An absence of genetic variance in traits under selection is perhaps the oldest explanation for a limit to evolutionary change, but has also been the most easily dismissed. We review a range of theoretical and empirical results covering single traits to more complex multivariate systems, and show that an absence of genetic variance may be more common than is currently appreciated. From a single-trait perspective, we highlight that it is becoming clear that some trait types do not display significant levels of genetic variation, and we raise the possibility that species with restricted ranges may differ qualitatively from more widespread species in levels of genetic variance in ecologically important traits. A common misconception in many life-history studies is that a lack of genetic variance in single traits, and genetic constraints as a consequence of bivariate genetic correlations, are different causes of selection limits. We detail how interpretations of bivariate patterns are unlikely to demonstrate genetic limits to selection in many cases. We advocate a multivariate definition of genetic constraints that emphasizes the presence (or otherwise) of genetic variance in the multivariate direction of selection. For multitrait systems, recent results using longer term studies of organisms, in which more is understood concerning what traits may be under selection, have indicated that selection may exhaust genetic variance, resulting in a limit to the selection response.