How to Master Your Exercise Genetics to Increase Your Endurance

As a health coach, it’s hard for me to see people struggle with exercise. Over the years, I’ve seen some folks give their best effort, but the results barely come. They encounter a battle of the bulge that they just can’t seem to win. The losing battle makes them feel disappointed, frustrated, and defeated; sometimes they just want to give up.

And when I see someone has tried their best and can’t seem to get anywhere, it’s natural for me to feel their frustration and sense of helplessness. That’s when my inner motivation to help begins to burn. I search for answers. I seek ways to make their life better; especially when it comes to exercise. Having suffered from asthmatic issues when exercising as I kid, I get it.

Recently, I’ve learned about some breakthroughs with exercise genetics and I want to share them. But, before I get into the research and how you can master your exercise genetics to increase your endurance, I want to digress for a second about one thing that prevents people from winning the battle of the bulge.

When it comes to shedding pounds, certain anti-depressant medications are often a barrier to success. I can think of many people I’ve worked with over the years who put on weight during the use of medication. Some doctors may say a patient’s weight will not be affected by taking anti-depressants. And I say…(nevermind, let’s keep it PG). I don’t mean to dismiss the value of anti-depressants because they play a valuable role in medicine and offer life-changing effects for some people.

At the same time, from what I’ve observed, some people will put on weight when taking anti-depressants. I’ve see it so many times that the one time observation turned into a trend and now seems like a fact. And it’s not because these folks gave up exercise to chill at the buffet every night. Their metabolism changed with the meds. And the result was weight gain.

But, what’s all this got to do with mastering your genetics to improve your endurance?

Well, even if people are not on anti-depressants, do not have asthma, and do not suffer from allergies, they can still huff and puff despite exercising regularly.

Why is that?

I wanted to know. And I found the answer I was looking for.

I tested it and learned how to master my exercise genetics to improve my 1/2 mile run time from four minutes and eight seconds (4:08) to 3 mins and 2 seconds (3:02) in 9 weeks. I want to share this knowledge with you so that it can enhance your ability to increase your endurance too.

It has to do with our DNA. You know, our genetics.

As it turns out, not everyone has the genetics to get more fit. I admit, it sounds harsh to make such a suggestion, but it’s the byproduct of what scientific studies are telling us.

The good news is that at least if we know it’s our DNA, we don’t have to beat ourselves up, feel guilty or shameful that we’re not doing enough to reach a standard that our genes won’t allow.

Instead, if we can try to understand our DNA, we can look for proven strategies to master it for our health. Here’s what I found that may help you master your exercise genetics to increase your endurance.


The Research…

FROM: Washington University School of Medicine. “Aerobic Exercise Helps Find Genetic Regions Linked To Prediabetes.” ScienceDaily. (1)

People’s bodies respond to exercise in different ways, and their genetic makeup is partly responsible.

It’s only natural, right?

Our differences in genetic makeup (DNA) are partly responsible for why we respond to exercise differently.

Makes sense.

But, how?

More Research…

FROM: Washington University School of Medicine. “Aerobic Exercise Helps Find Genetic Regions Linked To Prediabetes.” ScienceDaily. (1)

For one, people differ in how greatly exercise alters their blood sugar equilibrium, an effect demonstrated in a new study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and other institutions in the HERITAGE Family Study.

Said differently…

During exercise, our DNA affects how our bodies metabolize sugar. And this affects our blood sugar levels. For example, during exercise, some of us may burn up (metabolize) sugar quickly, which lowers our blood sugar fast. And some of us may burn up sugar more slowly. This difference in how our body metabolizes sugar during exercise is largely dictated by our DNA.

(For more how different foods affect our blood sugar levels, click here.)

So Why Do Our Blood Sugar Levels Matter Anyway?

Because our blood sugar levels affect 3 critical elements of our health:

1. Our metabolism – (the way our bodies use fuel for energy)

2. Our energy levels – (the amount of work our bodies can do)

3. Our weight management – (the ability of our bodies to reach and maintain a certain weight)

Now bare with me as I try to tie all that info together in 2 sentences.

Research suggests that our DNA dictates how much we may benefit from exercise based on how we utilize fuel. And how we utilize fuel inherently affects our exercise endurance.

This begs a couple of questions…

1. How do you know if you’re genetically destined to get little benefit from endurance training? 

The way to know is through something called a VO2 max test. Your VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, is one factor that determines your ability to perform sustained exercise. Theoretically, the more oxygen you can use (high VO2 max), the more energy and endurance you can have.

The VO2 max test shows how much oxygen your muscles use during exercise, which affects your endurance. The higher your VO2 max, the better your body uses oxygen for more your endurance.

