Role of Genetics in Physique contests
There are many “dirty little secrets” in this industry. I try to politely expose them here and there whenever I can. But like the old saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished.” There are also many realities in terms of human physiology that no one wants to address. The so-called “experts” and “coaches” who make their money training people for competition certainly don’t want to spell out the truth in many cases. It would cost them money, they think.
But I think and I know the truth is a very freeing concept.
So I would like to address the concept of “genetics” in a different plane that very few people address. Some of you will get it; many of you will not.
There is an old saying in athletics, it goes, “great athletes are born, not made.” Now in to my fourth decade training people from all walks of life I can tell you this is certainly true. But it’s true for “great athletes.” It certainly doesn’t mean the rest of the world can’t make huge strides if the proper principles are applied to their physiques or sports-focus over time. But let’s look at this more generally, using “Figure Competition” as an example. Because the truth is I get tired of picking up the pieces of other people’s terrible mistakes year after year, chasing a dream that is, in reality, unreasonable.
Everyone talks about classic genetics in the physique game. And yes this is indeed true. For Figure and for most aesthetic looking physiques we talk about the classic X-frame. I’ve never liked that term. Regardless, here is the truth. Physically speaking, being suited for Figure means having fairly wide clavicles and a very narrow pelvis. Let’s stop there for just a moment shall we. Never mind that nature prefers women to have wider pelvic girth as an evolutionary “tweak” in order to better ensure the propagation of the species. So this is step one, which already leaves most people out in real terms. No training is going to counter act clavicle width or pelvic girth. Then, there is the matter of having specific anatomical leverage in order to “cap” those delts on the wide clavicles.
Next, in terms of physique is high glutes. This usually goes hand in hand with a narrow pelvis but not always. To be any good in Figure competition means not having “bucket butt” or “gravity butt.” And yet for most women, most of the time a wider pelvis will usually mean a derriere or booty that will spread out and drop, more so than round out, but not widen. You can read all the “Glutes” articles you want in Oxygen magazine and it doesn’t change this genetic proclivity. Over decades this natural tendency is even harder to avoid. This is the reality in terms of the genetics of being physique-ally blessed to compete at figure. And I haven’t even addressed thigh to hip ratio, calves etc. Of course, I could easily go on in more depth about this but the physical genetics is not so much what concerns me. Suffice it to say, just because someone may not have a genetic proclivity to compete in Figure, does not mean they cannot sculpt a great physique worthy of envy in pretty much any other setting. I’ve helped many beautiful women sculpt their bodies and use this to be successful in other realms. Had these same ladies competed in Figure they would have probably had average or acceptable results. But not competing in Figure, allowed them to pursue other avenues, as well as having a great body by EVERY other acceptable world standard.
The Genetics No One Wants to Talk About
But here below is what I really want to address, mostly because the nonsense surrounding it is getting crazier and crazier each and every year. See, the above is the “genetics” factor everyone can see. But what about the genetics that matter even more, that people can’t see. There is such a thing as “metabolic genetics” as well. Does anyone even address the metabolic genetics of a wannabe competitor? Do coaches/trainers/competitors assess whether the people’s metabolisms are resilient enough to handle to the rigors of contest dieting; especially over and over again? And what about handling the rigors of improper contest dieting; is anyone addressing if they have the metabolic “stuff” for that? Do they even know how?
Metabolic resilience is a real term. It refers to the human physiology’s capacity to bounce back from a diet dilemma of a specific sort: in this case competition preparation. But I don’t like so much coining terms like this. When I coined the term “metabolic damage” some years ago, wannabe experts, and worse, internet marketers, pounced on it as a way to make money. Most of them to this day have no concept of the phenomenon, or how to treat it. But that doesn’t seem to matter these days. Just use fancy words and make promises on the internet and you will scoop some people for sure. But I digress.
See, most people do not have resilient enough metabolism for Figure competition. The truth is when many ladies take their bodies too far below their own set points for comfortable weight loss, the body will rebel over the longer term. Thus, the “competitor” gets fatter because of the competition experience, and can no longer maintain even their “balanced” weight before they ever even thought of competing. And I’ve written enough about this in the past that people can go to previous articles to look at the scary details of this process. Metabolic resilience is reflected in the genetics of lasting champions, the ones held out for all of you to emulate. You see, their metabolisms are unique. Their metabolisms are resilient. That doesn’t mean if you train and diet like they do, you will achieve similar or lasting results. It could in fact be a recipe for long term disaster. But on the “rah, rah, rah,” nonsense of the cheerleading competitor boards, no one wants to talk about this reality. So, post contest, and past competitors suffer in silence. And often the person to truly blame is the “guru” who puts people under unreasonable training and diet regimens, without assessing if they even have the genetics to endure it. It is after all, all about “representing” in this era. What a joke! (Allow me to rant on this for a minute or two)
See, Gurus these days look to success by quantity not quality. Known Gurus with established reputations, (another complete joke to me) can enter 15 or more girls in one show and hope for the best. The ones that do well will be held out to “represent” those methods. Those that don’t do as well, we just don’t talk about them. So maybe Guru Gus puts 15 competitors in a contest. Five do really well and represent. One or two don’t even make it to the show, because the one size fits all regimen, nearly destroyed them. But they don’t win or represent, so we don’t talk about them. The others that place in the middle, well the Guru has at least got their money and overall, through everyone at the show, the Guru’s name gets bounced around and he/she wins all around. Great gig if you can get it. You never have to be responsible for the physiques and metabolisms you ruin, and you get to be known as an expert, without anyone every being smart enough to mention this stuff. Well, I mention it. I’ve had enough of it.
