If you’ve ever looked to find that one perfect workout or training style, you probably wound up more confused than when you begin. That’s because there is no one magic workout that will fit everyone or even one workout that will always be “right” for a particular individual. We’ve learned to use different training variables to force our body to adapt in the direction where our goals lie. But what about our minds? Have you ever thought about training in a way that matched your temperament or mood?
The only time I’ve really seen this addressed was by Joe Weider in his now famous “Weider System” when he was talking about advanced training. Weider mentioned how many of the top bodybuilding stars of the day trained very much according to their general personalities or in tune with their current mood or state of mind. He offered that this was so in line with their makeup that it could be a big key to their success.
For example, Reg Park was a multiple Mr. Universe winner who Weider described as the dogged, determined type. Reg would grind out set after set of the same exercises on a regular bases, striving to lift heavier and heavier weights as his main variation. If he were doing 12 sets for a body part, he would pick 2 movements and do 6 sets of each. He may even do 8-10 sets of the same thing.
By contrast, Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and star of “Hercules” Steve Reeves was always looking for variety. He needed to be stimulated by different challenges and also wanted to attack his physique from multiple angles in order to enhance his shape and balance. Steve was famous for training his entire body in one workout. He would do a few sets of a movement and then move on to the next body part. If he were only going to train one thing and do say, 10 sets of biceps, he would do 1 set of 10 different biceps exercises to get the job done. That’s what suited his temperament.
Jack LaLanne according to Weider was a bundle of nervous energy. He moved from exercises to exercise with little pause, grinding out high rep set after high rep set. His training was about reaching a number. Jack wanted to do 100 pull-ups, or 500 dips, or 1,000 push-up (he set a record for doing 1033 pushups in 23 minutes). That’s what suited Jack’s mentality and it was reflected in his training.
Mr. Universe, Mr. America, and Mr. World Dave Draper had spent years doing conventional training to the point where it bored him. So he developed a freestyle system of training where he simply showed up and did a combination of what he wanted to do and what he felt he needed to do that was based on instinct, not counting sets, reps, or time. He was experienced enough that this approach worked for him.
Personally, I like to structure my training around the movements I feel work best for me. I have about 5-6 exercises I favor for each muscle group. I normally pick 3-4 of them for each training session and simply switch it up (or not) the next time I rotate back to that muscle group. I may use those same base exercises for months, if not years, only subbing out 1 or 2.
The point Weider was trying to make and that I’m reiterating is that you can develop a training style that takes into account your mood, personality, and temperament. If you hate being repetitive in the gym then switch it up like Reeves did, doing a wide variety of movements. If you thrive on repetition then pick your favorite movements and grind them out until you feel they’ve fulfilled their purpose. If you can’t stand still, keep moving through your workout, going from exercise to exercise at a pace that your body will help you figure out. If you love structure then carefully script and plan each session down to the last set, rep, and exercise. If you hate structure then just show up with a general idea of what you want to do and go by feel.
You don’t have to pick just one approach, you can try different parts of different things and see how it effects you. You can even match them to your particular mood on that day or for the workout you’re doing. The variety will only give your body new challenges to adjust to and encourage improvement. But the greater benefit is that you’ll be more in line with your mental and emotional makeup. Instead of swimming upstream you may feel that you’re better served simply going with the flow.