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How Can I Tell If I have Good Running Genetics?

Running is an excellent form of physical activity that millions of people incorporate into a healthy and balanced lifestyle. The health benefits of running are vast, including improved cardiovascular health, better sleep, and better energy and moods, among many other positive benefits. But why is it that some people have to work at it, whereas others seem to take to running naturally? You may be wondering how to tell if you have good running genetics, and whether or not this influences your ability to run.

Running has relatively low barriers to entry. It can be done by anyone, virtually anywhere in the world, and requires very little equipment. The bare minimum is a pair of running shoes, although avid runners may argue that you need much more to perform well and be comfortable. Some identify as runners, whereas others use running as a complement to other fitness activities and might not consider themselves a runner.

For example, sprinters and those who use running as a complement to explosive or powerful movements, such as weightlifting or CrossFit, often have a different body composition than those athletes who focus primarily on running, especially those who run longer distances. Although, the physical differences might only be apparent when looking at elite athletes. What about average people who just enjoy fitness, or do it because they know it’s good for their health?

How to Tell If You Have Good Running Genetics

According to one study, athletic ability explained by genetic factors is estimated at 66%. This leaves the remaining ability due to external factors such as training, nutrition, sleep, and even motivation. Racers you see on TV might have gotten their start young and benefit from good genetics, but that is only a piece.

Millions of runners of all experience levels and body types participating in races globally each year, it’s easy to find some else who looks like you at the start line. Interestingly, some runners find it slightly more effortless to go the distance, compared to those who don’t take to it naturally and find training to be more challenging. Do genetics play a part, and how can you tell if you have good running genetics?

Research has shown that having one regular exerciser in the family increases chances that other family members also are, or will, regularly incorporate exercise into their lifestyle. This common thread that runs down through families might indicate a strong genetic component, but it’s important to consider the environmental influence of having that support system in place, as well as other external factors associated with regular physical activity.

When you feel well, you want keep doing things that help you feel well. It is very possible to discover running later in life and benefit from a combination of positive external influences to run your way to top.

How Much of Running Ability Is Genetic?

When countries like Kenya and Ethiopia consistently podium runners at global events, such as the Olympics, it’s not a far leap to assume they have a genetic leg up. While athletic performance is influenced by both environment and genetics, there are certainly some traits that put some runners ahead.

For example, elite runners that are truly racing marathons have a few physical traits in common, including smaller frames and leaner muscles. Additionally, endurance athletes have well-developed slow-twitch muscle fibers, which support fatigue resistance for long distances.

Most people generally have 50% slow-twitch and 50% fast-twitch, whereas competitive sprinters could have as much as 80% fast-twitch fibers and marathoners could have as much as 80% slow-twitch fibers. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are not suited for explosive, powerful movements such as sprinting and weightlifting. This is why professional athletes choose a distance to specialize in – it is easier to train the body for speed or endurance, but usually not both.

Are Runners Born or Made?

As for whether or not runners are born or made, the answer to that question is quite simply: both. Anyone can be a runner. While some runners are genetically predisposed to having a body type that is a natural fit for running, other runners do not have the “typical” body type and still engage in the sport successfully.

Regardless of the genetic component, with training, all can condition the body for running. There is something to be said for the strong influence environmental factors can have to nurture the potential in any body.

“Factors such as the amount of support a person receives from family and coaches, economic and other circumstances that allow one to pursue the activity, availability of resources, and a person’s relative age compared to their peers all seem to play a role in athletic excellence.”

According to a MedlinePlus chapter on human genetics

For example, a child that grows up in a sedentary household might discover running as an adult and put in the hard work to perform well.

That’s not to say that genetics don’t play a part at all, but it’s important to note that it can be difficult to draw a clear line between genes and environment, because research has shown that these influence each other. Athletic parents might raise their children to play sports and engage in other physical activity, while also passing down a body type that is well-suited to those activities. It’s hard to know where genetics end and environmental factors begin.


How to tell if you have good running genetics may be question on your mind, but note that every body type can be conditioned for running. Whether that person wants to run for pleasure, run as a complement to other fitness activities, or participate in races, running is an accessible physical activity available to anyone.

Genetics can play a part influencing the success of high-performance athletes, but genetics only go so far before environmental factors such as training, sleep, and nutrition kick in.

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About the author

Emily is an avid runner who has tackled distances from 5k to marathons. She volunteers at races whenever possible, and loves to encourage newbies to explore running.

Since 2018, she has maintained her RRCA Level I Certified Running Coach credential to be a more informed member of the running community when participating in conversations about training. In short, she really likes all things running.

Read more about Emily here.