You see I don’t care about your goals to drop 10 lbs or to win such and such a contest. I don’t care about THAT, at all. But the difference is, I care that you care. It is not about the result; it is about the person. So many people write me after their show; because their trainers have left them twisting in the wind now that the contest is over and they are gaining weight. Say what? This is expertise? This is responsibility. No. This is nonsense.
Ok, that was a long rant, but it’s a blog, so I’m allowed to go off on a tangent here and there. The point is who is assessing the unseen genetics? Who is assessing a reasonable goal from an unreasonable one? Who is assessing what is best for long term metabolic cooperation; which is way more important than short term weight loss or a trophy. Here are a few clues to look for:
1) If you have to go weeks without carbs, and without energy for life, you should not be competing.
2) If you have to do hours of cardio, even in the off-season you are being mis-guided by people who clearly do not understand the basics of energy systems and exercise physiology.
3) If your “before” contest pictures, and “in-contest” pictures look like two different people, you are surely damaging your metabolism. This isn’t an achievement to be applauded, it’s a warning sign. If your post-contest pictures, say 4 months post contest, looks like a different person, this is also a bad sign.
4) If you suffer tremendous water weight changes, intolerance for normal foods while dieting etc, you are risking your future metabolism as well.
5) For frequent competitors if you find your off-season weight keeps rising each season, this is a bad sign. You do NOT have the metabolic resilience for competition and your body is trying to tell you that.
6) If you are constantly cold, especially in the extremities, while dieting and even after, this is not “normal” and is another suggestion to you, you do not have the metabolic genetics for competition.
So, metabolic genetics are the unseen genetics that no one talks about. Not until it usually becomes full blown metabolic burn-out or metabolic damage. I see no trophy that is worth that kind of trade-off. There is no glory in competing against your future wellness.
And yet, this isn’t the only “unseen” genetics that no one talks about!
Once again this is an unseen and hidden aspect of “genetics” that no one wants to talk about. The reality of this can be just as devastating for overall health and well-being down the road, long after the body has rejected the competition physique. And I see this all the time. You see we have in this industry as well what is know as “receptor affinities” for various drugs etc, that are used to enhance the contest-ready physique. Yet, it is amazing to me how few people ever address this aspect of their drug use and abuse all in the name of contest prep. The truth is some people just more efficiently process and metabolize various chemicals better than others. In Figure, the rationalization seems to be “well, if it’s not a steroid and everyone else uses it, it must be alright.” We even have more Gurus endorsing insanity with comments like “thyroid therapy is safe long term” (and this kind of drug use when there is no medical condition present is NOT therapy) There is a reason doctor’s take family history of medical issues etc. I’ve seen ladies taking thyroid for competition not realizing a family history of thyroid issues; and the results are devastating. Oh a few of them won their show all right. 5 years later, one of them is now 215 lbs. No thyroid therapy is helping her out of this situation.
People have specific receptor affinities for various classes of drugs. These drugs are not across the board ‘safe’ just because AIDS patients use them or whatever other rationale is used to endorse them. There is also the issue of opthalmus (bulging eyes syndrome) from beta agonist abuse. What about hot flashes from estrogen antagonists. And let’s not forget for those who consider themselves “hardcore” competitors, thinning and receding hair. There is a reason you see many ladies who have been competing for years and years, now wearing wigs on stage, and bandanas and caps, off stage and in the gym. Oh, but they have a “pro card:” Great status statement to be sure.
There are some competitors whose bodies take a full 3-4 months to even “feel” remotely normal again post-contest; yet they claim it is all worth it. Let’s break down the ‘reality math’ of that immature statement shall we? One third of the year is lost to the pre-contest experience of no energy, and no life while preparing to compete. And then, up to another third of the year is lost as the body tries to normalize itself in the post-contest experience. So, a half to two thirds of the year is out the window in terms of feeling like your normal self: And somehow this trade-off is worth it? To me this being worth it, reflects either no life, or a very desperate one. Some ladies have even lost the ability to conceive because of dieting and competing for years.
So yes, there is the genetics everyone talks about and the unseen genetics no one talks about. Well, I’m talking. Competition isn’t for everyone. Nor need it be. I’ve had amazing successes in physique transformation by advising clients not to compete, and to go another way. Even though they may not know it, their metabolisms were saved in the process.
So you don’t have a classic X-frame; So you are built like a normal/average woman with hips and roundness; So what? Only the competition stage is going to have you thinking this is a travesty. Only the competition stage analyzes this piece by piece, till all that is left, is YOU in pieces. The real world doesn’t care. In many cases, it’s the real world that has it right. If you have the physical genetics to compete, good for you. If you have the metabolic genetics and resilience for competition, then good for you as well. If you have both of these together, good for you. But thinking you have the proper genetics, just because you want to compete, is not the same as actually having them. If I had to make an estimate I would say fully up to 70% or more of people who contact me for competition prep, really shouldn’t be competing at all; when keeping in mind their long term best interest with proper assessment. But what other trainer is going to tell them that?
But the lesson is, if you don’t have the genetics to compete, sometimes this is the best blessing of all! Work with what you have and love what you’ve got. Play the hand you are dealt, but play within the right game at least. Lacking competitor genetics is not the end of the world; it may be the beginning to something even better.
By: Scott Abel
Bottom line is be realistic in your goals and watch out for so called gurus who only want quantity of clients and don't actually care about the cumalitive effect of what you're doing, they only care about the end result.