Speed Genes

Is your DNA stopping you from running faster?

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Different athletes seem to have their own speed limits. At least some do. No matter how hard they train, once the hit that limit, they stop making progress. They try everything, blame it on the training regimen, even changing coaches… All those reasons may be true but now the DNA science may have a better answer. 

Speed-activating gene: ACTN3

Here’s an interesting fact: Almost every Olympic sprinter possesses a particular variant of ACTN3, the speed gene that gives you more strength baseline, protects your muscles against damage, and increases the amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers in your body. Having the perfect combo of the “sprinter” gene as well as copies of the “endurance” variant allows your muscles to make those short powerful bursts of strength or speed, which are crucial if you’re into running.

If you’ve been keeping up with developments in the competitive speed running world, you might wonder why Jamaican runners dominate the sport. Chalk it up to a perfect combination of genes and environment. Aside from responding well to the rigors of sprint run training, runners of African descent—particularly from West African nations—are faster, more powerful runners due to their long limbs, excellent hip mobility, and ideal ratio of slow-twitch to fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Is there a solution?

If you’re not as lucky in the genetics department, don’t despair. You will get better results at running by maximizing your fast-twitch muscles’ potential and getting your slow-twitch muscle fibers to take on some of the functions of fast-twitch muscles. Engage in power training and explosive-type work to activate most of your fast-twitch muscles. Power cleans, box jumps, kettlebell swings, push presses, medicine ball slams, and jump squats are just a few of the workouts that accomplish this. Conversely, avoid or go easy on activities that work up your slow-twitch muscles, such as steady-state cardio workout, or resistance with time under tension training, or slow tempo routines done at higher repetitions.