Running, CrossFit, barre, Pilates, HIIT, yoga—there are countless ways to reach your fitness goals. Oftentimes, it’s the people you hang out with or the websites you read that deliver you to the doors of a new fitness studio. But once there, deciding whether or not you’ll keep coming back is up to you, and a major factor is your personality.
“Discomfort is a layered process. We expect the physical discomfort of a workout and maybe even the emotional, but if you then add discomfort with big groups or discomfort with boredom, that amplifies the pain,” says certified mental performance consultant Angie Fifer, PhD, executive board member for the Association for Applied Sports Psychology and owner of Breakthrough Performance Consulting in Pittsburgh, PA.
In other words, forcing yourself to do things that feel unnatural—making small talk with strangers before class starts, motivating yourself on a solo run—is going to make your workout more difficult and less enjoyable. And when you think about what it takes to form ingrained habits—whether it’s to get to yoga class every day this week or to become a lifelong runner—enjoyment is everything.
“In your typical gym scenario, people work out because it’s habit—it’s what they’ve always done or what they think they’re supposed to do,” says postural alignment specialist Brian Bradley, vice president of Egoscue. “But this makes them not truly present, which means they won’t really enjoy it, they won’t push themselves, and they’ll never make any progress or get that satisfaction that makes them want to stick with it and come back day after day.”
Finding a Fitness Routine That Aligns with Your Personality
Forget the new class your friends are raving about, the best new routine you read about in a magazine, and maybe even your current go-to exercise method. The questions below will help you take a step back and consider what type of workout works best for you and you alone.
1. How comfortable are you when trying new things around other people?
“Extroverts not only enjoy the energy of others but are also more willing to get out of their comfort zone in front of others,” Fifer says. A study from the British Psychological Society found that extroverts were more likely to exercise at the gym. Fifer adds they’re also likely to enjoy group runs, group fitness classes, and anything new and challenging that involves other people.
Introverts, on the other hand, can be quite perfectionistic and prefer to try things out on their own. They enjoy running solo, using a home gym, and following workout videos in the comfort of their own living room.
2. What are your goals?
“Regardless of personality type, the only way most people stick with a workout routine is if they get the results they’re looking for,” Bradley says. If you’re looking to burn fat quickly, you probably won’t be happy with the results from a slow-moving sport. High-achievement-motivated individuals—people driven by success—usually want something they can see tangible gains from, like an increase in speed or strength, Fifer says, so they’re better suited for endurance sports, powerlifting, and high-intensity interval training, where you typically see big results fast. Then again, your concept of success might always be in a constant state of flux, so it’s important to check in with this on a regular basis.
3. Are you competitive?
While the desire to win drives high-achievement-motivated individuals, there’s a whole class of people for whom simply finishing is enough—they won’t be shattered if they don’t hit a personal record or make it on the leaderboard, Fifer explains. “They are the average people who want to go and do their workout to gain the health benefits, but it’s not going to ruin their day if they miss it or if they aren’t the sweatiest at the end of a spin class,” she says.
If seeing how you stack up compared to others doesn’t drive you, consider steering clear of uber-competitive CrossFit or HIIT workouts, which burn you out fast. Instead, stick with lower-intensity routines with less risk for injury, such as walking. “It’s one of the most sustainable forms of exercise, making it great for people who just want to move their body and are happy to squeeze a workout in where they can,” Fifer adds.
4. What exactly motivates you?
We are all driven by either internal motivation or external competition. Each has pros and cons, and ideally you’re run by a mix of the two, but considering which side dominates for you can increase the chances you’ll stick with a new routine, Fifer says.
Those who are internally motivated compare themselves to themselves. They often enjoy endurance sports like running and cycling, which are solo but also involve a lot of data collection to gauge personal improvement, she says. Meanwhile, if you are the type to compare your success to the success of your peers, you will probably fare better in group workouts, particularly the kind where competition is encouraged, like spin classes with leaderboards or powerlifting.
Related: What’s Your Personality Type?
5. How happy you are with your current routine?
A lot of people find a workout or sport that speaks to them but over time lose motivation or joy in it. Don’t worry—it’s just a sign you need to make a small tweak or two, Fifer says.
Luckily, this is the easiest thing to do. If you love running, the shift can be as simple as switching up your morning route or as big as signing up for an obstacle race. “Keep doing the thing you originally liked and are good at, but add enough variety to get the body and mind re-energized,” Fifer says.
6. So what are you good at?
If a workout aligns with your personality, you’re more likely to enjoy it and stick with it. But there’s one exception to that idea: “If you’re good at a sport or a workout, that feeling of success often overrides feeling like an activity isn’t a match for your personality,” Fifer says. The draw of feeling good at something is worth a little bit of social or mental discomfort and encourages you to find work-arounds. So if you’re an introvert, you might want to try heading into a group fitness class right on the hour in order to minimize socializing and still get that rush of being good at cycling.