are those who would have you believe there is nothing you
cannot do if you put your mind to it. In most areas of life
I would agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, the world of
physique development is an exception to the rule. Those of
us involved in the quest for size are not all created equal.
On one hand, we all have individual genetic limitations that
place seemingly unfair restrictions on our muscular growth
potential. While on the other had, most of us have genetic
attributes we should be capitalizing on, but we don't know
what they are! Do you know yours? Probably not. Being ignorant
of our individual genetic make-up foster frustration with
lack of progress, and eventual failure. Not knowing what to
do, or where to turn for help when we inevitably reach that
so called plateau, is a terrible but all too common occurrence
among the majority of us...the genetically less fortunate.
In our denial and desperation we blindly follow product and
service peddlers promising renewed results and growth beyond
our potential. They prey upon our naive hopes and dreams of
becoming a superior resistance athlete through false encouragement.
What's wrong with a little encouragement? Nothing, when it's
coming from an enthusiastic training partner. But when it
comes from someone with something to gain, there may very
well be something wrong with it!
intend to educate you concerning genetic attributes and limitations
involved in size and strength training. I will discuss indicators
of your specific genetic attributes and limitations. I will
teach you a simple self-test you can use in determining, with
some degree of objectivity, your own genetic potential for
size and strength. Before we get started you need to know
where you in terms of metabolic body-type. You're not going
to believe this stuff!
of us have weight maintenance tendencies from birth that were
bestowed upon us by our parents. These tendencies usually
remain with us throughout our lives but can be altered to
varying degrees. Below is a description of metabolic bodytype
categories for you to use not only in analyzing your metabolism,
but also for making the right training & dietary changes.
An ectomorph is an individual who is small framed and has
extreme difficulty in gaining weight. In this case the metabolism
is very fast. The ectomorph recovers from training quite fast
(given proper nutrition), allowing for slightly more frequent
training bouts. Total fat deposits are usually low. More calories
must be ingested by the ectomorph than those in either of
the other two metabolic categories. Ectomorph can only capitalize
on their ability to recover more quickly from exercise by
ingesting more total calories. If too few calories are present,
the muscles will eat away at themselves for recovery energy
and the ectomorph will remain just that...an ectomorph.
A Mesomorph is individual who has little problem with fluctuating
body weight, the metabolism is considered normal, and his/her
frame size is average. The Mesomorph usually appear larger,
stronger, and healthier than the ectomorph with slightly greater
bodyfat levels. The Mesomorph requires fewer calories per
pound of lean weight to maintain muscle tissue than does the
ectomorph and therefore suffers less muscle tissue breakdown.
The Mesomorph, having a somewhat slower metabolism, does not
recover quite as quickly from exercise as does the ectomorph.
For this reason, the Mesomorph requires slightly longer between
workout and recovery periods.
endomorph is usually heavy set, has a relatively slow metabolism,
and is considered large framed. The breakdown of lean muscle
tissue does not occur as readily as in the other two categories.
The endomorph also requires fewer total calories to maintain
lean weight than the other two metabolic types. Recovery periods
between heavy training bouts should be longer since the endomorph
has a slower metabolism. Endomorphs are not to be confused
with those who are overweight due to over consumption. The
true endomorph usually consumes fewer calories.
of metabolic differences & tips
Generally speaking, in regard to the above metabolic categories,
it would appear that the ectomorph and endomorph face greater
obstacles in their quest for size than does the Mesomorph.
This is true for the most part. However, in knowing which
category best describes your metabolism, these obstacles can
more effectively be overcome. The ectomorph, for example,
can overcome his/her metabolic weaknesses largely by ingesting
more total calories, while the endomorph would be well advised
to reduce total calories. It is a little known fact that recovery
from training is a metabolic factor and should be taken into
consideration when evaluating a strength training program.
Ectomorphs, while ingesting sufficient total calories, can
recover faster from heavy workouts and therefore train slightly
more often for size & strength the endomorph (Note: Ectomorphs
don't get the idea that more often means daily, or even every
other day. A heavily trained body part needs at least three
full days of recovery regardless of your metabolism). Conversely,
the endomorph having a lower metabolism recovers more slowly
from heavy workout, and should train individual body parts
even less often for size & strength.
Due to the ectomorph's rapid tissue breakdown, frequent aerobic
exercise is discouraged. Also, missed workouts and too few
calories mean greater muscle tissue loss for the ectomorph.
