How to Choose the Right Fitness Program for You
I like personality tests. I’ve taken just about all of them, from Myers-Briggs to the Enneagram. While personality tests aren’t an exact science, in taking such tests, I have gotten to know myself a little better. Getting to know yourself is at the heart of finding your bliss whether it’s landing the right job, developing good relationships, or determining the right exercise program to participate in. There is a way to assess whether you are a natural CrossFitter, yogi, or runner.
Navigating the Fitness Landscape
Choosing a fitness program is not necessarily an easy task. The current fitness landscape is a cornucopia of every concept imaginable. If you want to do a spin-yoga fusion class, there’s likely a studio near you. If you ever dreamed of throwing punches and kicks with a pumped up music mix to get you though, your gym probably has that, too.
While the myriad of choices is undoubtedly a good thing, choice can also be overwhelming and confusing. Many people select a workout based on a means-to-an-end quotient of the goal they want to achieve. A valid thought process to be sure, but a better way to choose the best exercise is to take an honest assessment of yourself and what is going to nourish you in the long run.
"Many people select a workout based on a means-to-an-end quotient of the goal they want to achieve."
Taking your own “fitness personality test” involves delving in to your true nature. A good place to look for clues is your past. If you ran a lot as a kid, odds are you’re more prone toward endurance activities. If you grew up fascinated by and involved in the arts, having expressiveness in your exercise is likely to be important. If you grew up with your nose in a book, you might tend toward activities that require strategy and complexity.
With that in mind, here are some fitness personality types complete with exercise recommendations for each.
The Fitness Personality Test
If you’ve never exercised or it’s been many years, then start slow. You have to walk before you can run - literally. Doing advanced training as a novice exerciser is asking for trouble. Instead, try low-impact activities like hiking, swimming, or machine circuit training at your local gym. Hire a trainer if you have the resources. If you prefer privacy, do some online workout videos at home and get your body moving. Set your baseline, then go for the heavier, harder stuff. Your body, ego, and doctor will thank you!
Athletes like competition, strategy, and dynamic environments. Sounds pretty much like CrossFit to me. If you know your way around your body and love to push yourself, CrossFit is a good fit. Also, depending on body type and if you’re a natural endurance athlete, triathlon training, cross country skiing, rowing, and even adventure racing are great choices. Conversely, if your talent and body gravitate toward power, then powerlifting and CrossFit are great choices.
Every major spiritual traditional ties the body to the mind and heart. With that said, there seems to be a disconnect in the fitness business when it comes to viewing fitness as solely about the body. If spirituality is important to you, then the way you move your body should reflect that. Doing cardio at the gym is more than likely not going to feed your soul. Instead, try things that connect the body to the mind like qi gong or yoga. Even many churches host physical activities and groups based in and around exercise.
Socialites naturally like to move in groups. As a trainer, it kills me when people are disruptive by talking during intense exercise classes, but I get it - relationships and being social matters for these people. If you’re a socialite, try finding group activities that are team or group based, like running clubs, cycling groups, or kickball leagues. Just don’t talk in my HIIT classes, or I will ask you to stop.
My girlfriend is a former Ironman triathlete and when she talks about competing, she always says the mental aspect was much more difficult than the physical. Many say the same thing about high-altitude mountaineering. Of course, not everyone is going to be an Ironman or climb Mount Everest, but anything that requires complexity of movement and/or extreme physicality under duress requires an immense mental component. In addition to the aforementioned, the martial arts, adventure racing, and choreographed dance all come to mind as activities well-fitted for this type of exerciser.
Speaking of dance, if it’s in your nature to shake it, then do it. While some think dancing isn’t exercise, they are flat out wrong. Dancing is moving with intention and intensity. My mother danced professionally as a ballerina and let me tell you, those are some of the best athletes I’ve ever seen. But whether you do ballet, ballroom dancing, or Zumba, there are many benefits. And at least one study suggests that dancing leads to a reduced risk of dementia. Most importantly, if dance is a passion, you’ll not only be getting a good workout, but you’ll be having fun and improving your aptitude in the process.
The Calorie Burner
If you want a workout to efficiently and effectively burn calories both during the workout and at rest, then you need to run as well as lift. Furthermore, you need to work anaerobically. That means running (or an equivalent anaerobic modality), not jogging. It also means lifting with intensity. Given that, HIIT training will do the trick. And while you’re at it why not mix in a full-body workout, plyometrics, and even some rowing. Look for running-based and/or hybrid workouts like Barry’s Bootcamp, Precision Running at Equinox, and Orangetheory Fitness.
The Non-Exerciser or Gym-Hater
I just got back from Scandinavia. Over the course of visiting five European countries, I saw exactly two gyms. I saw about the same amount of heavy people. The moral of that story is you don’t need a gym to be fit. Maybe you hate gyms and working out. Good for you! If you hate to exercise, then here’s a tip - don’t. Instead, be a like a European. By and large, Europeans (especially the Nordic countries) do three simple things:
- Walk or bike everywhere.
- Eat real, not processed food.
- Eat smaller portions.
Oh yeah, and they also live longer and are leaner.
Building a Good Relationship With Fitness
The bottom line with exercise is that it should be like a great life partner. Not an adversarial relationship, but a complementary one. To choose the best exercise program for you, look closely at your personality traits and find a way to move your body that mirrors that.
Instead of looking at exercise as a means to an end, think of it as part of who you are. The most important exercise program is the one you stick with. To that end, your best bet is to define who you are and what you love - and do more of that.
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1. Joe Verghese, et al. “Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia In the Elderly,” The New England Journal Of Medicine, 2003 (348) 2508-2516.
2. “Physical Activity Guidelines,” Health.gov, accessed August 2015.
3. “Overweight and obesity – BMI statistics,” Eurostat Statistics Explained, accessed August 2015.
4. “European Life Expectancy at birth,” indexmundi.com, accessed August 2015.
5. “Around The Nordic Region in 50 Years – Life Expectancy,” norden.org, accessed August 2015.