How Personality Affects Workout Habits

woman working out with trainer

Catherine O’Brien

workout shoesTwice a week I switch out my upbeat running playlist for a podcast. Some podcasts cover news and politics; others report episodically on the investigation of a crime. While I have a full arsenal of podcasts at my fingertips now, it all began when I got hooked on Gretchen Rubin’s podcast “Happier”. They release a new episode each week around Wednesday which perfectly aligns with my Thursday morning run. The 30-40 minute episodes help me kick off the day on the right foot. Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth discuss strategies and obstacles to happiness. I learn something new or walk away with a new trick to try almost every week. I have been able to apply the discussions and topics to numerous areas of my life, including health and fitness.

A common theme throughout the series is Gretchen’s Four Tendency Framework. This framework divides all of humanity into one of four categories:

  1. Upholder

  2. Obliger

  3. Questioner

  4. Rebel

The categories speak to how you respond to expectations. I love a good personality assessment so I gave it a shot.

The Four Tendencies

A quick rundown about what each of the tendencies mean:

1. Upholder: readily meet outer expectations and inner expectations alike. They do not require external accountability to be motivated.

2. Obliger: readily meet outer expectations (like a work deadline) but struggle to meet inner expectations (like a personal weight loss goal).

3. Questioner: ask a lot of questions, love to do research before coming to a conclusion or making a decision, and need an explanation for “why?” they should do what you are asking of them.

4. Rebel: pretty self-explanatory – rebels don’t like to be told what to do and need to come to their decisions and conclusions on their own. If you tell a rebel to do something, chances are they will resist.

So How Do These Tendencies Influence Health And Fitness?


More importantly, how can knowing your tendency help you reach your fitness goals? I am an Upholder which, according to the framework, means I can meet my own personal health goals with the same discipline as I would a work deadline. If I decide I am going to wake up and go for a run in the morning, I typically don’t need any sort of external accountability to follow through. In this way, Upholders do not often struggle adhering to a workout plan. Being an Upholder is great for setting and maintaining a fitness routine but Gretchen points out that Upholders can get stuck in their ways and struggle to break routines.


‘Obliger’ is the most common tendency. When it comes to working out, Obligers need external accountability in order to follow through. There are many ways to create external accountability when it comes to exercise. For example, signing up for a class where you will get charged if you don’t show up can build in the necessary accountability. This is likely why company’s like “ClassPass” are so helpful to people of the Obliger camp. ClassPass gives members access to a variety of fitness studios and class types including yoga, cycling, running, HIIT, dance, boxing etc. Not into classes? Set workout dates with friends or family members. Knowing that someone is waiting for you at the gym can certainly provide the necessary external accountability that you need to show up.


‘Questioners’ represent the second most common tendency. If you are a Questioner and are trying to build a workout routine that works for you, chances are you need to do some research. Reading up on the effects and benefits of different workouts will likely act as a key motivating factor (Fortunately, Forever Fit Science provides numerous articles on exercise research!). Understanding the “why” of exercise can help Questioners make an informed decision about the right workout for them.


Finally, ‘Rebels’ need to come to conclusions on their own. In this way, Rebels may benefit from a diverse workout plan that allows them to choose which workout they want to do on a given day. Similar to Obligers, signing up for a program like “ClassPass”, joining a gym that offers a variety of classes, or subscribing to an online workout video routine, may provide the diversity and flexibility that Rebels are looking for.


One of the resounding themes of the tendency framework is that each tendency has its pros and cons. The purpose of the framework is to know yourself better and to use this self-knowledge to create situations that work for you and to which you will respond. The purpose is not to try to change oneself. Personally, I have found this framework to be helpful in various areas of my life, not the least of which is exercise and fitness. I encourage you to give the quiz a shot and see if knowing your tendency can help you build and maintain an exercise plan more effectively.

Take the 4 Tendencies Quiz

Related Article: Gender May Affect Exercise Motivation

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Ta-Da! The Launch of My Quiz on the Four Tendencies. Learn about yourself (2015). Retrieved on May 8, 2017 from

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