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David Epstein’s The Sports Gene

Over the Christmas break I finally sat down and finished David Epstein’s the Sports Gene…and 3 months later have now found some time talk about it.

Highly recommended! An enjoyable read and full of complex information presented simply.

I also found that, unlike previous books on athletic development, Epstein doesn’t try to convince us that nature (or nurture) plays a more important role, but rather provides interesting examples of how form determines function.

A few of my favourite points:

Possessing a certain gene variant in your DNA can predispose you tendon injury. Hmm. Future implications for rehab. Although tempting to start telling some of my clients, it’s not me – it’s you. 🙂


The length and tissue quality of your Achilles tendon can determine jumping and running ability.

A longer and stiffer tendon makes for a better runner and jumper. Why coaches and conditioning professionals are trying to create muscular stiffness in their athletes. See my article on dialing in your run warm-up and “priming” muscle stiffness.


Long, thin lower legs (calf/ankle) make for a more efficient runner…in case you hadn’t noticed the size of most runners’ legs.


Did you grow up at an altitude of 6000-9000 feet? Me neither. Too bad for us. We missed out on some critical cardiovascular adaptations during our formative years.


And the point most relevant to my current sporting endeavours:


From Google books

From Google books

“…small humans have a larger skin surface area compared with the volume of their body. The greater one’s surface area compared with volume, the better the human radiator and the more quickly the body unloads heat.”

Dammit. I am also exactly 5’8”

Slightly dream crushing for me as most of the high-profile XTERRA races take place in hot and humid climates. However, it does explain the trend in decreasing height and size of the athletes making it onto the podium at World Championships since the event moved to the more humid and less technical course in Kapaula, Maui.

And may also explain the Canadian meltdown at that event! We are all very fit and slim, but Mel, CJ, Danelle and I are all > 5’8”…and have had dismal results at worlds the past 2 years (sorry girls, but its true!). Maybe we need to reevaluate our heat prep plan.

Obviously there are many more factors that contribute to a successful outcome on race day, but this is an interesting correlation.


I think we are going to see a lot more DNA-determined training and rehab plans over the next few years. Already, here are a few more examples:

DNA testing and performance and injury prevention in the Star

The Science of Sport: the rise of Kenya 


In the meantime, remember – just because one plan worked for one person (or even many people!), doesn’t mean it will work for you!

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