As the endomorph's tissue breakdown rate is slower, he/she
can, in effect, layoff longer with less tissue loss than the
ectomorph (Note: endomorphs...you would do well to spend this
additional layoff time performing high volume, low intensity
ATTRIBUTES AND LIMITATIONS IN SIZE & STRENGTH TRAINING
Leverage has to do with tendons of insertion. Generally speaking,
tendons of a working muscle are attached to the lower, flexing
and/or extending lever at a set distance from the fulcrum
(joint) involved in a given movement. This distance varies
from individual to individual. The farther the insertion point
is down the lower lever away from the joint, the greater the
leverage. And the greater the leverage, the greater the strength.
Some smaller lifters are stronger than larger lifters because
they have better leverage. Conversely, the closer the insertion
point is to the joint down the lower lever, the poorer the
leverage, and the weaker the working muscle. It should also
be noted the degree of leverage is usually consistent throughout
an individual's musculature. Persons with greater leverage
have a distinct advantage in the iron game. However, this
is not to say that those with superior leverage do no have
other genetic limitations not yet discussed. Putting this
aside for now, it is safe to say that target muscles with
greater leverage can be stressed by more growth stimulation
poundages. World class powerlifters for instance, are blessed
with superior leverage. This genetic attribute allows them
to move more iron with less muscle mass, giving them a distinct
advantage over their competition with a lesser degree of leverage.
Hopefully, in understanding leverage, the next time you see
some pip-squeak reppin' out with 315 lbs. on the bench, while
you're using 225 lbs., you won't feel like crawling into your
How many times have you been told that muscle density comes
with time? How many contest commentators have you heard credit
the victors with having more "muscle maturity & density"
than the younger, "less seasoned" competitors? Wrong!
Density is simply a matter of genetics. The greater the number
of fibers in a given space, the greater the density. I for
one have seen many "less seasoned" competitors displaying
incredible density. We easily find the answer to what density
really is with the help of Mr. Webster...dense - marked by
compactness, or crowding together of parts. There really isn't
that much more to say in defense of my position. Every individual
possesses differing numbers of muscle fibers throughout all
the muscle groups in their bodies. Those persons with a greater
number of total fibers have more density, and more potential
for growth as well. Therefore, for example, the ectomorph
with a large number of total fibers could blossom with weight
training and experience growth unimaginable to even the most
aesthetic looking Mesomorph blessed with fewer total fibers.
MOTOR UNIT RECRUITMENT
Motor Unit - a group of muscle fibers stimulated to contract
simultaneously in response to an action potential of sufficient
intensity to surpass its threshold of sensitivity. The sooner
a motor unit is recruited while training for size & strength,
the more work its fibers will perform, and the more work performed,
the greater the growth stimulating damage. Most of us need
to resort to extremely intense heavy training to recruit the
maximum number of motor units possible, while others are able
to involve an optimum number of motor units with much less
intensity of effort. I'll let you figure out who has the greater
potential for size & strength.
I've saved the best for last. There are different types of
fibers dependent upon component size, number, and structure.
To be general, the fiber with the greatest potential for growth
is called the white fast-twitch fiber. The fiber with the
least potential for growth is called the red slow-twitch fiber.
Each individual has a differing proportion of these fiber
types. The person with a predominance of the white fast-twitch
fibers will be a genetically superior strength athlete. There
you have it. A basic insight into genetics as applied to size
and strength training. As a creative way of recapping what
we have discussed, let's build the ultimate, genetically superior,
untrained body. Let's start by giving him more total fibers
in every muscle group than any human alive. Compliment this
genetic gift by only using quality parts in the form of white
fast-twitch fibers . Start improving leverage at the arms
by inserting tendons as far down the forearms as possible,
and then, on to the other various joints and respective tendons
of insertion throughout the body. Now then, let's hook up
an electrical system such that even the slightest impulse
immediately triggers every bundle of fibers in the working
muscles. OOooooohhh what a freak! In looking back now at our
perfectly gifted specimen, I will attempt to enlighten you.
Remember, this creation of ours is an untrained body. Close
your eyes and visualize the appearance of this physique...awesome
right? Most of you are looking at a Mesomorph right? But to
the surprise of many, this untrained body may very well appear
as an ectomorph or even an endomorph for that matter! My point
is that these superior genetic attributes may be present in
anyone large or small, heavy or thin, and initially are not
outwardly visible. The same can be said for genetic limitations.
