Many people brush off many factors by assuming person X is weaker than person Y because person X works harder(incorrect assumption). It is a fact that person X may work much harder, more thorough, have a better diet, sleep right, have a healthy system, and may be weaker than person Y who does the same things.

It is also a fact that person Y may out perform person X, despite person X working out and person Y not.

That brings me to my question ... I have noticed that, comparing myself to others, my progess is much slower. I have done consecutive push ups for weeks, and still can barely bench 135 lbs (what the average man apparently does, based on limited-testing). It is beyond disappointing to realize one is barely reaching the "average" while having had a regimen for the past six years. I also did do bench and never improved, only suffered DOMS, fatigue, pain, and kept at the same weight(could not increase; wasn't getting stronger). I incorporate all major muscle groups, and I stay in plateaus for weeks, get DOMS (even if doing the exercise for the 300th time), have poor lung capacity, and can't seem to improve. I have already assured myself that this is definitely genetic.

I have witnessed people who don't do any exercise (and from which I can guarantee absolute proof thereof), and are as strong as me(I have been in strength training on and off for many years).

My fitness is also lackluster ... weeks of running, jogging, cardio, etc., and I'm still gaping like a fish out of water in two seconds.

My conclusion is that this is definitely genetic ... my testosterone levels are low and no amount of exercise helps (slowish metabolism, man boobs won't go away, trouble breathing, neuromuscularly imbalanced, have Social Anxiety and related issues, slight OCD, very thin wrists, prone to getting obese and have been very obese in the past).

It's like my genetic limit is that of an average man or a little beyond, while the average man is starting off where I strived to reach over big milestones.

My regimen and weight chart of my biceps curl changes over the years: Legend: AGE/MAX/BODYWEIGHTWEIGHT-HEIGHT/REPS-SETS

Age 15: Biceps curl - 25 lbs x 1, 252 lbs @ 5'7", curl 2 x a week x 5 reps.

Age 18: Biceps curl - 35 lbs x 4, 184 lbs @ 5'9", curl 1-2 x a week x 3-18 reps.

Age 19: Biceps curl - 35 lbs x 2, 173 lbs @ 5'9-1/2", curl 2-3 x a week x 2-6 reps.

Age 20: Biceps curl - 40 lbs x 7, 192 lbs @ 5'9-1/2", curl 1 x a week x 1-5 reps.

Present->Age 21: Biceps curl - 40 lbs x 3, 193 lbs @ 5'9-1/2", curl 1-2 x a week x 1-10 reps.

As you can see, maintaing a tight regimen from 18-19 made me weaker, but from 19-20, not steadily working out, I got stronger, and through 21 I have gotten weaker following steady exercising again. I get strong mildy to a point, but then get weaker progressively, and start back again; I'm not linearly improving without dropping back down.

I think I scored the genetic bads ... (can't even think of a word; probably genetic failures as well). How well could my genes be holding me back, or others?

  • Low testosterone and bad genes can be problems, yes. What exactly are you asking, though--how much could you bench or curl if you applied yourself? Maybe you could follow a strength program with programmed increases, track its progress, and then tell us how it goes. Dec 4, 2013 at 22:07
  • Like Dave mentioned it could definitely be low test, there are tests for that and treatments. Its also possible that you are not training properly. Doing curls, push-ups, jogging every now and then, will not build significant strength. Have you ever actually done a beginners strength program? Do you understand the concept of progressive overload, and that your diet when you are training for strength is not the same diet when trying to lose weight. Dec 5, 2013 at 4:16
  • 4
    Additionally, unless you have been diagnosed as having low testosterone, I think it unlikely that you actually have medically classified low T. There are many symptoms that can be quite debilitating, other than "I can't run much and I don't curl well." And if you have already assured yourself that it is genetic, what are you looking for? Confirmation so you can quite working out? And do you really expect to improve your curling, by doing it once a week for a few reps?
    – JohnP
    Dec 5, 2013 at 14:11
  • You're 193lb and curling only 40lbs?! Something seems off here. People who don't train at 193lbs can curl 40lbs with ease. (Nothing to be ashamed of - you have shite genes, just like i do, but in a few years you'll get to normal strength levels.)
    – user33409
    Feb 24, 2022 at 14:57

4 Answers 4


It's easy to blame genetics, when the truth of the matter is the work you were doing wasn't the right kind of work for your goals. The truth is nothing comes easy to everyone. While genetics are a factor, the biggest limiting factors really don't have much to do with that.

SAID Principle

Exercise is subject to the SAID principle, or Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. If you work at performing more and more reps, you will get better at more and more reps--but at the expense of being able to lift heavier weights. The bottom line is there are different approaches you need to take to build strength vs. building size or endurance. Many well trained coaches and athletes are aware of this and fashion their training around periodization.

Periodization is simply focusing on one aspect of your training to improve your performance in another aspect down the line. The demands of different sports affect the order of your training so that you get the most results from your training effort. Well organized training will always outperform haphazard or unfocused training.

Body Weight and Hormonal Response

Your body's endocrine system (hormones and receptors) is very much impacted by your diet and levels of body fat. Put in simple terms, it's easier for lean people to remain lean and fat people to remain fat. In order for a naturally thin person to increase body weight requires a very large amount of effort to fight the body's desire to maintain the same weight. On the same token, it takes a large concerted effort to remove fat if you've been overweight for a long period of time.

