Chances are, nobody has to tell you that exercise is a great stress reliever. But here's the thing: You can reduce stress even more—and make that reduction last longer—if you tailor your workout specifically to your personality type.
"The psychological boost of adhering to a program that you enjoy doing is much greater than the reward you get from any single session," says Steve Edwards, a professor of sports psychology at Oklahoma State University.
Edwards has identified six distinct exercise personalities. Find the one that best describes you, then follow our tips. You'll end up ripped and relaxed.
You thrive on the artistry of sports and exercise.
Check Yourself Out
The mirrors in a weight room help you notice when your form starts to fail, but you can also see what you do well. And for you, that's tension-taming. "Some suggest that vanity is at work here, but it could just as easily be a more profound appreciation of the capability of one's body," says Edwards.
Master a Skill Sport
"Get involved in any sport you think is well executed," says Edwards. The sweet sound of a 5-iron meeting a Titleist, the crack of a big-barreled Louisville, or the plunk of an aced first serve satisfies your senses and leads to less stress.
You work out for the rush.
Add Risk to Your Runs
Try running up and down stadium steps to exhaustion. The stress release is in the danger: "It gets trickier the longer you go. If you mess up, there could be a nasty fall," says Edwards. Not a stadium in sight? Run outdoors over rugged terrain.
Stop doing three sets of 12 repetitions of every exercise; there's no challenge in that. Do fewer repetitions and more sets with weights that are near your one-rep max on compound exercises, such as deadlifts, squats, and bench presses. Then lighten the load for power moves, such as jump squats, which appear riskier.
The Social Activist
You like the camaraderie of exercising with others.
Join a Team
For you, going it alone is misery—and that only adds to your anxiety. So build your program around group activities and team sports. "Join a jogging or cycling club," says Edwards. Or, if you spend your time in the gym, create an exercise schedule that's workable for your similarly stressed buddies.
Disguise Your Exercise
Make all of your activities more active and you'll find yourself sweating in solitude less often. "Try doing business on the golf course. Or join a Big Brother program and take the kid with you to the gym," says Edwards.
You exercise to stay healthy, but wish there were an easier way.
Don't Go Too Hard
The more comfortable exercise is for you, the more you enjoy it—and high satisfaction equals high stress relief. So use moderate weights and do a moderate number of repetitions. Just keep your rest periods short to maximize the muscle benefits, says Edwards.
Combine your workout with something you find relaxing, such as reading, watching TV, or listening to music, says Kevin Burke, Ph.D., a professor of sports psychology at Georgia Southern University. You'll focus more on what calms you (good tunes) and less on what you hate (the treadmill).
You like feeling committed to your exercise routine.
Shock Your Body
Given your loyalty to sweat, ensuring variety is a challenge. You can avoid irritating ruts and keep your muscles growing with a lottery approach, says Burke. Before you work out, grab a Men's Health workout poster and several slips of paper. Write down the names of the exercises for the target body part and then draw from a hat.
Avoid Rush Hour
Waiting in line for benches and squat racks interferes with your mission to get fit, so grab the always-available Swiss ball. On an upper-body day, do two or three sets of Swiss-ball pushups to failure. On a lower-body day, do two or three sets of 20 Swiss-ball wall squats: Stand with the ball wedged between your back and a wall. Now squat, allowing the ball to roll with your back as you go down.
The Energized Animal
You hit the gym to release energy.
Add Iron to Your Lunch
The longer you go without exercise, the more stressed you feel, says Edwards. Try to fit a workout into your workday. If you can, go to the gym around 2 p.m., just after the lunch crowd dissipates, so you can finish faster.
Keep a Racket Close By
By stowing your gym bag and other sporting goods in your car or under your desk at work, you can exercise whenever you feel the urge. "This also encourages variety in activities," says Edwards. "If you're driving by a park and it occurs to you that a quick run would be fun, you can grab your shoes and go for it."