Spending Your Genetics: What does that mean?

Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD uses a phrase that I LOVE at the start of most seminars: Spending your genetics.

What on earth does that mean?

It's the old way of dealing with our top tier competitive and professional athletes. The process of becoming elite (however you define that) is usually a sieve that filters for people who have a high pain threshold, tough physicality and mentality, and are exceptionally strong, fast, and enduring.

Athletes have a short career length, typically when they come out the other end, they are all crooken, battered, and broken. It's said that a retired judoka has at least 5 joints that have chronic issues. (I guess I got out early since I only have two.) The mentality has been that, well, that's the cost of high level competition, and the training that goes into making the best ever better.

Dr. KStar whole heartedly disagrees.

The problem with athletics in general, and you see this a lot in CrossFit though it's not exclusive to it, is there is a focus on the end result. Did you make that goal? Did you make the lift? Did your opponent tap out? But what goes on with the mechanics of reaching those end results are often overlooked and that is where the dysfunction often leads to injury down the road.

So spending your genetics means that you're basically allowing your body to make adaptations to poor mechanics. Those adaptations always come as a cost which will present itself down the road. These genetic outliers are able to hold out for a bit longer than most, but they're still just "spending their genetics."

Let's say you're a basketball player. Basketball requires a lot of agility, toe turns and lateral shuffling. You also see quite a few knee and ankle injuries in basketball. When you're doing a quick pivot using either a toe or heel plant, it's pretty common for a person to let their knees roll in. Now, if you're also allowing the same basketball player to do plyometrics, squats, and lunges with a collapsed knee and ankle, you're only reinforcing bad mechanics and ignoring musculature and movement that would be protective on the court.

BAM! Knee blow out.

You see the same phenomenon in nutrition. The body has amazing ways to buffer and patch bad nutritional decisions. You don't get insulin resistant diabetes because you're older now. You got it because you made poor food choices for many years, your body had to continually make biochemical accommodations and now it's caught up with you. There are no more accommodations to make.

Think about that the next time you say "I can eat whatever I want and I don't put on weight." It's not always about weight. It's often about the biological adaptations your body has to make to allow you to continue on your way.

The same argument can be made for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, heart disease and a number of other medical issues that are linked back to an over active immune system and high carbohydrate diets.

In fact, many things that are associate with old age can be attributed to this "spending your genetics" way of living that most of us do. Think about this next time your coach cues your technique and you want to "not hear" them…