignorant people who think just that they\’re naturally slim looking they will never have a change to build muscle or be big or look beef or whatever, you dont get big by the 3 meals a day diet, if you want to be a big boy you HAVE to eat like a big boy, ofc you main gain some extra fat aswell even if you play the game correctly but thats normal and you can strip that fat of later on. Mostly the people who deny that this will not work no matter what they do or how much protein they eat and so on how good their diet is etc…those people have most likely never tried it and are generally those who fail in other aspects of life. I dont think bodybuilding is about training the hardest but training the smartest. that was all I had to say and im not in anyway saying genetics dont play a big role in professional bodybuilding competition at all, nor am i denying it im simply pointing out that you are not going to see a difference unless you eat and train different.

  4. Admin on August 12th, 2007

    Thomas thanks for your interesting comment. I actually agree with what you said. You could have great muscle building genetics when you don’t even look you may have them, before you start lifting weights. In this article I just wrote recently I mention that just cause you are an ectomorph, doesn’t mean you necessarily have bad muscle building genetics. It is only after you start getting into bodybuilding will you realize your bodybuilding genetics compared to others.

  5. DAvid Smith on September 2nd, 2008

    I’m Endomorphic, that means naturally large boned and prone to fat/overweight. I’ve been training on/off since I was 20, at first my muscles {especially my arms) exploded but that seemed to have stopped a year later.

    I’m now 42 and notice many people use expensive roids or HGH which has its side effects and other risks such as fakes. The bottom line is that the bodybuilding industry is a farce, the products like creatine or whey-protein isolate costs outweigh the overall benefits, but thats something you won’t hear from the bodybuilding industry as they dont want you to know that otherwise they lose money!

    20-30 minutes on a treadmill for cardio coupled with 20-30 minutes of intensive resistance training 3 times a week is all you need.

    Cardio to keep the fat off which will make the waist small and make everything else look bigger. It makes sense as a big gut doesn’t make your delts and arms look big!

    Ultimately the most important muscle in the body is your heart.

  6. joe s on September 20th, 2008

    Should be required reading for anyone considering bodybuilding.
    It IS true that not everyone’s potential is apparent at first. Some cannot know what their body’s ability for muscle growth is until having maintained a consistent, intelligent program of training, nutrition, and recuperation for about a year or so. Many, due to unrealistic expectations and impatience, prematurely drop out of training and miss the gains they would in fact have made.
    Unfortunately, however, most who do keep training are seeking goals impossible for them genetically. For, as unfair as it may be, genetics DO decide bodybuilding success. It certainly does take hard, disciplined, determined effort; it does demand proper food, eating schedules, and rest; it requires focus and sacrifice, and pushing oneself far above convenience and comfort, and making bodybuilding not merely a hobby, but rather a lifestyle. But even with all those factors in place, no one can build even a state-level physique without the right musclebuilding genetics. Bone structure, joint size, muscle-body length, testosterone and myostatin levels, muscle-fiber type and quantity, neurological efficency, metabolism, and somatype are virtually set at birth, and, without a favorable set of genes, most of us cannot look like the builders in the magazines.
    For the majority of us, even an obsessive love of bodybuilding cannot get us to how we want to look. But, each of us can, at least, look better than we will if we don’t train, sit on the couch, and eat potato chips.

  7. John on February 10th, 2009

    Altough I agree on some point with your post I dont think its the whole truth. People tend to focus so much on their genetic abilitys that they forget what really matters, hard work, discipline and mind power. When I first started lifting weights I wasent more then 90-95 pounds, u can say I looked as if just been released out of a concentration camp, I have never had any good genes for building mass I always used to run for hours that was sorda my thing. But I started weight lifting and here I am couple of years later weighn at 180-182 mabye about 7-10 % bodyfat and looking better and feeling stronger then I ever thought was possible. So im telling all of u guys, yes genetics do play a factor but no matter who u are u can always build yourself up good if you have the desire to.

  8. admin on February 28th, 2009

    John you said you run everyday. Naturally you aren’t going to get big if your a natuarl hardgainer and do that. Thats why when you quit running you could gain mass easier. It was hard to tell your genetic potential if you were running all the time.

