What Really Makes Someone 'Naturally Athletic'

Have you ever thought about why professional athletes are so good at their sport? Or perhaps you've glanced around the gym and noticed that the shredded middle-aged man on the treadmill has been sprinting at the same tempo since you arrived to start your workout. As we witness impressive physical activity in any scenario, many of us assume these athletes, and everyday fit Joes, are just "naturally athletic." It's a term we use and hear so often that most of us haven't even stopped to consider what it means. What actually makes someone "naturally athletic?"

First off, being a "natural" athlete isn't the same as a "natural-born athlete." According to U.S. News & World Report, about 52% of a person's daily physical activity and ability is derived from genetic factors. Medline plus gives the examples of certain kinds of skeletal muscles and muscle fibers that are genetic factors in athletic ability. There are also genes that could affect physical performance, including ones used in the production of energy for cells, and communication between nerve cells.

Your personality affects your athleticism

Your genetics could also play a factor in how effective your training sessions are. "No two people respond to training in exactly the same way because of their genes," says David Epstein, author of "The Sports Gene," to CBS News. Adding, "A very important kind of talent is the ability to profit more rapidly, from one hour of practice, than the next guy does, and that's very much mediated by your genes."

Along with bodily factors like height and body mass, Medline Plus reports that personality and intellectual ability can influence athleticism. So, even though you may not be the tallest on the basketball court or have the strongest muscles at a weight-lifting competition, you could end up winning if you have a high-achieving personality. "[Sports] gives you ... a platform in which to pursue excellence," says Vincent Granito, a psychology professor and women's basketball coach at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio, to the U.S. News & World Report. Adding, "Somebody who's highly competitive, somebody who has a high need to achieve –- those are personality characteristics we'd probably see for people who want to be athletes," he says.

External factors could give you all the motivation you need

Outside of physical factors and your personality traits, there are a few external factors that could turn you into a naturally athletic adult. According to U.S. News & World Report, if your parents were visibly active around you as a child, or if you had an excellent coach at one point in your upbringing, you're more likely to be drawn to staying active and fit as you age. Your community can also have an impact — a fit and active community may motivate its members to join in.

So, the shredded man on the treadmill at the gym and the star athlete on TV probably do have some genetic advantages. But the truth is, many of us can be perceived as "naturally athletic" if we work hard and keep moving. Though we might have to give some credit to our parents, community, or an excellent coach down the line as well.