Train Right for Your Personality Type
I have a hard time training with regular gym-goers. I hate it when I see “resolutioners” come through the door and get into the squat rack. Freaking hate it. Three months later, it’s like they were never there.
It’s depressing. Why come to the gym if you aren’t motivated enough to put a consistent effort? Are you not seeing results? Bored with your current program? What gives?
The answer is too simple for most to believe: it’s all in your head.
The mind is a powerful thing. When we train, our mind sends signals to the muscles we are working in order for them to contract, relax, grow, move, and much more. We wouldn’t be able to move without it.
However, the mind can be a real pain in the ass too. When you’re not motivated, your mind ends up making a lot of excuses to not go and train or to cheat on your diet. Don’t keep the mind happy and you’re heading toward the world of dad bods and oversized sorority t-shirts.
The key to starting and sticking to training for life is simple: train hard and have a reason for training. The motivation you have can come from anything or anyone. To make this easier, we can use the way you naturally are in order to tailor and choose programs that will keep you and your pesky little nervous system happy. The less friction you have with training, the more likely you won’t be the guy that gave up on March 1, 2019.
Christian Thibaudeau wrote a great article on the different neurotypes and how you can take advantage of them to advance your training to the next level. With a few year’s of training experience under my belt, I’m going to analyze what neurotype I am. Then I’ll see if it lines up with the way I’ve trained and what has gotten me the best results using my own training logs and programs/coaches.
I’m not going to bother with explaining “neurotyping”. It’s a complicated word that CT uses instead of saying your personality. Meatheads like to sound refined when we write because most people see us for the muscles. At it’s core, there are 3 neurotypes:
Type 1: The Novelty Seeker
Type 2: The Reward Seeker
Type 3: The Harm Avoider
Real complicated right? This comes from the Cloninger Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) which has been used in the psychology studies. No one personality test is exact, but we can use this to simplify who the different types of people in the gym are and figure out what program and exercises will tend to work best for them.
Type 1: The Novelty Seeker
These are the people that think everything needs to be a competition. Who can get to the restaurant first. Who can do the most push-ups. Who can take the most shots without collapsing.
These people suck at staying with one thing too long. They’ll never go on the treadmill because they’re literally running in place. They’d rather go and hike up a mountain and get a good Instagram photo instead.
Most athletes (and former athletes) fall in this category. We thrive in competition. It makes us push harder in our jobs and in our training. So we should make our workouts follow this same motivation.
Type 1 people should focus on performance based training and sports. Team sports are always a good option. Changing lifts every 3–4 weeks or so (aka Westside Conjugate) keeps the training fresh and lets new records be broken. Anywhere there’s a leaderboard you’ll find the best results for Type 1's
Follow one rule: EARN YOUR CARBS. You want to be at peak performance come game time or training day. That piece of cake won’t help you hit that PR. Slam down that Gatorade and protein concoction and get amped up to smoke your squat record.
Type 2: The Reward Seeker
This is where most gym-goers fall on the scale. They go to the gym so that they don’t feel as guilty when they are downing mimosas at brunch. That’s ok, I’ll go hard in the paint while you chug along on the elliptical. We’ll both get what we want out of our training.
The reward that Type 2’s usually seek is to look leaner or to hang out with their friends while working out. There’s always that one guy that won’t stop talking to the trainers or other “usuals” training at the gym. More power to ya, buddy, but I’m gonna keep my headphones in and my “Don’t F with me” face on so I can crush my training.
Since the main goal is to look good rather than perform well, these people really don’t need a sport to compete in. As long as they are seeing results in the mirror and compliments from others, they get the needed dopamine response. Really focus on the mind muscle connection and have an accountability buddy to keep you company at the gym. By having someone who will be pissed they don’t have a spotter if you don’t come, you can take advantage of the people pleasing nature of a Type 2.
Accountability is the name of the game for Type 2’s. Hire a trainer or have a tool that makes you log everything you do. Much like habits, you don’t want to break the chain for fear of people not liking you. And stay away from cheat foods! I’m not one for being on restrictive diets, but keep to the essentials for 90% of the time when planning your meals.
Type 3: The Harm Avoider
This is the only type where they aren’t “seeking” anything but “avoiding” something detrimental. In my observations I usually don’t see too many people like this. I usually hear them.