  9. Joe S on March 24th, 2009

    John, it is certainly possible for almost anyone to improve their musculature. But the key word is “improve”. Some can improve much more than most others. It does take finding the right balance of workouts, rest, and eating to make any improvement — for example, your genetics for building muscle only were allowed to kick into action after you stopped burning up so much energy running (an exercise which does not build muscle mass anyway), which gave your body a chance to channel that energy into increasing its size through weighttraining. But, unless a person is born with the right genetics, all the all-out hard work, positive thinking, desire, and determination in the world can’t enable him to build himself up to the size and shape of the bodybuilders seen in magazines, especially without drugs. If a guy thinks he can get that big without the right genetics, he is in for a painful disappointment that might even lead him to quit training.

    I’m not knocking the need for positive thinking and desire and gut-wrenching hard workouts, because without those, not even guys with the right genetics can do much. Anyone can improve to some degree if puts his heart into it. But, as a 53-yr-old bodybuilder who has been training since I was 16, I, along with every other guy who has been at it for twenty or more years ,and, is honest, will say the same thing about genetics.

  10. Hoba on December 7th, 2009

    I’m gona go ahead and use the oldest cliche in the book here.. “Life just isn’t fair.” It’s so true it’s scary. I have been training for 2 years with an ecto friend of mine. (I am an endo) I eat 6-8 times per day, complex carbs, lean proteins, all the right amounts for my height, and weight.. When he eats 3 meals per day (None of which reach half his protein, or carb requirements) McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and 1 scoop of serious mass cause he didnt notice that the serving is actualy 2 scoops. I train harder than him, lift heavier, increase my weights each week by writting down my reps, and weights in each excercise when he just doesn’t bother to. He is 3 times as big as me now, with zero fat. And I went up to 25% body fat, with the most minimal muscle gains imaginable.

    I love bodybuilding so much, but being in this situation just gets to you.. deep down in your heart, when you know you’ve done MORE than what it takes but still couldnt reach HALF your goal.. It’s just sad.. It’s a sad sad thing.

  11. Bodybuilding Information on December 13th, 2009

    I must say that I agree with you to a point but I believe there is more to bodybuilding than just whether or not its in your genes. When I first started training I was only 10st ( 140 pounds ) and didn’t really make any gains in my first year toned up but nothing major. Then I started to train with a friend of mine, and during my second year of training I have put on muscle and packed on alot more weight. I now eat better and train better then I did before. I now weigh 13st 2lbs ( 184 pounds ) this only my second year and im still gaining I think as well as being in the genes building muscle also depends on how you train, eat, your dedication, and I also belive that alot of is in the mind.

  12. tmac on December 17th, 2009

    i will put this whole “gene issue” to rest with this comment. Hopefully. it is like having a family with not a member over 5 feet tall. it is highly unlikely for their offspring to be 6′ 6”. this would amaze doctors and be considered a rarity. people naturally skinny dont have obese kids unless their is a specific cause, ie, diet, exercise. unless it is a recessive gene in the family. same as muscle building, the proteins and creatines, can help replenish what ur body needs to bulk up. but it is always possible for anything to happen. ive seen weirder.

  13. curtis on May 2nd, 2010

    Genetics are everything. I started bodybuilding at the age of 19 after being tired of posessing a 6-4 inch 150 pound frame. My wrist are petite, my ankles are like those of a skinny high school girl, my shoulders are wide and my hips are rather large. My muscle bellies are short and I do not have a large amount of fast twitch fibers. On top of all that I can only handle 2 high intensity workouts a week and I have kyphosis lordisis.!! At first I gained nothing, following all the advice that easy gainers gave. I then followed routines based around the big three lifts, ate a plethora of good food and was consistent with everything. Then my body began changing. I think that for a tall, lanky hardgainer, the BEST exercise is the deadlift and the hardest is the bench press(long arms and the bench press have annoyed me to no end!!!!). I exploited the hell out of the deadlift and it thickened up my gangly frame a good amount. It is frustrating that I still do not posess that “bodybuilder” look and for all intents and purposes look a “normal” weight, but it goes to show that it does all come down to genetics.