Limitations can just as easily be present in those displaying
an initial mesomorphic appearance. It all boils down to the
fact that we all have the same "roll of the genetic dice"
at becoming a superior resistance athlete regardless of our
pre-trained appearance. I firmly believe that the most genetically
gifted physique in the entire world has yet to be discovered
and developed. He's out there somewhere though...and if you
haven't started training, or aren't taking your training as
seriously as you should, you may very well have that physique.
INDICATORS OF YOUR INDIVIDUAL GENETIC ATTRIBUTES &
- were you unusually strong as a beginner? Were you that little
guy in the corner moving the heavy iron while the veterans
looked on in disbelief? If so, you quite probably have good
leverage, and congratulations are in order. If not, don't
worry, leverage isn't everything, right? Number of total
fibers - Pretty tough to determine this one short of having
a plug of muscle extracted (biopsy) and actually counting
them (this can and has been done). However, a subjective determination
can be made based upon the tonus and hardness of your musculature.
It is conjectured that the condition of tonus (the constant
partial contraction of muscles), may indicate the presence
of large numbers of individual fibers. Normally, this can
only be determined in the trained resistance athlete. As a
beginner...one can only hope, or resort to a biopsy! Motor
unit recruitment - Do you end your set because the pain
is unbearable or because you can no longer move against the
resistance? If the latter is true, congratulations, you are
recruiting a maximum number of motor units. If failure is
due to pain, there will ultimately be unaffected motor units
reducing you potential for growth. As you may have guessed,
you can alter this genetic factor. This is accomplished through
consistency and improvement in pain tolerance while using
maximum intensity. The end result will be an increase in the
efficiency of nerve impulse transmission and maximum motor
unit involvement. Fiber types - How do you know what
proportions of different types of fibers your musculature
is comprised of? Here in lies the application of the self-test
I mentioned earlier. To insure better understanding, I will
expound briefly on fiber types. As earlier mentioned, the
white fast-twitch fiber has great potential for growth and
is stressed primarily during heavy training taken to failure
(let's say 4-6 reps). The red fast-twitch fiber has somewhat
less potential for growth but stores more energy and is stressed
primarily during moderate resistance training taken to failure
(let's say 12-15 reps). The red s low-twitch fiber has little
strength with tremendous energy storage and is stressed primarily
during light resistance training taken to failure (let's say
training & the self-test
Holistic training, worthy of an article all its own, is a
method of training in which the resistance is varied in a
single movement to focus attention on individually developing
the three fiber types of the target muscles. In applying the
holistic principle, the following self-test can help you objectively
determine the predominant fiber types in each muscle group.
With this knowledge you can determine, with some degree of
accuracy, your potential for growth. This test can be performed
for each movement and/or each body part. Compound movements
are desirable. We will use the bench press as an example.
After a brief warm-up, select a weight that allows you to
perform between 4-6 reps to absolute positive failure. Do
two sets and record the weight and reps. Next, select a weight
that allows you to perform between 12-15 reps to absolute
positive failure. Do two sets and once again record weight
and reps. Finally, select a weight that will allow you to
perform between 20-25 reps to absolute positive failure. Do
two sets and record your weight and reps. On your next bench
press day, repeat this procedure attempting always to increase
the number of reps to failure. As reps increase above these
ranges, add sufficient weight to bring the reps back down
again. At the end of one month you can determine which rep
range yielded the best results in terms of increased resistance.
The fiber type that corresponds with this rep range, as earlier
mentioned, is predominant in the working muscles of that particular
movement. You would then benefit from performing more sets
in this, most productive rep range. As a side note....do not
perform forced reps. There is no way to tell exactly how many
pounds of assistance is given, and you will loose all objectivity.
Also, establish and adhere to a recovery time period of consistent
length between every set, of every movement, of every workout.
Total calories must be sufficient to allow for optimum recovery.
you can now determine where you stand in terms of potential.
Don't look at genetics as limiting, look at them as attributes.
Realism is the key to intelligent training. Couple this with
the newfound knowledge of your personal genetic make-up, and
make the appropriate changes in your size & strength program.
NFPT Personal Trainer Magazine, Ron J. Clark