The (No Longer) Hidden Link Between Your DNA and Effective Training Programme Design

I frequently get asked just how I use the results from a DNA test to make changes to a cyclisit's training programme. So I've drawn up an example which hopefully goes some way to explaining just that.

Muscle fiber composition is one of the biggest influencing factors in whether an athlete will excel in endurance or sprint based sport. At the highest level of competitive sport all successful endurance athletes are slow-twitch fiber dominant and successful sprint athletes are fast twitch fiber dominant. All endurance athletes will need to complete a certain amount of high-volume, low intensity training to meet the demands of their event. However, not all endurance athletes will respond equally to traditional volume based endurance training methods.

Suppose we could find 10 cyclists of the same age, gender, body composition, muscle fiber composition, lifestyle, and performance level. Then asked these seemingly very similar people to follow the same training programme for 8 weeks. They would all live in the same place, eat the same food and have the same amount of sleep for the duration of the 8-week training camp.  Despite all of our test subjects having the same performance level at the start of the programme, I guarantee this would not be the case at the end of the 8-week period.

Some will have improved, some will have remained at the same level, and some may have even declined. Why? Because people’s genetic makeup causes them to respond differently to different training methods, and training distribution. So the people that improved would have been the lucky ones, the people who, by chance, were genetically well matched to the particular training programme we were using. This doesn’t mean the people whose performance declined have a lower chance of achieving higher performance levels, it just means they require different training programmes, more suited to them as individuals.

Of course not all of your response to a training programme is pre-determined by your DNA, some of it is linked to your lifestyle, nutrition and other environmental factors. However at least half of your response to a given training programme is determined by your DNA. 

Which type of training programme we are most suited to can be found out by trial and error, but even under the careful supervision of a highly experienced coach, it would take an absolute minimum of 1 year, but in most cases much longer. However, with a simple saliva cheek swab we can cut all of the trial and error out and design training programmes matched to every individual based on their DNA, lifestyle and goals.

The volume, intensity and type of training an individual requires to reach their genetic potential varies massively from one person to another. We can now use your genetic profile to determine how best to distribute your training sessions over a week, month and year. Furthermore, we can use your DNA to tailor the duration and intensity of efforts in each individual training session.

The diagrams below illustrate the overall training distribution of two 8-Week Training Programmes, which have been written for two different people. In this example both individuals have been regularly riding together for 6-8 hours per week for more than two years and both are training for a 100 mile sportive, they both work full time, have a family and have a maximum of 8 hours per week training time available.

The diagrams do not show the detail of each individual session, simply a map of the overall training distribution and intensity. Despite them being very different, both programmes add up to roughly the same amount of training time per week.

Both individuals have had their DNA tested and despite them having different training responses and recovery speeds, in order to meet the physical demands of their target event, both individuals need to make use of both high and low intensity training sessions, just in different ratios, and distributed differently over the 8-week programme.

Person A

This individual is a genetically pre-disposed to respond well to a high volume of low intensity training, and their DNA also shows they will have a significantly limited response to shorter explosive efforts within their endurance training. Recovery speed is also limited by their genetic make up, and whilst work can be done to improve the individual's recovery speed between sessions, this person is always going to have a relatively slow recovery speed, compared to those who have the genetic pre-disposition to recover quickly. Therefore when planning training for this individual we need to pay great respect to their extended recovery needs compared some other individuals. Below is a broad example of how we might distribute this persons training over an 8-week period. As previously mentioned, this diagram doesn't show any specific session detail, it simply illustrates the overall distribution of duration and intensity of sessions.

Person B

Despite this person being slow-twitch muscle fiber dominant (just like Person A) this individual is genetically pre-disposed to respond well to short, explosive efforts within their training (unlike Person A). In contrast to Person A, Person B has a significantly more limited response to high volume, low intensity training. Person B's recovery speed is fast and therefor they will be much more capable of benefiting from additional sessions which would be detrimental for Person A. Below is an example of how we might distribute Person B's training over the same 8-week period.

I hope this example goes some way to providing an introduction in to the influence your DNA has on  determining whether or not your training programme will get you the results you want.