How to Cater Your Fitness Routine to Your Personality

By Ben House – February 1, 2018

We dig into two approaches a strength coach can take when working with clients—and why both come down to adherence. Whether you're a trainer or trainee, find out which of the strategies is best for your disposition in order to get desired results.

In the fitness industry right now, there is a pendulum swinging from CrossFit back to this idea that all metabolic training is horrible—criminal even—especially for the general population. Given that most Americans are overworked, overweight, undernourished, and sleep-deprived, a strength coach might decide not to add more exercise stress to a client that falls in this majority—completely valid.

Yet, you have to do something because, well…that’s your job.

Here is what I recommend for clients. Strength training two to three times a week with multi-joint big payoff exercises performed well with higher reps (but staying away from failure) and longer rest intervals. Examples of multi-joint big payoff exercises are going to depend on their movement patterns: pushing, pulling, hinging, and squatting with regressions and progressions, as recommended by a qualified professional. Then, increase NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) as much as possible—at least 10,000 steps. For weight loss clients, this is probably all they really need combined with dietary and lifestyle adjustments. With this type of protocol, you also aren’t going to get much, if any, of a cortisol response. 

“The greatest acute lactate and cortisol response is elicited by metabolically demanding protocols high in total work, i.e., high-volume and moderate to-high intensity with short rest periods, whereas conventional strength/power training induces little change.” —Kraemer et al. 2008

Dietary and lifestyle adjustments include eating more satiating, higher fiber, nutrient dense foods (a.k.a. vegetables), getting quality sleep, and reducing stress. The bulk of the work for these clients is going to revolve around long-term behavior changes and these big ticket lifestyle changes will break cycles and help them become less hedonic as a human organism. Pure and simple, it’s the safe play. It is also extremely vanilla because you aren’t going to get an endorphin or dopamine pop with those types of protocols. 

The most important thing with each and every client is adherence. Therefore, one can also make the argument that without them feeling something and the reinforcement of dopamine, you may lose them after a week to coconut oil lollipops and the boot camp down the street.

“Dopamine is about invidious, rapidly habituating reward.” —Dr. Robert Sapolsky

Wehave all seen the addict, the broken down over-exerciser that can never quite get enough dopamine. However, we must be careful when using dopaminergic strategies because, as Dr. Sapolsky also points out, “Our frequent human tragedy is that the more we consume, the hungrier we get. What was an unexpected pleasure yesterday is what we feel entitled to today, and what won’t be enough tomorrow.”

For the dopaminergic of us, I always have a carrot encompassing multiple data points. I progress metrics that get clients excited, and then, if something isn't moving after they have added more volume, we will start to think outside the box. If there is no stopping them from blowing it out in the weight room, I would track sleep, stress reduction practice time, and make sure they are pushing kcals as well. However, they may have to grind themselves into a hole to actually listen. 

So, how to go about deciding which play I am going to make?

Assess the person. If everything about their life screams “minivan moderation,” then try the safe play first. If everything about the person yells “addict, dopamine, and inability to moderate,” give them exactly what they expect and want, and then I use that addiction to build all the other habits needed for them to possibly adapt to that exercise stress.

Risk-averse, moderator coaches have the biggest problem with enacting that dopamine play and they lose clients because of it. They play small ball and never steal bases, but that won’t put people in the seats unless you win a ton of games…which they just might.

Dopamine coaches are always swinging for the fences and sending in everyone all the time. The music is loud. It’s fun, but you are going to strike out and get picked off, and the person that is going to suffer the consequences isn’t you.

Play the game. That’s why you’re here, so don’t be afraid to lay down a bunt or let it all hang out on a 3–1 count in the name of adherence.



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