The more body fat you carry around, the lower the amount of Testosterone your body will naturally produce. So, as you lose weight and keep it off, the testosterone levels increase. Additionally, the types of foods you eat, or just as importantly don't eat also affect the amount of testosterone in your system. Xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens (environmental and plant based respectively) also impair the body's ability to generate the normal amount of testosterone. Again, there are environmental issues to consider.


The only thing that genetics affect are:

  • Proportion and size of your body--anthropromorphics.
  • How readily you adapt and build type 1 vs type 2 muscles
  • Propensity for genetic diseases such as psoriasis, mental diseases, etc.

Someone with proportionally shorter arms will have an advantage with bench press, but a disadvantage with deadlifts. Someone with shorter femurs will have an advantage with squats.

So what separates the successful from the unsuccessful?

  • The type of work they are doing. Successful people make sure the effort they put in gives them the most results back.
  • They type of food they eat. Athletes have similar needs, and while certain proportions of macro-nutrients favor one sport over another, they eat what's necessary to get results.
  • The heart they put into their work. If you put in half-hearted work you will get half-hearted results even if the plan is good.
  • The willingness to keep pushing themselves when most people would quit. If it took 3 years to bench 135 lbs, a normal person might be willing to call it quits. A successful athlete keeps working at it and after 15 years they may have a 400 lb bench press.

To make a long story short, it is very disingenuous to completely disregard the work that people put in to things. Hard work trumps genetics in the long run. In fact, the only way for an athlete with good genes to overcome an elite athlete who put in a lot of work is for the guy with good genes to put in the same amount of work. Put any gifted high school athlete against a pro like Larry Byrd in his prime, and they will be humbled every time. Larry Byrd was known as someone who outworked everyone else.

There are plenty of athletes with disabilities of one sort or another who perform amazing feats. One example would be Lei Liu who bench pressed 498 lbs in competition without the use of his legs. You could say he got a raw deal, but he put in the work despite his limitations.


This answer is meant to get you to focus on what matters rather than trying to find an excuse for all the negative things you think about yourself.

First, your attitude is detrimental to your progress. You are so focused on comparisons with other people. Instead of envisioning yourself "being strong", or comparing yourself with the "average" person, envision yourself "doing the work to get strong".

Some people do progress more slowly. Women, elderly, people with poor eating and sleep habits, for example. It doesn't change the process.

Your misconceptions

  • "I have done consecutive push ups for weeks, and still can barely bench 135 lbs. Push-ups are not the route to a stronger bench press. Bench press is the route to a stronger bench press.
  • "I have already assured myself that this is definitely genetic." This is probably wrong, and it doesn't matter. This is an excuse. Based on the description you've given, I can go out on a limb and assure you that your lack of progress is largely based on following an unprincipled strength program.
  • "Weeks of running, jogging, cardio, etc., and I'm still gaping like a fish out of water in two seconds." Cardio is always hard work. Doing "weeks" of running isn't following a regimen.

Your success

  • You used to weight 252 lbs. Now, you weight 192 lbs. 5'9" and 192 lbs. That's still a bit overweight, but it's a great improvement.

How to proceed

From what I can tell, you have never done a program that gets you lifting weights three times per week on a regular basis. Your focus on your bicep curl demonstrates that you haven't selected the right exercises for beginner strength gains.

Since you have never done a proper novice strength training program you can't make any conclusions about what your potential is.

If you want to get strong and fit, you need to follow a beginner strength training program for probably about a year. Read this: What novice program should I recommend to my unfit friends?

On most of those programs, you'll squat, bench press, overhead press, deadlift, and pull-up/chin-up. That is all. You'll do three of those exercises each workout. You'll do them at the heaviest weight at which you can do three sets of 5 reps. Then, the next workout, you'll do them with a bit more weight. You will do three workouts per week. You will eat well and you will sleep well. You'll be able to progress like this for many months.


There are many factors involved in determining potential, and, genetics is definitely one of them. However, it should not be used to limit your training. For example, genetics will predetermine the amount of fast twitch vs. slow twitch muscle fibers you have. That does not mean you can't adapt and become stronger. It just means you may need to go about it differently. Also, body type may also play a role.

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    Tomatotypes have been routinely disproven.
    – user2861
    Dec 5, 2013 at 22:24

Genetics is hard. Out of 20,000 human genes, only hundreds have been studied, and only dozens carefully studied, for their role in exercise. Just because we know a gene exists doesn’t mean we understand how it works, or what turns it on.

The main thing we do know is that the role of genetics is complicated. Take height, for example. In 2009, a study published in the European Journal of Human Genetics found that you can predict a person’s height better by measuring their parents than by testing and tallying the 54 genes known to influence height.

So even though there are genetic tests available for fitness-related genes, they’re not very useful. One of those genes is called ACE, and certain versions are associated with aerobic fitness in endurance athletes. Another is ACTN3, which is associated with muscular power and sprinting. Evidence is mixed.

Stephen Roth says, on whether a result on one of these tests means much. “It might contribute 1% or 2% to overall performance,”. Based on the results, companies will recommend certain sports as being good matches for you, but “the science just isn’t there to support that.”

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