The Four Tendencies and CrossFit

Warning: we’re about to get a little nerdy. If you don’t usually get nerdy, I encourage you to exit your comfort zone – you might like it.

I first discovered Gretchen Rubin and her writings on happiness and habits around the time I found the Whole30. I don’t remember which came first, but I ended up with the chicken and the egg, as I read all of Rubin’s books and completed my first Whole30 in the same month. Rubin’s book Better Than Before identifies 21 strategies we can use to make or break habits. It also introduced her Four Tendencies framework – the idea that everyone falls into one of four categories that define how you respond to expectations:

Upholder: Meets outer expectations and inner expectations.

Obliger: Meets outer expectations but resists inner expectations.

Questioner: Resists outer expectations, but meets inner expectations.

Rebel: Resists outer expectations and inner expectations.

Your tendency defines how you best form habits and make decisions – and it’s an incredibly useful mental tool. Take Rubin’s quick quiz to discover your tendency here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Welcome back! With this fancy new knowledge you’ve acquired, your brain is all dressed up with nowhere to go. Fear not, newfound Upholder/Obliger/Questioner/Rebel – I’m going to take you to the ball. Here’s how knowing your tendency can make you a better CrossFitter:


tumblr_inline_mfnqnaewvf1rqb22eOh, Upholders. I stand in awe. You thrive on the strategy of scheduling. You probably have your class time on the calendar and only miss in the event of a natural disaster. In fact, a scheduled class time is probably part of what attracted you to CrossFit. Since you get your kicks from ticking items off a list, write down fitness goals you’d like to achieve a year from today. Perhaps your gym already requires this – if so, great! Let’s say your goal is 100 unbroken double-unders. Schedule time each week to make progress toward this goal, and set your own mini-goals along the way (25 unbroken in three months, 50 in six months, etc.).


11855592Anyone else know their tendency before taking the quiz? When I first read the descriptions above, I knew I was an Obliger. And that’s what helped me lock in CrossFit as my fitness regimen of choice – I needed a community to hold me accountable. Sometimes I drag myself out of bed at 5:00 a.m. just so someone else won’t have to WOD alone. For Obligers looking to crush goals, use the strategy of accountability like a lifeline. Talk with a coach you know will throw a weakness EMOM at you when there are five minutes of class time leftover. Find an athlete with the same goal and keep each other accountable to practicing. Be sure to set deadlines – another form of external accountability – and monitor your progress.


giphyLet me guess: you took the quiz and you’re not so sure it’s right. There’s this river in Egypt… I don’t coach, but I imagine Questioners are either a coach’s joy or pain. Questioners thirst for clarity – WHY are we doing this? If given a reason (that they feel is robust and from a trusted source) they usually won’t fight it. For Questioners looking to level up and improve a skill, perhaps scheduling a one-on-one time with a coach is the best strategy. This way, there is time for a thorough explanation of movement progressions and designing a customized plan. Questioners love distinction, so they thrive on, “Why don’t you try this? If it doesn’t work, at least we’ll know.” They may also enjoy extra-curricular, topic-specific deep dives like Breaking Muscle or Barbell Shrugged podcasts.


5260af07b48918e54c9ec19ac39643b2The few. The proud. The Rebels. The smallest population of the Four Tendencies, Rebels bristle at the thought of accountability, scheduling or monitoring. Their boon? Self expression. A good strategy for Rebels is clarity: thinking about what they want and why they want it. So you want to get a muscle-up? Why? There are plenty of good reasons: It could give you a huge placement advantage in The Open, if you’re the competitive type. It could get you up and over a fence in a… rebellious situation. The problem with Rebels is they will only do things when it’s convenient for them and if they feel like it (I’m beginning to think all felines are Rebels, but that’s neither here nor there). Rebels may benefit from boxes with open gym times so they have a free space to practice whatever they wish. If open gym isn’t an option, they could try leaving their schedule open before or after class for a little extra practice time.

You made it! What do you think? Did you like it nerdy? If you’re itching for more, Gretchen Rubin is releasing an ENTIRE book on the Four Tendencies this fall that you can pre-order. I already have.

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