More research…

One of the biggest studies on exercise genetics found that both your baseline VO2 max (how fit you’d be without exercising) and your ability to improve it, are linked to your genetics.

FROM: An exercise study by geneticist Tuomo Rankinen, of the Penington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA.(2)

The study showed that…

On identical training plans:

About 10-15% of of people will remain huffing and puffing, getting very little increase in VO2max

…a fortunate 10-15% will increase by 50% or more

and the majority (70-80%) fall in the middle.

This means roughly 1 in 8 people are genetically predisposed to get little to no endurance benefit from exercise.  Their VO2 max simply does not increase with training.

If you want to know more about your own VO2 max, you may be able to get a VO2 max test at a university human performance lab. Locally, you can try UConn’s Human Performance Lab.

Once you learn your baseline VO2 max, you can try an aerobic exercise program (treadmill, elliptical, bike, hike, walk. etc.) 4-5 days a week of aerobic exercise for 6 weeks.  Then, to see if you’ve improved by going back to the lab for a retest. If you’ve improved, you know your genetics aren’t the issue.

What if all this VO2 max stuff isn’t for you BUT you still want to master your exercise genetics for more endurance?  

No worries.

Even if you don’t get a VO2 max test, there’s a formula for success to increase your endurance.  It works for about 85% of people who try it.

2. What’s the Secret Formula to Master Your Exercise Genetics to Improve Your Endurance (VO2 max)?

It’s a formula for the bold who are seriously committed to making progress. It’s called High-Intensity Interval Training or H.I.I.T.. It’s not just a guy thing either. It works for both men and women to both improve endurance and lose weight.

Here’s a few basics of how you can do some H.I.I.T.

1. Begin with 2 H.I.I.T. sessions a week.

2. Start by walking, biking, or elliptical training slowly for 2 minutes.

3. Then push yourself hard until you’re winded for 30 to 60 seconds.

4. Then slow down to a walk, a slow pedal or a slow meander on an elliptical machine for about 60 seconds. Like a cool down.

5. Repeat this fast-slow cycle for 4 bouts.  The goal is to work up to 8 to 10 bouts per workout. I only got up to about 7 bouts twice a week, but still saw a big change after 9 weeks.

Generally speaking, after 6 weeks, your body will likely adapt to improve your stamina! It’s pretty awesome. The research suggests about 85% of folks who try it, will experience success at improving their endurance with H.I.I.T.

Summary – Nice Job! You Made it to the Finish!

1. Studies show that genetics limit 1 in 8 people from improving their endurance with exercise. So exercise just ain’t working, it’s not because people don’t try hard enough, it could be their DNA.

2. The true way of knowing if DNA truly limits your body from benefiting from exercise is to get a VO2 max test before and after training.

3. About 85% of people can master exercise genetics and improve their endurance.  The way to do it is with High-Intensity Interval Training or H.I.I.T.  It works for both men and women.

Find this interesting? Please share it with friends you’d like to help too. 

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(1) Washington University School of Medicine. “Aerobic Exercise Helps Find Genetic Regions Linked To Prediabetes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 July 2005.

(2) “It’s Not You, It’s Your DNA.”Prevention Magazine, p. 101-103, April 2015.

About Dave Barnas, M.S., CES, NASM-CPT

Dave is the true health guy. He is the founder and owner of True Health Unlimited, LLC, a personal health and fitness company in Tolland, CT & Wellness Writers, a subscription wellness newsletter service that incorporates live & virtual wellness workshops for companies across New England. Dave earned both a Bachelor's (1998) and Master's Degree (2000) in Nutritional Science from the University of Connecticut, and also holds certifications as a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer, National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America Group Instructor, and Nutrition Specialist. He's also the lead author for four published works. Dave has over 20 years of combined experience in nutrition counseling, dietary supplement advising, personal training, corrective exercise training, health coaching and public speaking. In addition, he's spent over 25 years studying spirituality, meditation, and personal growth strategies. Dave's clients are all ages: youth, college championship level athletes, folks in their retired years, and everywhere in between. He's worked with three of the nation's leading physicians as a dietary supplement advisor and been a guest lecturer at Harvard University, Yale University, UConn, St. Joseph College and various church groups, health clubs, and high schools. In 2013, he was invited to Whole Foods Market to share his Real Food Therapy Guide. And in 2015, Dave's funny "Snowga" (yoga in the snow) video caught the attention of The National Weather Channel, who aired it to shake off cabin fever and bring laughter. In 2016, Dave & Hollie (his wife) founded Wellness Writers and deliver evidence-based Wellness E-newsletters to spread a message of health and happiness to various businesses throughout the US. Dave currently serves as a personal trainer in Tolland as well as a wellness coach and writer for several businesses, gyms and wellness facilities throughout the US.

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