Whether it’s commenting about my technique or seeing them do the same lift and adjusting the tiniest thing in their stance, Type 3’s are relatively easy to pick out. They are definitely in for the long haul, and are extremely critical of their form.
More aptly named the “control freaks” Type 3’s want more of a structured and steady approach to training. They want a laid out program that doesn’t change until they squeeze out the tiniest bit of gains. Fine tuning is better than going back to the drawing board.
Don’t take away carbs from a Type 3. Especially if they need to recover from the previous session in order to PR right on schedule. Meal timing can be especially important from a psychological standpoint due to the placebo of perfectly timing training fuel to use during their training.
What’s My Type?
I’ll admit I’m a bit biased when it comes to defining my neurotype. I played sports in high school and college. I have a ridiculous urge to compete in everything whether it’s finishing my food first or running to the next bar downtown. But let’s get more into the weeds with what I’ve done in training and with my diet to make it bearable.
The first program I ever did was a basic 3 sets of 5 on main lifts with Starting Strength. This got me into the groove of training, but was the tip of the iceberg when it came to exploring what I could do. I made decent gains from the repetition. I needed more. There had to be better things available to me to get bigger, faster and stronger (you can already see where I’m going).
I discovered Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 pretty early on and went with that programming for a time in college. I was able to choose accessory exercises that were specific for me. I quickly found out that doing the same lifts over and over freaking sucked. Here we go, another 5 sets of 10 on squats. This program was meant to be run forever with little changes. Screw that!
Enter Joe Defranco’s Westside for Skinny Bastards, my first foray into the “Westside” system of training. Lots of variations, tons of supersets, going heavy, going light, feeling the pump, going for PRs every week. It was heaven. When I was getting tired of one lift I could choose my own adventure and pick another set to chase records on. As a short and thin punk I had every day to break a new record. I could jump, run, and throw to my heart’s content.
I stuck with this program until I found my coaches around my junior year in college. They knew Defranco’s method and even met the man himself to understand the system. The first session I had with them, I could barely drive home. I was set. This was what was going to take me to the next level. The warehouse feel of the gym, the clanking of the iron, people puking, tons of bars, chains, bands, kegs, sleds. It was a lifter’s paradise and an athlete’s dream. The next year going into sport I ran the fastest I’ve ever ran, could belt a baseball over the fence a lot more than I could the previous year, and could make difficult plays seem routine. Shout out to my trainers at the time because without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Fast forward to present. I’ve hopped around on various programs and teams. Most recently have switched between Field Strong and Jacked Street by the fellas at Power Athlete HQ. They are on top of their programming every cycle and have a different focus for each. I always look forward to the next week and am able to learn different training methods as I’m training myself. It’s an invaluable resource I’m glad I’ve found.
This section will be a bit shorter because I figured out my nutrition very early. It all started with those giant Pixie Sticks that you can get at concession stands. I remember my dad getting me one right before a championship game when I was 9 years old. Looking back, this could have gone in a bad direction with diabetes or worse. However, the performance I had during that game was ridiculous. It became a pregame ritual to have a hefty amount of sugar (not only Pixie Sticks, but fruits, gatorade, etc.) to get myself primed for competition. Thanks Dad for figuring out the way to a 9 year old kids performance, it really helps me a couple decades later.
I used the same approach albeit with different sources of sugar during my athletic career. Now I structure my diet in order to get a majority of my carbs right before and right after training. The pump and drive is unreal when I’m able to get a heavy dose of training fuel and then chow down on a post workout meal and shake to restore all the glycogen (another big word) I lost.
Based on my history in training and nutrition I am and forever will be a Type 1 individual. Thankfully it didn’t take me too long to find an optimal training program and coaches that allowed me to train the way Type 1’s should be trained. I’ve been out of competitive athletics for a while now. But I’m always down for a foot race or friendly push up competition.
What type are you? Take a look at the other articles in CT’s series to get a better idea of each neurotype. Look at what’s worked for you in the past, and see if you can figure out what bin you live in. There’s no correct neurotype. It’s a way of determining what motivates you and using that to your advantage. You want all the gains as easy as you can get them. Why not trick your brain into helping you out?