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How to Build a Superhuman Athlete

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Do you need superhuman genes to be an elite athlete? Or can you break world records with the right diet and training? Find out what it takes to be a superhuman athlete here.

What Makes an Elite Athlete?

No matter what their game, professional athletes make a job of going faster, farther, and longer, setting world records inch by inch, second by second. But stripped away from artificial enhancements like steroids, how do these power-machines differ from the everyday athlete -- or the average Jill, for that matter? Are they just born with innate talent, or is it all learned ability -- and, if that's the case, are these preternatural skills something we can all develop?

What Makes an Elite Athlete?

"There are five components that have influence in human performance," says Phil Cutti, an exercise physiologist and Director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Genetics is the top factor, he says, comprising roughly 25 to 30 percent. The next largest factor is one's body size and composition, then athletic and training history, then age, and finally gender.

"That 30 percent umbrella of genetics -- some people are going to be more coordinated or adept at certain sports," Cutti concedes -- which is why we aren't all Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. "But I think if you take your average Joe or Jane and find out where their performance [level and] variables are, then address those strengths and weaknesses, you'll have marked improvement."

Ah -- the loophole.

Lord knows I'll never be able to dunk a basketball, hit a homer, or break a six-minute mile. Hell, as someone who last ran laps in the '90s by way of high school P.E., I doubt I'll ever break a 10-minute mile -- and that's only if a pack of wild dogs is chasing me. But for people who are committed to reaching their own peak performance, you've got a running shot (no pun intended).

"The whole 'practice makes perfect' adage is true, but perfect practice is perfect. That's more accurate," says Cutti, who's been in the endurance, coaching, and training world for more than a decade. This means that lifting reps or running laps till exhaustion isn't necessarily the best practice -- instead, it's assessing where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and customizing your workout specifically for your body.

Next:  A Natural Gift


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