The 3 neurotypes: the best training programme depends on personality type

Renowned author and athlete Christian Thibadeau has written a series of landmark texts about how your strength training programme should be tailored to your character and personality type – and this will be most effective. Zojnik provides the highlights of this series of articles.

Why your programme doesn’t work
Have you ever had the situation that a good training programme gives almost no results, even if it has been prepared by an experienced trainer? Or your friends are making good progress while you are not?

Or, for example, did you have to force yourself to go to the gym because you didn’t like the workout in question? Maybe you even felt guilty about it, or, when you didn’t see any improvement, you blamed your “hopeless” genetics.

The fault is not with the programme, the lack of discipline or ‘bad’ genetics. The problem is that the methodology did not fit your psychological and neurological profile. Don’t think this is a pop-psychology text – your personality type is set by a genetically determined balance of neurotransmitters. And they control everything.

The nervous system decides everything.

It is the nervous system that is responsible for recruiting muscle fibres and for coordination and results in ‘big’ strength exercises. Everyone knows this, but not everyone realises that the nervous system is also the control centre of motivation. It affects your stress response, energy levels, quality of concentration and the total amount of work you can handle in a workout.

The secret to training success is extremely simple: work hard in the right direction. And you simply can’t do it long enough if you’re not motivated. And for motivation to be always present, the programme must fit your neurological profile.

If it does not, you will not only have problems with motivation: you will become more tired, less stressed and perhaps even more injured. And your progress will certainly be far from optimal. That’s why you can train on the ‘world’s best programme’ and achieve almost nothing. But once you start taking parabolan, you will see the effects almost immediately!

3 neurotypes

I spent years experimenting with different psychological tests in search of the best one, as well as consulting psychologists and other specialists. I finally settled on the Cloninger Temperament and Character Inventory – it is well accepted in the scientific community and has been tested on hundreds of athletes.

In short, our psychological type depends on the levels of certain neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine (noradrenaline).

Depending on the deficiency of one of them, there are three main personality types:

  • – Type #1: low levels of dopamine. These people constantly need new experiences to stimulate dopamine production. In psychobiology, they are called “novelty seekers”.
  • – Type #2: low levels of norepinephrine. Because it is associated with confidence and a sense of well-being, such people need rewards for everything from domestic behaviour to achieving sporting goals. In science, they have been defined as “reward dependent”.
  • – Type #3: Low serotonin levels. These people don’t need shocks, they do best acting in a pattern, repeating the same thing. In psychobiology, they are called “harm avoiders”.

We assume that you will be able to determine for yourself which type is predominant in this classification.

The optimal training for Type #1 (“Novelty Seekers”)

1. Preparing

Take care of dopamine stimulation before the main workout to increase motivation and performance. Activation exercises are best for this purpose: jumps, throws, sprints and the like. Emphasis on maximum speed, but without accumulating fatigue. For example, 3 sets of 5 high jumps. Or hitting a tyre with a sledgehammer – 3 sets of 12 seconds.

The core strength warm-up should also consist of short sets with accentuated acceleration in the concentric phase (projectile lifting). Start at 60% of your working weight and complete about 5 warm-up sets with a small number of repetitions, increasing the load gradually. Don’t overdo it – fatigue will lower the dopamine again.

2. Variation

Variations in training are necessary. It is difficult for you to work according to a fixed programme, you always want something new. If, for example, you take Wendler’s 5/3/1 training program, you will quickly become demotivated and will achieve nothing.

Of course, we always write that you have to follow the program in order to succeed, but in your case it does not work very well. But variations that make you work out more excitably and intensively will definitely help. In fact, for you, the lack of variation is a stressor.

3. frequency

Short but frequent workouts are better; they increase dopamine without making you tired. And a light, restorative workout is better than just a rest day. And two days of rest in a row even has a negative effect.

Optimal weekly schedule (with alternating): 2 hard workouts, 2 medium workouts and 2 recovery workouts.

4. training volume: relatively low

Type 1 has excellent strength and power parameters, but fatigue develops quickly. For a training session of 45-60 minutes (after preparatory work) it is more effective to include one main exercise and a couple of sets (the less monotonous – the better). Total number of sets is 16-18, in most serious cases up to 9-12.

