Western populations are living longer. Ageing decline in muscle mass and strength (i.e. sarcopenia) is becoming a growing public health problem, as it contributes to the decreased capacity for independent living. It is thus important to determine those genetic factors that interact with ageing and thus modulate functional capacity and skeletal muscle phenotypes in older people. It would be also clinically relevant to identify 'unfavourable' genotypes associated with accelerated sarcopenia. In this review, we summarized published information on the potential associations between some genetic polymorphisms and muscle phenotypes in older people. A special emphasis was placed on those candidate polymorphisms that have been more extensively studied, i.e. angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) gene I/D, α-actinin-3 (ACTN3) R577X, and myostatin (MSTN) K153R, among others. Although previous heritability studies have indicated that there is an important genetic contribution to individual variability in muscle phenotypes among old people, published data on specific gene variants are controversial. The ACTN3 R577X polymorphism could influence muscle function in old women, yet there is controversy with regards to which allele (R or X) might play a 'favourable' role. Though more research is needed, up-to-date MSTN genotype is possibly the strongest candidate to explain variance among muscle phenotypes in the elderly. Future studies should take into account the association between muscle phenotypes in this population and complex gene-gene and gene-environment interactions.