The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein

It’s In Your Bones

  • The rapid increase in world records over the last century has to be due to better training techniques, better equipment and facilities, and a larger fraction of the world’s population participating. This can be safely stated as 100 years is too short a timeframe for meaningful genetic evolution. We also see that each sport has its own perfect body type so we have an extreme self-sorting artificial selection process. This even applies to the world of super models where only 0.5% of women have the desired body type.
  • Size is an important factor. Smaller bodies have a greater proportion of surface area, which facilitates heat dissipation. This is why tall runners are more likely to win races in colder weather and vice versa. Shorter people can accelerate faster while tall people with a higher center of gravity make better high jumpers. Each kilogram of bone can support a maximum of five kilograms of muscle. Once an athlete hits that amount of muscle, more steak will likely be turned to fat. To summarize, diet and training can make a difference, but the limitations dictated by an individual’s skeleton cannot be changed.

You Can’t Teach Height

  • Eighty percent of the difference in height between people in a group is attributable to genetics. Genetic control of shape is even more robust. Africans and African Americans have legs that average 2.4″ longer than Europeans, and their legs make up a greater proportion of their body length. Blacks also have a longer reach when compared to height. The average white NBA player was measured at 6′ 7 1/2″ with a wing span of 6′ 10″. For blacks the height was 6′ 5 1/2″ with a 6′ 11″ wingspan. It’s not so much that whites can’t jump, rather they can’t reach as well. Due to longer legs, the black NBA players out jump the whites by 2 1/3″ in a standing vertical jump.

We Are All Africans

  • There is general scientific agreement that humans evolved in Africa and that some left to populate the rest of the world. Those that left represented a small portion of the total population. It may have only been a few hundred people. That means that most of mankind’s genetic diversity was left behind. This would imply that the both the most and least athletically gifted would be African or of recent African origin. Inherited athletic traits appear to the result of dozens or even hundreds of genes. If you want to know if you kid is going to be fast, the best current genetic test is the stopwatch.
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2 Responses to “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein”

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