5. Intensity and range of repetitions

In multi-joint exercises it is better to perform heavy sets of 4-6 reps for mass and 1-3 for power. In isolation, 8-10 for mass, 6-8 for power.

Optimal workouts for type #2 (“Reward Dependent”)

1. Preparation

Type 2 needs to ensure that exercises are performed with correct technique and target muscle groups are engaged. So in your warm-up, practice the movement pattern of the main strength exercise of the workout and add activation movements to activate the right muscles (e.g. gluteal activation before squats).

You can devote less time (as opposed to other types) to dynamic stretching and myofascial release on a foam roller (here’s more on how to use it). Don’t go overboard with the warm-up in the main exercise: you subconsciously feel that it will take away your strength, and your motivation decreases.

2. Variation

You don’t want to change frequently – you want to see a good improvement in an exercise before you change it. In “big” exercises, work for 4 weeks (if not 6), isolation can be varied more often. Remember that it’s more important for you to have confidence in the correct execution, so master the strength movements properly.

3. frequency (and split)

Training in specific movements or muscle groups suits you better. By concentrating on one thing in particular, you progress better. You also tolerate high frequency normally (it even helps by raising norepinephrine). So a split of 5-6 workouts per week will suit you: by movement type (bench press and backup, squat and backup, etc.), by body parts (quadriceps, chest and delts, etc.) or press-pull-feet. Just take care of your recovery: lack of strength will lead to a poor-quality workout, and you will be disappointed.

4. training volume

You easily become addicted to the workout stimulus (both for the norepinephrine boost and in an effort to gain the respect of others). Lack of self-esteem forces you to increase your workload, producing extra cortisol and hindering real progress. So it’s good for you to feel noticeably tired at the end of your workout, but don’t overdo it. Work up to 75-90 minutes, doing 20-25 work sets.

5. Intensity (weights and repetitions)

Good feeling is important to you, so either increase the weights in your favourite exercises (while respecting technique), or use traditional bodybuilding pamping. You want to demonstrate strength and look great, so train for these goals.

For hypertrophy concentrate on a medium range of 6-12 reps, for strength concentrate on sets of 3-5 reps. “Singles” (single repetition approaches) will cause you increased mental stress.

Optimal training type #3 (“Avoiding harm”)

1. Preparing

You may be intimidated by the fear of injury or just pain from the exercise. Before the main workout, there is no need to excite yourself further; the warm-up should increase body control and relieve unnecessary anxiety. Try Dr Racine’s warm-up routine, especially emphasising steps 1 and 2.

You also need more myofascial release (foam roller, balls, etc.) as well as mobility exercises. In the strength warm-up, perform each light set with increased tension of the working muscles, as if you have taken the maximum weight. This will better prepare you for the work approaches.

2. Variation

Frequent variations are stressful for you. You may not change the basic exercises for a long time (up to 12 weeks). However, if you stop progressing, vary other parameters: rest intervals, tempo of execution, the order of exercises, the scheme of approaches/repeats. Just don’t change everything at once. It is better for you to have stability: training on the same days, at the same time.

3. frequency.

You tend to overproduce cortisol and suffer more from post-workout pain (precisely because of cortisol). A full day of rest (and two in a row) will only do you good. The most effective frequency can be achieved on the following split: Mon – bottom, Tue – top, Wed – rest, Thu – bottom, Fri – rest, Sat – top, Sat – rest.

4. training volume

It is especially harmful for you to overdo volume (again, because of cortisol). For hypertrophy it is better to work in small sets, but close to failure (without violation of technique): 2-3 warm-up and 1-2 work sets.

For strength this barbell must have reduced volume, too, e.g. 6 sets of 2-3 reps with load of 75-85%. Weights below 90% will have a negative effect, leading to anxiety. It is better to increase your physical activity (it is easier to do, because you have more dopamine), but do not overdo it. Any overload hurts you more than the other t types.

5. Intensity (weights and repetitions)

The weight should be such that you perform the exercise with confidence – anxiety will demotivate you. For hypertrophy it is better to do slightly more reps – 8-15, for strength – 4-6 sets. Also discomfort in joints or loss of weight control reduces motivation dramatically. So perform all “big” exercises with perfect technique and with a clean, controlled eccentric phase (lowering the projectile).

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