There are lots of different training methods out there created around different criteria. You can find programs based on different sports, training goals, and even body type. But what about training methods that are based on your personality and nervous system type? Basing your workouts on your personality might seem strange, but there very well could be something to it.
Why the Nervous System Matters
Whether you’re trying to improve size or strength, the CNS plays a large role in your lifting. This is because it’s the nervous system that the brain uses to send signals to the muscle in order for it to contract and at what rate. Read about the Grease the Groove Method here.
That said, just like it can be beneficial to gear your training methods around what body and metabolism type you have, it can also be beneficial to alter your training based on your personality traits. This is mainly because your personality more or less demonstrates what neurotransmitters dominate your CNS. Matching up the right type of training methods to the right type of neurotransmitters can mean faster gains.
Nervous System / Personality Type #1 – The Stimulus Seeker
Ever know that lifter who was changing up their routine every other week or so? Sometimes this is because people get excited at the new article they’ve just seen online or in the workout magazine, and want to try something new. But often it’s because they have inherently low dopamine levels.
Someone with low dopamine gets bored quite easily, therefore they constantly seek out new stimuli. These are the people who like to multitask, engage in activities that result in large spikes of adrenaline, are always looking to try something new, and can seemingly never sit still.
Stimulus Seeker Training Methods
Because stimulus seekers have way less dopamine than they do seratonin, they have to find ways to increase their dopamine levels prior to hard training if they’re gonna have a good workout. Explosive activation drills or warmups serve these lifters very well. Fatigue shouldn’t be built up, but just enough should be done to get the CNS firing. 2-3 sets of jumps, medicine ball throws, or the like is enough.
When it comes to strength training methods, stimulus seekers do very well with compensatory acceleration training (CAT). This is because the constant attempts at moving faster and more explosively provide continuing stimulation to the nervous system. At the same time, this increases adrenaline, which is directly linked with dopamine.
Since stimulus seekers do get bored easily, variety in their workouts is sort of a must. However, that doesn’t mean they have to do something different every single workout. They can stick with the same thing for a couple weeks before changing it up.
Another approach is to have variety within a predefined structure. For example, a specific workout could be designed such that the “main” lift for that day will be an upper body horizontal pushing movement utilizing the CAT method. However, when it comes time to actually train, the individual lifter could then pick barbell bench press, dumbbell inclines, dips, or anything else they wanted to as long as it fell within that category.
In keeping with the theme of doing varied workouts, stimulus seekers tend to get better gains doing shorter workouts more often. Overall volume can stay the same, but increased training frequency lets them focus on one thing at a time, which again, can provide a new stimulus of some sort every session.
For example, instead of trying to do intense strength work, dynamic explosive work, and active rest or restoration work in every workout, the stimulus seeker would be better off doing a specific, individual session dedicated to each. They would then just constantly rotate through that cycle each time they hit the gym.
Lastly, stimulus seekers tend to do better with sets of 4-6 reps to build muscle and sets of 1-3 reps to build strength. Do a main exercise per workout, then adding a pair of complimentary, yet antagonistic muscle groups works well. Incorporating additional methods for the assistance work keeps the lifter interested, and limiting workouts to 45-60 minutes should keep them from getting bored.
Stimulus Seeker Sample Workouts
There are almost innumerable ways to utilize stimulus seeker training methods, but here are a couple sample workouts you could try:
Sample Workout A:
- Medicine ball chest pass – 3 sets x 3-5 reps
- Barbell bench press – CAT (3-4 sets x 3-5 reps)
- Seated dumbbell overhead press – 4 sets x 4-6 reps
- Hammer strength row – 2 waves of 5/4/3 reps*
*Pick a weight, do a set of 5 reps, then a set of 4 reps, then a set of 3 reps. Increase the weight a little, then repeat.
Sample Workout B:
- Box jump – 3 sets x 3-5 reps
- Trap bar deadlift – CAT (3-4 sets x 3-5 reps)
- Leg press – 2 waves of 5/4/3 reps
- Lying leg curls – 4 sets of 4-6 reps
Nervous System / Personality Type #2 – The Reward Seeker
Are any of your friends that proverbial “people pleaser”? They just seem to be the type that crave approval? This is because they have low levels of norepinepherine. When you have high levels of this neurotransmitter, you have high motivation, a solid sense of well-being, and a lot of confidence.
However, if you have a naturally low level of it, you’re constantly seeking out some sort of reward to improve it. This type of lifter tends to be much more attracted to bodybuilding and physique development because it can result in compliments and adulation from others. As a result, their training should be always providing some sort of positive feedback. This could be in the form of additional weight on the bar, improved technique, or even just a good pump.
Reward Seeker Training Methods
Reward seekers do better when their training methods center their workouts around one specific thing. This could mean a workout is more or less dedicated to a single body part, movement pattern, or even exercise.
Because reward seekers are constantly looking for progress, they shouldn’t have as much variation in their workouts. This is because if things are always changing, then they have a hard time gauging whether or not they’re moving forward. This is also why they’d usually do better changing up how an exercise is done or with what implement, rather than incorporating a different exercise altogether.
Usual strength training methods can work well, as long as there is visual progress. As a result, linear periodization that has weight, sets, and / or reps constantly increasing serves the reward seeker well. For assistance work, higher volume that results in good muscle pumps provides them the type of immediate feedback they like.
