This Is What Your Favorite Workout Secretly Says About You
Are you addicted to SoulCycle? Obsessed with kickboxing? Religious about running? Here’s what your workout may be saying about your personality.
Your workout, yourself
Your choice of exercise can definitely say a lot about your health, but can it explain you? While it’s impossible to generalize in absolute terms about workout routines and types, says Julia Kim, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, there are often similarities in those who favor a particular pursuit. “Workouts can reflect aspects of our personality as we tend to engage in what suits our needs and desires, making it naturally rewarding,” she says. Dr. Kim also notes that it’s important to consider the context in which the exercise is done—solo or part of a team, for competition or recreation. For example, a solo recreational swimmer may be different from a Masters swim team member. In general, however, she says that what workout routine you favor often gives compelling insight into whether your motivation come from others or from within yourself, if you’re extroverted or introverted, a risk-seeker or avoider, competitive or collaborative, spontaneous or controlled, aggressive or not-so-much, and whether you prefer rewards or simply don’t want the guilt of being out of shape.
People who choose group workouts tend to be more social—no surprise—and need help staying on track, says Dr. Kim. Everyone is looking for new ways to stay motivated for exercise, but there’s nothing like a group workout routine to get you to show up on time. Kim also believes of the group exerciser: “You are more social and extrinsically motivated (rewards, encouragement, and praise from others). You like to be more spontaneous, and less competitive and less aggressive.” Tracy Morgan, a New York City-based psychoanalyst, adds that group classes puts someone else in charge for those who like being told what to do. There is also a competitive aspect to group classes. “If you’re competitive, classes or group activities push you to another level of performance,” says Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, executive director of Innovation360 and author of Struggle Well, Live Well. “You know your level of performance, but others help to bring out the best in your abilities. You may tend to feel the energy of the group and get caught up in it or even need it.” He also notes that people who don’t interact with adults in their daily life (think elementary school teachers or people who work from home) often crave group interactions. Make sure you’re not making these group fitness class mistakes.
“If you’re a solo workout person, you are getting a break from the work and social world,” says Dr. Gilliland. “It’s a way to put your mind at rest and recharge the body, or crush the body so the mind can rest. It’s a way to clear all the clutter and you know it, and people and classes won’t help you, you are trying to get away from all that.” Dr. Gilliland explains that often neurotic overachievers workout solo. “They’re efficient, scheduled on their terms for a change, and working out alone gives them a break from all the questions and directions of their typical life.”
Within solo pursuits, there are subtle personality differences between the type of activity you choose. There are some surprising secrets behind the people who work out everyday, but according to Dr. Kim, runners tend to be less social and internally motivated. “They’re controlled and competitive, but prefer less focus and risk.” In other words, they’re not looking to develop their technique in a ball or racket sport, and they aren’t looking for adrenaline rushes. Morgan also sees a love for running as a sign that you might be unwilling to depend on anyone but yourself. “Runners are often total bootstrappers and can tend to have problems with authority.” Here how walkers can become runners.
If your go-to workout routine is cycling, Dr. Kim says, odds are that you don’t mind long hours to yourself, and you have deep wells of motivation. You can accept a moderate amount of risk, and you tend to be middle of the road in terms of focus, spontaneity, competition, and aggressiveness.
Mountain bikers tend to be more spontaneous, and they’re definitely more tolerant of risk, says Dr. Kim. You’re probably less likely to seek social outlets, finding your motivation from within. “You are more focused, aggressive, and reward-oriented.”
Outdoorsy types tend to be less social, says Dr. Kim. They find internal reasons to tackle new trails or peaks. “They’re more focused and controlled,” says Dr. Kim. “You can be more risk-seeking and aggressive, more reward-oriented. Self-competition with collaborative work.” This type of outdoor pursuit also tends to be favored by people who feel the need to be in charge, according to Morgan.
According to Morgan, swimmers are psychologically conflict free. “They know how to be alone and how to be in a group. Their capacity to share space is exemplary.” Kim agrees that swimmers can be social, though they may not share the more assertive traits of climbers, for example. These swimming workouts burn major calories.
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Yep: Aggressiveness takes the day, here, says Dr. Kim, along with a desire for risk. People who pursue contact sports like this tend to be very competitive and focused—because the penalty for inattention is, well, pain.
This group is looking for variety, asserts Dr. Kim. Those who love HITT/CrossFit tend to be less social and intrinsically motivated. “They’re spontaneous—and perhaps can be easily bored.” CrossFit is one of the things cardiologists do to take care of their heart.
The social nature of golf means you better enjoy company—and golfers tend to, Dr. Kim says. There are few golfers who pursue the sport independently—usually they’re looking to partner up with someone to schedule tee-times and hit the links. But the competitive nature required to play the sport will always be present, she says.
People who are religious about hitting the weights are often self-driven, according to Dr. Kim. The competitive fire for the average lifter is less likely to burn brightly, she says, though a streak of assertiveness definitely plays a role in their love of the gym. Use this science-backed trick to get stronger faster.