Can Athletic Success Be Inherited?

Hunter Atkins
3 min readJul 8, 2022

If so, can athletic success be inherited? Many factors affect athletic success, and one of the most significant may be genetic. X-chromosomes and mitochondrial genes are passed down from mothers and fathers to their children. Mothers get mitochondrial genes from their fathers, and fathers get X-chromosomes from their mothers. This genetic pattern may play an essential role in determining athletic abilities.

One study argued that elite athletes do not inherit their talent; they are born with it. While genetics play a role in athletic success, a training environment plays a minimal role. In addition to a gifted environment, an athlete must also learn to cultivate certain skills and master specific techniques. For example, many of the best athletes follow special diets to help them train harder. But is athletic success inherited?

Scientists have found many genetic variants that contribute to athleticism. There are more than 200 genetic variants associated with physical performance. Athletes’ height, for example, is 80 percent genetic. Physical traits, like body type, are more difficult to pin down. Most of the elite athletes in the world are Caucasians. However, some of the most critical physical characteristics are inherited. The key is to identify the genes associated with athletic ability.

Genetic studies of athletes have also shown that specific genes are highly adaptive to physical exertion. For example, genes in cardiac output increase with increased exercise, and EPO (erythropoietin) activity increases in athletes training at high altitudes. This gene also affects blood-oxygen levels. Although genetics influence athletic performance, the effects of exercise on these genes can be influenced by environmental factors and epigenetic mechanisms.

The Williams, Manning, and Curry families all have solid athletic families. Some communities have family members who dominate local athletic events. This genetic inheritance may run in families. However, parents who participated in sports or were competitive in their community may have passed on their athletic genes. To pass on these traits to their children, they must expose them to winning conditions. Athletes may also be genetically predisposed to athletic success.

Although the study of the XX genotype is limited, other genes may contribute to athletic performance. For example, the ACTN3 gene codes for a protein called a-actinin-3. This protein is found only in fast type II muscle fibers. Therefore, the XX genotype has been associated with lower muscle strength and sprinting ability. Interestingly, elite athletes with this gene have both a XX genotype and an R577X genotype.

Genetic tests for athletes are also being researched. The results from this study are interesting, as they may indicate whether or not athletic talent can be passed down from parents to children. The findings of this study are promising, but more research is needed to understand which genes are responsible for athletic success. Even more, there are genetic tests for sports performance, which can help track the health of athletes and their families. These tests are now available online. It is time to learn how genetics affect athletic performance.

Although genetics may play an important role in determining individual differences in performance, these studies have been limited by limited replications. Genetic predisposition is not the only factor that determines whether an athlete becomes a champion. Many other environmental and epigenetic factors may play a role. Therefore, genetics is only one factor among many in the determination of an athlete’s athletic potential. If you want to know more, visit the sports science website.

Genetic studies have shown that mitochondrial DNA variation contributes to elite performance. Individuals with the same haplotypes have similar phenotypes, while those with varying levels of mitochondrial DNA are more likely to show genetic differences between themselves and their siblings. Genetic studies have also found that individuals with certain haplotypes have high endurance capabilities. The results of these studies suggest that athletic success may be inherited. The results from this study are promising for future research.

Although genetics do play an important role in athletic performance, only a few genetic variants have a significant impact on the sports performance phenotype. Because sports performance traits are polygenic and complex, researchers have not taken the full spectrum of environmental influences into account. These results are still preliminary, and further research is needed to confirm or disprove this hypothesis. If you have any genetics or are curious about a particular athlete, please contact me.



Hunter Atkins

Hunter Atkins serves as a valuable corporate consultant within ENGIE North America's internal communications team.