When You Train Is Who You Are

In Choosing A Fitness Club – Post Revisited I covered some of the considerations a person might have when making a decision on what gym to join. There was a section in which I made reference to the five distinct types of people and how they tend to self-select their training times:

They are early morning, off-hour, after work, late evening lifters, and the generalists. As rules of thumb, anyone who is willing to get out of bed to go to the gym will likely be highly driven and have less time to waste on things they deem as unimportant. The after work people will have a similar desire to waste as little time as possible. The late evening lifters tend to have a very focused lifting intensity but a more laid back approach to their between sets time. Off-hour people have selected these times because they work for them in terms of traffic flow and life management. The generalists workout whenever they can or feel like it.

This is an interesting topic that I need to expand on because, in general, people unconsciously and automatically find the time that works for them and just stick with it. With the exception of the generalists, the people who workout whenever they can make the time or feel like it, the chances of people remaining as active members at a gym are determined by their ability to get this time of day selection correct. Rephrased, most people who cancel their gym memberships or stop going to the gym / working out do so as a consequence of choosing to train at the wrong time. My belief is that it isn’t that the time was not convenient for them it is that who they are is not convenient for the time they picked. Who they are is NOT so malleable as to become whatever they want it to be.

There are five different types of people which correspond to five specific time frames in terms of when people train at the gym. Anytime, or what I referred to as generalist, early morning, off-hour, after work and late evening. Let’s talk about each one specifically because being able to identify which one you are will go a long way in making sure that you get the best start on your deliberate fitness journey:

Anytime / generalist – these are people who can workout whenever they feel like and will tend to do so based more on their availability than any other factor. These people tend to be lifers who enjoy working out for its own sake. Moving feels good and being healthy is not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of necessity. There is a very good chance that if you are one of these people you already know you are and you are already a member at a gym and working out regularly. Of those who are not regular exercisers, only a very small percentage of them belong to this group. It is possible for people to become a member of this group by joining one of the other four groups first, developing the exercise habit, learning how to really enjoy it for its own sake, and them transitioning.

Personality traits include independence, internal locus of control, lack of a need for social approval, strong time management skills, self awareness and a tendency towards free-thinking. They probably won’t talk much about their training or workouts and will simply just do them. There is a very good chance that they will look like they workout and their food choices will tend to be on the healthy side of the scale. Consider these people to be the doers and not the talkers who roll with the punches in order to accomplish unreasonable amounts of work.

Early morning – these are people who need to workout early in the morning, usually within an hour or so of waking and their first venture out of the house will be to the gym. Their training goals will primarily be to improve fitness and improve body composition with a higher focus on reducing body fat. They may not necessarily be morning people and may drag themselves through the first thirty minutes of being awake, but they will show a dramatic surge of energy once their workout begins and will always leave the gym feeling WAY more energetic than how they arrived. They will show a propensity towards “all or nothing thinking” and this will manifest as a need to get to the gym by a certain time or else not going. Missed workouts will not be made-up later in the day and will only be made-up later in the week.

Personality traits will include being highly driven, goal oriented, binary in their thinking, a tendency towards accountability to other people leading them to benefit from group fitness or personal training experiences. On days that they miss their morning workouts, as opposed to off days, they will be a little insufferable and will operate very differently compared to the days they worked out or took a planned off day. It is be as though one bad decision first thing in the morning serves to set the tone for more bad decisions through out the day. These people are best served by getting out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off in the morning, so to NEVER push snooze, and get up at the same time every day REGARDLESS of what they have planned. A successful first five minutes will result in a day of massive action and the creation of a lot of forward momentum.

Off-hour – these are people who have the flexibility to workout more or less anytime and choose to get to the gym when it is less busy. There reasons for training will be varied – strength, body composition, muscle growth, fitness, cardio performance, or for pleasure. They will have a similar mind set to the early morning people in terms of there being a cut off time for going to the gym although they will have a wider range in terms of when they can go. If they miss a workout, they can catch-up later in the week or will do more work in the remaining workouts of the week to make sure they get the training time in. The people will be the first to have training partners or to form more obvious social groups. For example, the early morning people might participate in fitness classes and spend time socially with the other participants, but their conversation during class will have a transactional flair and may lack a closeness or softness that is afforded by having more time to fully engage someone. Off-hour people, on the other hand, will be able to take the time to engage other people in a more connected way. Their closeness will be obvious to others and it can often be interpreted as cliquey. This is usually not the case however as they will welcome new members in and will quickly begin to look out for the needs of others.

Not all off-hour people are joiners or part of a group. Some will be as single minded as the anytime / generalists or the early morning people, but just have the flexibility to go to the gym whenever they like. With these specific people, they will display the same “no nonsense” approach to their time at the gym and will come across as transactional vs. collaborative. They have a mission while they are at the gym and nothing is going to get in their way from achieving their objective.

