Eddie Hall is the 6ft 3in 186kg strongman who has won multiple Britain’s Strongest Man competitions and in 2017 won the World’s Strongest Man, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Eddie also holds the world record for a deadlift at 500kg and has a massive 216kg axle press.
Eddie, like many strength and power athletes, should share some very similar DNA traits known to be highly beneficial to sports performance. Many call these traits “gifts”, some usually show gifted attributes at early ages like always winning at sports day at school as an example, teachers, coaching staff and scouts often find attributes they like about young athletes which they then attempt to hone with specific regimes. Years of research into the genome has shown that certain athletes share similar genetic variants found within specific genes such as ACTN3, ACE, AMPD1, NOS3, MSTN, PPARA, NAT2, IL-6 and many more, with research into others still on going.
Sports performance is a highly complex area being influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Physical traits may have more sway towards the genetic influences and help determine the strength of skeletal muscles and the predominant type of fibres that make them. However, other traits related to athleticism include aerobic capacity, height, flexibility, injury risk, intellect, coordination, and general personality. The studies done on the most elite athletes explain that anything between 30-80% of athletic performance could come down to genetic variances. Many studies compare athletes with non-athletes, and athletes on many levels are also usually compared.
Whilst genetic traits are important it is still important to consider the massively important role environment has; economic, motivation, support, age of starting and resources will all play a huge part in success. We also know that epigenetic factors, where the environment impacts genes also plays its part, it is clear that the combination of environmental factors and genetics play into each other and will certainly impact success.
Eddie, still the holder of the deadlift world record at the time of writing and a winner of the world’s strongest man, should have the gifts we know about. Eddie, however, is an anomaly…
Eddie has had his DNA and epigenetics analysed by Muhdo, which has focuses on combined genetic algorithms that highlight gifts in specific athletic traits such as muscle power, stamina, VO2 max, etc. Muhdo has tested thousands of people and hundreds of strength based athletes, and 98% of these strength athletes have these so called “gifted” variants in the genes like ACTN3. However, Eddie does not, in fact according to a well-established gene database Eddie’s variants should lead him to having:
“Impaired muscle performance. Likely endurance athlete.”
Whilst it is true that the majority of power athletes and strength athletes do come back with nearly all the variants we expect, it is incredibly amazing that Eddie does not. These results in top athletes are rare exceptions to the rule.
The Eddie gene variant and the epigenetic affect.
It is not to say that Eddie doesn’t have gifted gene variants, it is just that certain variants have been considered for a long time to be “golden” variants. However, Muhdo has discovered a variant found in the gene MSTN (rs3791783) that seems to impact the overall size of a person, which then correlates to their overall deadlift max. This is a variant Eddie does have – it is actually because of Eddie that the Muhdo guys looked into it.
Along with this variant, Eddie appears to have many variants associated with stamina, which may explain the sometimes unbelievable amount of reps he can achieve. However, it is not variants we would expect from an all-out strength athlete.
A few conclusions have to be drawn from all this. Eddie’s training ethic has for sure impacted certain genes through epigenetic changes, which shows that whilst genetic traits may influence 30-80% of athletic performance, if you can impact the genes you can improve the odds.
Genetic variants shouldn’t be used to put an athlete in a box, “you will be a marathon runner” or “you will be a sprinter”, in fact working with certain gifts may be the key to success.
Yes, Eddie has got stamina related variants but it is obvious these are used in events that require more then a one off effort. It also shows that hidden variants may be playing a larger role than first believed by early research. Multiple gene variants working in tandem combined with environmental motivation, correct diet/nutrition and coaching will all mix together to make the eventual athlete.
In short, if Eddie Hall took a DNA test 10 years ago, the ones doing the test would have said this sample is that of an endurance athlete…
Science progresses and thanks to anomalies like Eddie Hall, personalised training, nutrition and coaching will hit new heights in the new decade.