Doing extra warmup / ramp up sets prior to top end work can be beneficial as it’s a way for them to ensure they hone their movement technique. However, just be sure not too much is done or else too much fatigue is built up before the actual “work” sets.
Reward seekers can tolerate slightly longer workouts (say 75-90 minutes), but still do better with more frequency. This is because again, they’re looking for positive feedback as quickly as they can get it. When a training session centers only around one or two things, this keeps them more focused and more apt to see positive results than if they were trying to do too many different things at once.
Reward Seeker Sample Workouts
Like the stimulus seeker, there are countless ways these training methods could be implemented. Below are two sample upper body workouts focused on the chest & shoulders / bench press that could work well:
Sample Workout A – chest & shoulder focus:
- Bench press – do 3-5 warmup sets of 6-10 sets, then a max set of 6-8, plus two drop off sets*
- Incline dumbbell press – 3-4 sets x 8-10 reps
- Dips – 2 x max reps
- Lateral raise + bent lateral – 4 supersets x 10 reps each exercise
*For the max set of 6-8 reps, load a weight you can do roughly 8 times and do as many reps as possible. If you get 8 full reps, repeat again the next workout. If you get 8 full reps again, increase 5-10 pounds. If you get 6-7 reps, stay with that weight every workout until you can get 8 reps for 2 workouts in a row. After your max set, drop the weight by 10% and do a set of max reps. After that, drop the weight another 10% and rep out again.
Sample Workout B – bench press focus:
- Bench press – do 3-5 warmup sets of 6-10 reps, then 3 sets x 6-8 reps progression*
- Dumbbell bench press – pick a weight you can do for 12-15 reps, do 2 sets x max reps
- Seated dumbbell overhead press – 3 sets x 6 reps
- Lateral raise + bent lateral – 4 supersets x 10 reps each exercise
*Pick a weight you can do around 6-8 reps with. Do 3 sets x 6 reps your first workout, adding one rep to one set every workout. So your workouts would look like:
At this point, add weight and drop back down to 3 sets x 6 reps.
Nervous System / Personality Type #3 – The Timid Lifter
Timid lifters tend to have low seratonin levels. When you suffer from low seratonin, you’re usually tired, have low motivation, and can be made to feel bad or depressed easily. As a result, timid lifters try to avoid criticism and can be shy and / or introverted.
It’s not uncommon for the timid lifter to like to get into set patterns, so they usually don’t like a lot of change in their training methods. This can give them laser-like focus, nearly perfect exercise form over the long haul, and usually attracts them to more repetitive activities they can end up mastering.
Aside from this, avoiding stress, injury, or defeat is a huge determinant in their workout structure. This can lead them to be more conservative with the weights they use, as well as being fine with taking a much longer term, linear periodized approach. Basically, any time they can do the same type of workouts with very incremental increases in volume and / or progression, they tend to do well.
Timid Lifter Training Methods
Timid lifters tend to produce way more cortisol than normal, and high levels of cortisol can cause you to go catabolic. Because working out is a type of stressor, and stressors trigger cortisol production, working out too hard and / or too often can easily negatively impact the timid lifter. They tend to do best with only 3-4 workouts per week consisting of only a few exercises and plenty of rest.
Because the timid lifter strives for flawless exercise technique, several warmup sets are a better idea than an overall dynamic warmup to stimulate the CNS. Using working weights in the 75-85% of 1RM range is best because it’s heavy enough to build strength, light enough that some semblance of explosive speed can be utilized, but still manageable enough that, provided the right sets / reps are used, failure is rarely ever reached.
This lack of failure keeps the timid lifter in a positive frame of mind, keeps cortisol low, and provides the extra benefit of improved recovery. It also allows them to maximize the CNS groove (see the link above) even more, which allows them to progress even more quickly on their chosen movement(s).
Timid lifters tend to like their training methods planned out way into the future. This allows them to best prepare (mentally and physically), leading to the best overall chances of a successful workout. When they string many successful workout together in a row, then they can be satisfied with knowing that progress is all but a given.
Timid Lifter Sample Workouts
Below are two sample workouts that employ training methods best utilized by timid lifters:
Sample Workout A:
- Bench press – 3-5 warmup gradually heavier warmup sets, 3-5 work sets utilizing long-term linear periodization*
- Seated dumbbell overhead press – 4 sets x 8-10 reps**
- Pulldowns – 4 sets x 8-10 reps**
- Low pulley rows – 3 sets x 15 reps
Sample Workout B:
- Squat – 3-5 warmup gradually heavier warmup sets, 3-5 work sets utilizing long-term linear periodization*
- Leg press – 4 sets x 8-10 reps**
- Leg extension + lying leg curl – 4 supersets x 10 reps each exercise
*Specific sets, reps, and / or weight would change every single workout based on an 8-16 week long linear periodized schedule.
**Employ the same sort of progression as the sets of 6-8 reps in the reward seeker ‘sample workout B’ above. The only difference is you’re starting with 4 sets of 8 reps, and building up to sets of 10. However, still add one rep to one set every single workout as follows:
And so on.
Choosing your training methods based on your personality or nervous system type might seem like an “out of the box” idea, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. If you go back through everything above, then think about what sort of training methods work well for you, you’ll probably find yourself identifying with at least one of the lifter types. Try a block of training dedicated specifically to your traits, and you might see your gains radically increasing. If you’re not sure which type you are, this article just better emphasizes why it’s so important to experiment to see what works best for you.