Personality traits for those who are not like the anytime or early morning people might include a more calm, deliberate or laid back approach to life, having a success pattern that includes a social or connection component, an absence of any perceivable sense of urgency, and the heightened quality of relationships with the staff.

After work – these are the people who workout right after work and for which the gym represents “me” time in terms of throwing way the days stress. Their training objectives will be very similar to those of the early morning – general fitness and body composition with a higher focus towards reducing body fat – and they will have an awareness that they will be able to have a higher degree of flexibility with their dinner as a result of working out so close to it. Their food choices will be positively impacted by this proximity and their workout will serve to empower / improved decision making – their meals on workout days will be healthier than their non-workout days , with particularly positive impact on their dinner choices. They will have slightly more flexibility when if comes to delaying their gym visit, but there will be a cut off and most of them will NOT come to the gym if they go home first. Missed workouts will only be made-up later in the week and the effect of missing a planned workout will very often lead to a series of bad health choices in the hours between the missed workout and going to bed. The elation that is experienced by the early morning people will not be so obvious or may not even be present. However, the workout will serve to refocus them for the rest of the day and the massive reduction in physiological and emotional stress that their training causes will manifest itself as a enhanced sense of well-being, contentment or peace of mind.

Personality traits include being driven, goal oriented, determined, the ability to manage time and balance many competing demands. There will be a more or less equal mix between those who are accountable to themselves and those who are accountable to other people, although most will have an internal locus of control in terms of determining what they want for their future. The mix of energies will be broad ranging from almost manic with an exceptionally high sense of urgency to a low almost sedated “I don’t give a crap” / “nothing matters” which will have a lot to do with the evening responsibilities of the people – parents will still be getting after it because their day is about to begin again while those with fewer responsibilities might be crossing off the final item on their daily “to do” list.

The after work group will be the largest of the five. It will show the greatest diversity in how they use the gym space and services. There will be a high number of group fitness enthusiasts and a higher percentage of personal training consumers. Monday and Tuesday between 4:45 pm and 7:15 pm tend to be the busiest times of the week, with Saturday morning being a distant third, although there are regional specific patterns based on demographics.

Late evening – these are the people who, for the most part, go home after work to eat dinner before coming to the gym. Their training goals are very much on body composition with a big focus on gaining muscle, and on the development of strength. In general there will be a much higher percentage of males vs. females when compared to any other time of the day. The energy will be lower and slower with the exception of the periods of time spent under the bar when the people will be putting between 75% and 100% effort in. To a neutral observer it will seem like very little work is getting done when compared to early morning and after work. However, it will only seem this way. The reality will be that while there are fewer calories being burned via the cardio equipment and classes, there will be a lot more work being done in terms of force X distance. The time needed by the central nervous system to recover from these great efforts is the reason why the energy between sets will be very low. There is a great sense of urgency but these people have learned how to channel it into the lifting.

Personality traits include being driven, goal oriented, strong willed to stubborn, with an almost complete self-accountability to oneself for the work that needs to get done, with mixed accountability to others for showing-up. This is the realm of training partners because of the need for spotters and because progress is so slow the lifting of heavy objects can become a hyper competitive way of keep things interesting. These people tend to never miss workouts and will usually create and stick to a very rigid schedule that does not change often or vary much. The physiological reasons for this are clear and fairly well supported by evidence – building muscle is a process that requires you to train a muscle a particular way, give it a specific length of time to recover and then train it again, over and over again for years. Getting massive is not something that happens by accident or as a consequence of achieving any other fitness goal. This is different from fat loss, improved general fitness or specific cardiovascular health which are complementary objectives – by training for one you inevitably achieve the others.

There will be a much lower percentage of people who are doing intense cardio training because of how that type of training ramps up metabolic rate and tends to make falling asleep very difficult. This is why there will be very few people training to reduce body fat at this time of day. Very few general interest classes will be offered during this time and those classes that are available will tend to be very skills focused with a narrow appeal – boxing or other combat type sports.

How do you make use of this information? The first thing you will need to do is figure out what you are trying to achieve and consider what your schedule looks like in terms of open times you have or can make to train. The next thing you will need to do is take an honest inventory of your traits and begin to compare them to what is outlined above. Once you start to get a feeling for the type of person you are, factor in your training goals and consider what the ideal time of day is to fit that training is. Re-look at your schedule to see if you can make this time available for training three to five times a week.

None of what I have said above should be taken to mean that you cannot make a less than ideal situation work. You absolutely can, but knowing that you are moving forward into a head wind is often the only thing that is needed to ensure that you keep moving forward. No matter what your goals are, you will need to do a lot of work and this work is not ever easy, even when you learn to love doing it. The thing is, it’s a lot easier to learn to love working this hard when your training time matches who you are. The weights will give you enough resistance, there is no point in adding more friction by trying to do something that you have never done during a time that doesn’t suit you doing it.

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