Does genetics really play a role in fitness?

Why is it that some people can eat all they want, don't exercise, and still stay skinny, while others who bust their butts at the gym and watch their diets religiously struggle to lose weight?

Back in the 1940s, an American psychologist named William Herbert Sheldon tried to classify body types into three neat categories.

Ectomorph (skinny) - Usually referred to as "hard-gainers", ectomorphs are characterised by skinny and long limbs/muscles, and low fat storage.

They are typically not predisposed to store fat or build muscle.

Mesomorph (muscular) - The body type coveted most by bodybuilders, mesomorphs are characterised by medium bones, a solid torso, low fat levels, wide shoulders and a narrow waist.

These lucky folks are predisposed to build muscle and not store fat.

Endomorph (curvy) - Endomorph bodies are typically a little chunky, and are characterised by increased fat storage, a wide waist and large bone structure. Endomorphs are predisposed to storing fat.

Over the years, these three body types have become widely accepted as the standard classification as to how our bodies will generally react to training and diet.

What it really comes down to is simply that some bodies are more efficient at burning fat than others.

However, one unfortunate effect that appears to have risen from these classifications is that genetics has become a scapegoat for one's limitations, or the lack of progress in fitness.

Can diet and exercise beat genetics?

We are all different, but you already knew that. We all have different body types, different cellular reactions, different strengths and weaknesses, and different responses to training and behaviours.

Although the conventional way of thinking tells us that we have three "main" body types, there is actually a lot more to it than that.

Just because you are "innately" predisposed to be good at one thing, doesn't mean you are forever stuck with that role.

Naysayers would tell you things like: "I'm an endomorph (or as they like to say, I'm 'big boned'), so I'm doomed to be overweight" or "She is so lucky that she can eat whatever she likes and not gain weight" or "That guy literally gains more muscle just by looking at barbells".

Well, if you're stuck with that kind of mind-set, then you will forever be stuck where you're at. Just because you are not naturally predisposed to be good at something, doesn't mean you can't work to improve it, and the only person who can change things for you is you!

While genetics do play a role to a certain degree, they do NOT define you. You cannot change things like your height, the length of your limbs or your built, but with proper and consistent training, and a carefully planned diet, you can boost your body's energy consumption (to lose weight), or change its composition (by building muscle), depending on your fitness goals.

It's like being bad at maths. Just because numbers and weird-a** formulas stump you and throw you off at first, it doesn't mean you can't learn to work your way around them, or figure out the most efficient way to work with them (and remember, there is more than one way to doing things) to get your answers.

It is an ongoing process and you simply have to work hard and keep at it.

You may or may not end up looking like a Mr Olympia competitor (and not many of us will), but you will be happy and healthy, and you will be mad-proud of the body and confidence you worked hard for.

Those of you who've been following this column would know that I have a proclivity towards strength-training. However, having long-ish limbs and being formerly skinny (at just 47kg), I was once laughed at, mocked, discouraged, and even ridiculed, for just wanting to get strong.

I was told that I would never do well in the (powerlifting) domain, and should consider doing other sports where my lean-a** physique would give me an advantage.

But just because I wasn't "genetically" stocky or built like a "typical" big and burly powerlifter, doesn't mean I cannot train myself to gain muscle or to get stronger.

To date, I have gained some 7-8kg of muscle since I started lifting weights.

Last month, I took home the gold medal for the U56kg category at my second powerlifting meet in Singapore. I also broke my old personal record (in March) with a successful 125kg deadlift attempt (that's 10kg up in five months) - now, how's that for a formerly skinny girl?

While that doesn't make me the best or the strongest (and I certainly am not), it certainly serves as a reminder of how far I've come, and that hard work and perseverance can trump any excuse that people can come up with for not trying.

You just have to keep pushing.

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