We’ve all seen them. Those people born to be athletes. If you’re a frequent race goer, you can spot these elites a mile away. Heck, just turn on the Olympics and watch a track and field event—those runners just look born to run. So, can someone really be born to run? Or conversely, can someone really be born a bad runner?
Well, yes and no. Anyone can be a runner. But some of us that need to work a bit harder than others to hit certain athletic goals. Why is that? Well, it’s complicated. Aaptiv chatted with two experts and learned that there are a few major factors that come into play in determining your inclination toward running.
It’s no secret that some bodies have a bit more, shall we say, athletic prowess than others. This definitely is true for running. The way a person is genetically built can predispose them to excelling in sprinting or distance training.
Just as there are certain genetic characteristics that give an edge in sports, there are certain body types or structural characteristics that can make someone seem “bad” at running. Specifically, these characteristics can predispose a runner to injury, causing setback after setback—and potentially fueling that “I’m a bad runner” fire.
Nicholas M. Licameli, physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy, explains that some of the most common genetically-tied characteristics are flat feet, shallow hip sockets, “bow” legs or “knock knees,” ligament laxity (a.k.a. joint instability), and even a family history of osteoarthritis.
The good news is, the way your body is shaped isn’t the end all be all for your running career. “The physiological makeup that you’re born with may help you or give you an advantage when you first start running, but any improvement you make will come from training,” explains Daniel Giordano, DPT, CSCS and co-Founder of Bespoke Treatments. So even if you’re not born with gazelle-like legs, you can still work your way up and improve.
Start training today with Aaptiv. We’ve got cardio and strength class across multiple categories and all levels.
OK, here’s the major player in the running game—your muscles. Namely, your muscle fibers play a role in how “good” or “bad” of a runner you are.
“In general, we have two types of muscle fibers: slow twitch (type I) and fast twitch (type II),” explains Licameli. Slow twitch muscle fibers are responsible for activities that are low intensity and have a long duration (think long distance walking or running). Fast twitch muscle fibers are responsible for activities that are high intensity with a short duration (think sprinting and weightlifting), he says.
“Fast twitch fibers have the most potential for growth, which is why the winner of the New York marathon looks different than the champion sprinter or weightlifter,” he says.
We’re made up of different percentages of each fiber type, says Licameli. Again, this is based on our genetics. “Some of us have more fast twitch, while others have more slow twitch,” he says. “This would theoretically predispose certain individuals to be poorer endurance runners, but better sprinters or weightlifters, or better endurance runners, but poorer sprinters or weightlifters.” So, you might not be predisposed to winning the NYC Marathon, but you may be built to crush a 5K.
No matter what your build, you can always work on building more muscle and getting stronger. Get started with an Aaptiv strength training workout.
Your Lungs and Your Blood
Two other major players in the running game: VO2 max and your lactate threshold, says Giordano. As a reminder, VO2 max references the maximum amount of oxygen that can be consumed per minute while exercising. “Runners with a naturally high VO2 max will be able to deliver more oxygen to their muscles, which may make is easier to run at a quicker pace,” explains Giordano.
Another genetic disposition that can affect your performance is your lactate threshold. (Another vocab reminder: this is the point at which lactate begins to accumulate in your blood, says Giordano.) So why does this matter? Those with a naturally high lactate threshold may be able to hold a stronger pace for a longer period of time, he says.
But hold up…
None of this is a perfect science, explains Licameli. “Regardless of your genetically determined ratio of fiber type, for the most part, you can train and enhance either type,” he says. “You get what you train.” For example, if a person has a high percentage of fast twitch fibers, but trains strictly for endurance, they can still see gains in slow twitch development, he says. You’re still in a lot of control.
“Running isn’t just about running,” explains Giordano. “You need to be strong enough to run.” He suggests working on mobility and stability on a daily basis. Eating properly will also help you improve any running goal. It takes more than a genetic disposition for certain legs and a ton of slow twitch muscles to be a runner. Anyone can and is a runner.
“Running is a sport that is mental and physical,” says Giordano. “In order to be a talented runner, you must be mentally prepared to push yourself through a run or through a training session.”
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