Skeletal muscle is a highly adaptable tissue. It responds to environmental and physiological challenges by changes in size, fibre type and metabolism. All of these responses are underpinned by our genes and it is therefore generally assumed that genetic variation between individuals may account for the differences in musculature and athletic capabilities between people. Research into the genetic influences of our muscle is at an embryonic stage, but some early insight into potential regulators has recently emerged, which is reflected in this review. Broad heritability, which appears to affect muscle size and strength more than metabolism has been assessed in twin and sibling studies. It appears to account for more inter-individual variation in the young as opposed to older people. However, the studies reported to date do demonstrate a large degree of diversity, which is probably predominantly due to different methodological approaches being adopted as well as distinct populations being studied. At a molecular level, there has been enormous progress in identifying regulators of atrophy and hypertrophy though the study of knock-out and transgenic animals and also through the utilisation of cell culture models. Among others, the insulin-like growth factors, calcineurin, desmin, myf5, mrf4, MyoD and myogenin have been identified as positive regulators of muscle size, while TNF-alpha, myostatin and components of the ubiquitin pathway have been recognized as regulators of muscle wasting. However, given the ethical and mechanistic constraints of performing similar studies in humans, difficulties have arisen when attempting to translate the animal and cell culture findings to humans. However, the current search for target "exercise genes" in humans has yielded the first successful results. Variations in the genes encoding for: the angiotensin converting enzyme, alpha-actinin 3, bradykinin, ciliary neurotrophic factor, interleukin-15, insulin-like growth factor II, myostatin and the vitamin D-receptor have all been found to account for some of the inter-subject variability in muscle strength or size. However, the influences of these genetic variations are somewhat weak, and not always reproducible and furthermore they are predominantly based in young healthy people. Hence, a key topic, namely the molecular mechanisms of muscle frailty in the elderly still remains to be elucidated.