Written by Education Manager, Stefan Ianev
An important component of coaching which is often overlooked and not commonly used by personal trainers is personality profiling. The more you know about your client’s personality type, the more effectively you can communicate with them, and make better decisions about what type of training and nutrition plan they will be best suited to.
While it is true that as you get to know your client’s better overtime, you will naturally learn more about their personality type, that can take some time, usually several weeks or months. Using a personality profiling questionnaire can short cut that process and save you a lot of time.
There are many personality type questionnaires available, one we have had a lot of success using over the years is the Braverman Nature Assessment developed by Dr Eric Braverman. This test is readily available online or in his book ‘The Edge Effect’ (1). It was popularized by famed strength coach Charles Poliquin who used it as one of his go to tools when coaching elite athletes. Although not perfect, it can be a very useful tool if you know how to interpret it properly.
The test is broken down into 2 parts. Part 1 is to determine your dominant neurotransmitter system, which influences your personality traits and temperament. This reflects how you are most of the time based on your innate brain chemistry. Typically, each person will have one dominant neurotransmitter system. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that regulate our mood, alertness, motivation, concentration, memory, and personality. While there are over a hundred different neurotransmitters only a handful dominate neurotransmission.
The Braverman assessment looks at 4 of the main neurotransmitters in the brain including dopamine, acetyl choline, GABA, and serotonin. It’s important to that note neurotransmitter activity exists on a bell curve, meaning that too much or too little can have adverse effects.
Let’s quickly take a look at the 4 main neurotransmitters from the Braverman assessment and their associated personality traits.
Dopamine is involved in motivation, pleasure, and reward seeking. Low dopamine can cause apathy, low energy and lack of motivation, low libido, and an inability to experience pleasure while excess dopamine can make you aggressive, overly competitive, less cooperative, and less empathetic.
Excess dopamine can also be converted to norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is synthesised from dopamine and along with epinephrine is involved in the flight or fight response. Excess norepinephrine can cause anxiety, insomnia, and even trigger a panic attack.
Clients that are dopamine dominant are generally very driven and competitive. These are the clients that love smashing themselves in the gym. However, excess stimulation of dopamine and norepinephrine can cause receptor desensitization, which eventually leads to symptoms of low dopamine. The biggest challenge with these clients as a coach is holding them back as they are more prone to burning out. They also generally don’t tolerate stimulants very well.
Acetylcholine is involved in memory, attention, learning, and motor control. Low levels can lead to a decline in visual memory, verbal memory, processing speed, spatial orientation, and muscle weakness. High levels can cause anxiety, irritability, anger, aggressiveness, impatience, and impulsiveness.
Clients that are acetyl choline dominant are usually very charismatic and witty and they pay attention to detail. Because they can change their focus very quickly between tasks and they have very good motor coordination, they can handle a lot of variety within a training session in terms of exercises, sets, reps, tempo etc. These clients would get bored out of their mind if you just gave them 4 set of 10 reps on every exercise. They do like to see progress in their numbers though, so they like to have some consistency from workout to workout.
GABA is synthesised from glutamate and is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is inversely proportional to glutamate, the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain and central nervous system. Its main function is to slow down brain activity and it’s also involved in vision, sleep, muscle tone, and motor control.
Low GABA and excess glutamate can lead to anxiety, restlessness, ADHD, insomnia, panic attacks, muscle stiffness, and feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Excess GABA and low glutamate can lead to lethargy, apathy, difficultly concentrating and daytime sleepiness.
GABA dominant individuals are usually calm, stable, and very caring and nurturing. They are punctual and reliable, and security and stability are high on their list of priorities in life. These clients are not usually the type that love smashing themselves in the gym. They are usually more attracted to activities like yoga. Typically, they like to progress slowly in gym and prefer more consistency in their routine.
Serotonin is responsible for feelings of happiness, relaxation, and self-confidence. Low levels have been linked to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, insomnia, OCD, and low self-esteem. Too much serotonin can cause shyness, nervousness, hypersensitivity to criticism, and lack of motivation.
Serotonin dominant individuals are usually fun and outgoing. They tend to have a distain for structure and authority and are not usually attracted to structured and regimented activities like weight training. They usually prefer to play sports or do classes in the gym. If you are coaching these individuals you need to keep their workouts fun, flexible, and exciting, rather than confining them to a set program.
As you can see, these personality profiles represent distinctly different individuals, and how you interact with and coach each of these individuals will vary greatly. For example, with a dopamine type you need to establish that you are the alpha wolf and earn their respect, or they will walk all over you. On the other hand, with a serotonin type you need to treat them more like a buddy and less like an authoritarian. That is why the coach who is most flexible and adaptable will have the greatest success.
Part 2 of the Braverman assessment is used to identify any deficiencies in one of the 4 main neurotransmitters. A deficiency can be either genetic in nature or it can be due to a person’s lifestyle. Typically, a genetic deficiency will show up as a low score in part 1, while a lifestyle induced deficiency will only show up in part 2, which is more representative of how a person is at that point in time.
For example, it is quite common for dopamine or acetyl choline dominant types to deplete their serotonin or GABA because they are constantly on the go. If they continue down that path for an extended period, they can eventually desensitize their dopamine and adrenergic receptors and start showing symptoms of low dopamine.
If you have a client that presents with a deficiency in serotonin or GABA you need to monitor their training volume carefully because they are likely on the verge of burn out. If you have a client that is normally high in dopamine or acetyl choline but they present with a deficiency, they might already be burnt out and you need to give them an extended deload period while bringing their calories back to maintenance.
For more information on how to interpret the Braverman assessment we recommend picking up a copy of Dr Eric Braverman’s book.
Additionally, if you want to learn more about how to train different personality types, based on their neurotransmitter dominance, we recommend checking out our Advanced Program Design certification by Christian Thibaudeau. Christian has developed his own version of the Braverman assessment called the Neurotype test.
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- Braverman ER. (2005). The Edge Effect: Achieve Total Health and Longevity with the Balanced Brain Advantage. Sterling Publishing Co Inc