Entries for month: April 2011

Fitness Programs and Personality

Last winter, I signed up for Pilates classes at the local rec center. It seemed like a good idea when I was registering, and nothing to be afraid of. So I was surprised at my nervousness when the first day of class approached.  

I just have to get over the new-ness, I told myself, and I won’t be nervous about going. But the second week wasn’t any better, nor was the third. When it came to the fourth week and I still had to talk myself into going to the class, I began to wonder what the problem was.

Then my friend, Mary, announced that she had just been certified to teach Pilates, and in order to acquire experience in teaching, she would be offering free classes in her home. At her first class, there were just three of us, and I knew the other two people. It surprised me that I wasn’t nervous about going, I felt completely comfortable when I was there, and I looked forward to coming again.

So what made the difference?  It had to be that I’m an introvert. At the rec center, I was walking into a large group, and they were all strangers. That’s a double whammy for introverts. As time went on, I didn’t get many opportunities to get friendly with anyone, so even after four classes, it remained a large group of strangers.

At Mary’s house, I was walking into a small group of familiar faces. In a setting that is both intimate and familiar, I can have a great experience. Among a large group of strangers, I can’t seem to relax.

My son, on the other hand, is just the opposite. He’s an extravert, so he’s always trying to find new groups of strangers to exercise with him. He plays on several teams, signs up for every large group marathon nearby, has a great day when he makes new friends at them, and bemoans the fact that it’s so hard to find “community” at the gym.

The strange thing is I don’t think my son would have liked the rec center’s class either, since there weren’t many chances to meet people. I wonder what the trainer could have done to make that class more comfortable for both extraverts and introverts. She couldn’t spend a lot of time on social activities, because people were there to exercise, but she could have spent a little time. She might have given us one exercise that required us to pair up, and told us to introduce ourselves to each other while we were doing it. Then she could have paired us up with a different person in each class. Just a few minutes in each class in a one-on-one conversation could have satisfied my need to be among familiars, and my son’s need to keep adding to his long list of acquaintances.

That experience got me thinking about what an exercise trainer could do to appeal to all eight of the preferences. Then I realized that my friend, Mary, is already doing it. For extraversion, she invites new people to join and serves juice after the class so we can sit and talk. For introversion, she keeps the groups small. For sensing, she gives crystal-clear instructions and helps us be aware of our bodies (“You should feel this in your hamstrings.”) For intuition, in the first class she told us the history of the Pilates method, why it was unique, and what changes to expect over the long term. For thinking, she frequently says, “If you want a greater challenge, do this,” so we have an objective way to measure our increasing abilities. For feeling, she told us what a difference Pilates had made in her life. She smiles and makes eye contact, and gives positive and personal feedback (“Good form, Sue.”) For perceiving, she is always surprising us with new exercises and adapting the class for the people in it. For judging, she does some of the same exercises every week so we can gain mastery; she is always well-prepared and in control of the class, and starts and ends the session on time. She really is a fitness trainer for all types, or for the whole type in each of us.

For me, the thing that seemed to make the biggest difference, however, was that first letter in my type. In the future, before I begin an exercise program, I’m going to ask myself, “Will this satisfy my introverted need for small groups and familiar faces?” I’m going to experiment with video programs where I can exercise alone or with my daughter. If I want to try a big class, I’ll look around for a friend to go with me. I realized that my introverted needs are very important, and a big factor in my ability to stick with an exercise program over the long term.



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