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Muscle Gain

Op-Ed: The role of your genes in muscle & strength gains

Op-Ed: The role of your genes in muscle & strength gains

xpert opinions, myths, fables and complete lies. In fact, can you even trust in what I am saying? I am clearly conflicted myself. The fitness landscape is full of service offerings, magic pills, powders, equipment and accompanying infomercials. Who remembers the Abflex? You laugh. Who bought this, right? Well, we had one at home. Philipp remembers having one at home as a kid. These infomercials worked on educated middle class buyers (our parents). They worked and still work because our brain loves testimonials and easy to understand connections. We suffer these cognitive biases in all areas of our lives. In health & wellbeing, the nuke in the arsenal of advertisers is the testimonial.

"I am 100% natural" - Every fitness model out there

This means, "I don´t take steroids". Yeah buddy, the temptation has overcome better men than you are. These so called fitness models earn a living being testimonials. This strategy uses our love for simple generalizations against us. An unbelievably fit looking guy or girl tells us the only reason they have these incredible six pack abs is because they take xyz supplement or engage in xyz activity. Its a well known practice, especially in diet supplements, to take the before picture after the model was asked to gain 10 kg. Sneaky, but in no way shocking. What we don´t see in this situation, the model is genetically gifted to have these beautiful abs, the steroids only uncover them in most cases. We like to mistake physically gifted people for authorities in their space. Who has bought a subscription with us from Philipp? Its a hard sell for him, although he is a real authority in the space of muscle plasticity and nutrition, his genome simply does not support big bulky muscles. On the other hand, look at me, I am a hefty chonker and I am doing the 6-Minute-Workout, just the way he does it.

Garbage in Garbage out

In statistics, one would call this, inferring from statistical outliers on the general population, "dung of a male cow" or BS. Because inferring from a set of one single data point is not possible and doesn´t produce valuable insight at all. Imagine you wanted to measure the response of 30 normal people to our high intensity strength training and you had the "Helevtic might from Emmental", Silvan (Powerscore 2735) in that sample. The average would be so far skewed upwards that it would not produce any good estimate of anticipated strength gain for regular people. That is what we call a structural break in the data.

With this brief digression into the realms of statistics you now understand how irrational the belief in testimonials is. Its a classic think fast and slow situation. The tendency of humans to orient themselves on statistical anomalies was discussed in detail by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Fooled by Randomness, the black swan for example is an anomaly we recognize immediately and try to find a logical explanation for. Of course, this tendency includes fitness & health. We see somebody who is especially gifted and want to find a simple cause and effect relationship. Something that person does, an activity or supplement, must have made them so fit. By all accounts we now know, that it comes down to sheer genetic luck and randomness of nature. Good science in muscle plasticity, like the one presented by Dr. Marco Toigo from Switzerland, which uses sound statistical methods, has proven that Arnold Schwarzenegger looked the way he looked despite training in his famous style (High Volume), not because of it. That you cannot change your genetic predisposition might make you angry, but I say this information should relax you. The same generation of bodybuilders also produced Mike Mentzer, who was an extreme advocate of High Intensity Training. Two big guys, two different approaches. Same result. But Mike spent much less time on his training than Arnold. And you should too and be grateful for what you got. Workout once a week and then enjoy your life, don´t stress out to achieve unattainable goals.

The big insight for regular people in fitness, health & wellbeing

If you really want to know what has the highest probability of success for you, you need to look at what worked for the biggest number of people possible and not at outstanding individuals.

When you turn the testimonial paradox upside down, it also leads to a big tragedy. Because causality of activity on physicality is assumed, it often prevents people from starting a strength training routine. “No I don’t do strength training, I don´t want to become bulky, I want to have lean and long muscles, I will go swimming", are common things we hear, because of this underlying believe. Fact is, when you do a progressively intense strength training routine once a week, you will slowly but surely approach your genetic optimum of general physical capabilities. This will in no doubt improve all experiences of your life and make it more enjoyable. It is your birth right and what I want for you.

“It is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit.” - Socrates

Of course this also extends to women. Socrates, you macho! Do you see the wisdom in his words? ... "to your highest limit". Not everybody is born to be an Olympic champion, but everybody can be his/her own champion. Or the champion for the people you love, it´s the worthiest of all goals.

Life is so rich,


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