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The (Nearly) Fit Guy: Some People Are Born with the Right Stuff

Posted - Nov. 8, 2003 at 8:20 a.m.



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I've got a buddy who couldn't locate a gym with a phone book and a global positioning system. He's got no use for 'em.

He couldn't spell "proper diet" if you spotted him all the consonants. He smokes a little.

When it comes to beer, he could show that Colonial brewmaster Samuel Adams a thing or two about putting away the suds.

And yet, this genetic marvel can summon a remarkably high amount of energy from his seemingly neglected body.

Once a week, he menaces a soccer field or throws down an impressive effort in a 5K race, resigning most around him to the slow lane. He's constantly in motion and makes it look fairly effortless.

It's enough to make The (Nearly) Fit Guy weep.

Some of us paddle pretty hard against the currents of Get-Fit Stream just to maintain some level of pedestrian performance.

While I'm getting home early to grab some shut-eye before a morning run, my buddy can keep vampire hours, eat poorly, exercise minimally and do his share to keep the Anheuser-Busch stock robust.

But then he does the weekend warrior thing and makes everybody else look like the slow beasts of the herd.

Freak.

We all know the type. Somehow, they can just summon more from their bodies than the rest of us can.

I suppose we could be magnanimous about it and appreciate the freakishly fit for the blessings bestowed by the big Personal Trainer in the sky.

But let's face it, begrudging someone his inherited assets can be alarmingly satisfying.

Robert Vaughan, an exercise physiologist at the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, says any of us can work to improve our performance in a given activity, whether it's running, yoga, swimming, arm wrestling or doing that fleet-feet Irish dance. But you can only improve as much as genetics permit.

"And if your mother and father have the right genes... you can be pretty good without much work," he says.

All kinds of variables come into play. Some people are more flexible than others. Some have fantastic eyesight or hand-to-eye coordination. Some have more fast-twitch muscles. All affect performance to varying degrees.

In the case of my freakishly fit pal, he's probably blessed with more fast-twitch muscle fiber, and he's almost certainly on the honor roll in terms of VO2 max. A person's VO2 max is the volume of oxygen that can be used while exercising vigorously. Put another way, it's the rate of energy that can be output, either aerobically or in strength.

Folks with a higher VO2 max can exercise more intensely, for a longer stretch. Lance Armstrong, for instance, would be instantly enshrined in the VO2 Max Hall of Fame, if there were such a thing.

We can all increase our VO2 max through exercise (although I'm sure some infomercial will promise to help you do it while you sleep provided that you have a major credit card.) Some of us just start ahead of others.

There are a couple of physical parameters that limit a person's VO2 max. (Caution: It gets a little scientific here, so you may want to hustle over to Starbucks for a shot of caffeine.) Those parameters are the chemical ability of your muscles to use oxygen in breaking down sources of fuel and the ability of your cardiovascular and pulmonary systems to transport oxygen to muscles.

You could spend time reading up on it, or you could just think about it like this: Some people have a bigger engine than others.

Like my freak pal, who tonight probably will be standing across from some grimly apathetic bartender unwadding a stack of bills and saying something like, "What do you have that's really heavy, with lots of calories?"

Freak.

So what's the bottom line? Basically, Vaughan says, you've got to be happy working with what you've got.

We'll call it the Duck-Chicken Rule. That is, don't try to be a duck if you're a chicken.

"You can only get as fit as your potential allows," he says. "Unfortunately, some of our potential is not as great as others."

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(Steve Davis is a thirty-something sports writer for The Dallas Morning News who hovers perpetually on the edge of fitness. Write to him at: The Dallas Morning News, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75275.)

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(c) 2003, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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