  14. Stephen on May 5th, 2010

    i guess im one of the lucky ones lol, I always had a broad torso, wide shoulders, and dense legs. I have just recently begun “bodybuilding” consuming about 5 meals a day, running about 8 miles every two days (i play soccer-sweeper), and working single muscles every day, (bic/tri mon. chest/back tue. should/abs wed. ect.) and after only a couple months i have gained around 8 pounds and have notices changes. i don’t work out my legs at all (as in weight lifting, not running) because, idk why, have always had extremely strong legs, i can calf raise almost 650, leg press around 800, and lift up a person with one leg on the leg extension. So i do agree with the genetics part of your article, but i must also say that the human body is extremely complex and able to adapt to its surroundings. I believe if you stay motivated and follow through with your diet/workout routine, you will see the same results and the person with every single advantage next to you, it may just take you a littel longer.

    “if the facts don’t agree with the theory, change the facts.” – Albert Einstein

  15. loui on July 21st, 2010

    Mesomorph, really helps i recover and i am able to increase the weight i lift fast while my friends kinda struggle specially the thin ones, however one of them an ecto actually has a very muscular body so it isnt impossible but his calorie intake has to be incredible

  16. Joey F on August 3rd, 2010

    I have been training @ home and @ work since I lift granite for a living… I started out around July of 2010 i was 6ft 4in tall and i was about 236lbs. My build was above average in terms of muscle but i had a small gut and i looked unhealthy in my opinion. I slowly took myself completely off Soda pop, and stopped eating so much fast food and crap. the first few weeks I think i looked worse than when i started. I could barely complete my sets of pushups and could do like 3-4 pullups if even that. I increased my protein intake and started eating my vitamins daily.. Then I got a bit more serious and maybe even pissed off. I increased my daily workouts to several small workouts a day followed up by some nighttime toning exercises. Now its Aug and my arms went from 16.5 to 18in and my belly is gone starting to see that 6 pack not a full 6 pack yet but its there i can it! and my pecs are getting nicer i was even able to make them dance a bit when i flexed them… i could never do this before with my core being so out a shape… I feel like I could crush things now its a very powerful feeling. I am almost certain my genetics have a lot to do with this. I am Norwegian/German and many of the really big body builders have those Aryan genes in them. Not to say that the “other” races don’t have bigger guys. It just seems like if you look all over the world apart from the African males in the United States you don’t see anyone else looking like us. And even traditional “Africans” do not look like us? So it goes in my opinion Americanized african males and Aryan males have the best sort of genetics for this sport?

  17. ray p on August 7th, 2010

    Your candor on the subject is refreshing. I am one who does not have the genetics but that does not discourage me from working-out. It is all about achieving your personal best anyway. I’m a little older so I have my good days as well as my bad days. However, being engaged is way better than the alternative. Peace.

  18. Ron on September 22nd, 2010

    Many people train and eat the wrong way and after 3 or 4 months without seeing any results, they just quit. IMO bodybuilding is an experiment. What works for others may not work for you. You need to experiment it yourself. It can be clearly seen if we look at the workouts of Dorian Yates and Arnold.

  19. Genericsareanexcuse on November 20th, 2010

    Genetics is an excuse. Get off your @$$ and do some workouts. Genetics can do this or that but do you want some stregnth or will you just run around like a cancer twig making excuses.

  20. Damon on November 23rd, 2010

    Absolutely the truth, and also unfortunate for those of us that prayed the nutrition would kick in and the workouts till we puked would give us quick results. Like they say, bodybuilding is a marathon, NOT a race. I too was an athlete in high school and couldn’t gain weight to save my life. However, as I’ve gotten older I have stayed in decent shape while my buddies have also ballooned up and sadly given up to their lives of busy work schedules, wives and kids. The important factor I have learned is that its doesn’t matter where my genetics will take me, but the fact that I challenge them and push them as hard as I can. The bodybuilders lifestyle fully committed is difficult for us average Joe’s, but maintaining a similar discipline has helped me get over injuries and keep a fit body that your average 40 year old would be envious of. So stay committed to your genes and your goals and who gives a f*** if we see you on stage or not. Happy and healthy training men….