Updated: Jan 8
Thoughtful Approaches to Introvert Exercise - It Just Makes Sense!
In an age where the increasing awareness of the benefits of exercise is accompanied by a decline in physical activity levels*, the apparent disconnect is difficult to ignore. You may be able to relate to this on a personal level. You know you should exercise for any number of physical and psychological reasons but just don’t (or not often enough). Why?
The straightforward explanation is what Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos calls the G.I. Joe Fallacy. At the end of each show the titular character would give an important lesson about crossing the road safely, not running with scissors, etc and sign off with the phrase: "Knowing is half the battle.” With regard to our health and exercise, 50% would seem most generous. While most people have a fair idea what they should be doing (at least in principle), few take regular action.
It is my honor to have Dr. Vaughn Guenter guest blog for us this week. When we first met I was fascinated by his introvert-friendly approach to exercise and nutrition. I didn't realize there could be a difference, but now it makes all the sense in the world.
The Introvert's Challenge
Introverts have an added disadvantage. When we actually make the effort, we typically end up following guidelines created by the extrovert-dominated fitness industry which can leave us exhausted, frustrated, and possibly even injured. As an introverted fitness professional, it is my goal to narrow the gap between knowledge and action so introverts can get their exercise fix in an enjoyable, sustainable way.
The term “fix” is deliberately ambiguous here. Not only will exercise fix a myriad of modern maladies but the guidelines used must first be fixed in the sense of being adapted to the introverts’ unique biological and psychological profile.
As a starting point, it is important to acknowledge that your nervous system is the control centre of motivation. It plays a huge role in your response to stress (physical training is considered a stressor by the body) and in how much energy, focus, and work capacity you have at your disposal. Just as introverts lose energy through overstimulation in busy social or environmental settings, we can also become quickly drained by inappropriate exercise programming.
Specific strategies are required to (1) properly prepare you for exercise, (2) appropriately challenge your body without excessively depleting your energy reserves, and (3) effectively return your body to the resting state for recovery and repair (not to mention normal, everyday function).
Miss any of these steps and you are setting yourself up for failure because the key to success following any exercise plan is consistency. If you're not motivated by your program and/or its results you won't stick to it for long. However, once your program is adjusted correctly for your neurotype you can undo years of frustration and disappointment to finally enjoy activities you previously avoided or grimly performed out of duty to your health.
Here are the key guidelines:
If you are just starting out or returning from a layoff, break yourself in gently. Start with activities like walking, swimming, and bodyweight exercises.
Don’t spend too long on warming up – you will deplete your valuable energy.
Emphasise mobility work such as leg swings, arm circles and foam rolling with a focus on loosening up the flexor muscles (i.e. chest, hip flexors, hamstrings, biceps and abdominals). Introverts are often prone to anxiety so these muscles are typically tight – especially if you spend a lot of your day at a desk.
Only train intensely for a maximum of four days per week – low intensity exercise like walking or swimming is fine and even beneficial on other days.
Stay away from max lifts or anything under 6 repetitions per set and/or high volume programs with a lot of sets.
Don’t train to failure every set and limit intensity techniques like drop sets, rest/pause, etc.
Include a cooldown phase incorporating static stretching and parasympathetic (recovery) breathing to ensure a gradual return to the resting state – this is critical for introverts and the most overlooked component of their programming.
Take advantage of restorative measures between sessions such as massage, foam rolling, feeder workouts, and gentle exercises such as a stroll around the neighbourhood or a leisurely dip in the pool.
If some (or a lot!) of this terminology is foreign to you, seek out a certified trainer for clarification and direction. Naturally, I would advise finding a fellow introvert to train you if possible. Someone who understands your unique needs and preferences is invaluable, especially if you have struggled for consistency in the past. If that proves difficult in your local area, you can always look online. One of the many benefits of online training is that you are able to choose the best fit for your personality without geographic restrictions.
Whether you engage suitable professional guidance or choose to go it alone, the tips outlined above will help narrow the gap between knowledge and action. Once your program is adjusted to your unique biological and psychological profile as an introvert, you are in the best position to get your exercise fix effectively and sustainably.
*World Health Organization. Physical Activity Report, 2020.
Dr. Vaughn Guenter is a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach who provides fitness guidance to introverts around the world via his website www.introvertfitness.com A card-carrying introvert himself, his coaching style revolves around time-efficient workouts, habit-based nutrition, and practical, actionable lifestyle adjustments.
In addition to his fitness qualifications, Vaughn obtained a Doctorate in Philosophy at The University of Auckland with a thesis titled Bodybuilding as Muscular Art. He and his family live in Queensland, Australia atop idyllic Tamborine Mountain.
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