Skip to content

Maximize your natural gains part 4

Maximiere Deine natural Zuwächse Teil 4

Neurotype 3 - The damage avoider

Part 1 of this article series included an introduction to neurotyping. In a nutshell, the baseline levels of 3 neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine) significantly influence your personality, dictating how you should train and how you should eat to achieve the best possible results. Part 2 covered the first neuroprofile: the constant seeker of novelty. Part 3 dealt with the second neuroprofile: The Reward Addict.

In this part, we'll cover the best training, nutrition and supplement plan for Type 3 - the type associated with low serotonin levels and who doesn't like change, but loves to master a routine activity. "Tech freaks" fall into this pro. In the field of psychology, this type is also known as harm avoiders.

Optimal training for neurotype 3

1 - Training preparation

Type 3 can be held back by fear of injury and tends to be more sensitive to pain. If anxiety is too high, this can lead to tension, particularly affecting the flexors (anterior shoulder muscles, pectorals, leg flexors, biceps and abdominals), which can impair movement mechanics and make these exercisers more susceptible to injury. Both of these elements - pre-workout anxiety and tension - can cause these exercisers to shut down when it's time to train.

The key to training preparation is to reduce the feeling of pain and convince this type of exerciser that they can perform the desired training session without risk. These exercisers also need to work more on their parasympathetic nervous system. Dr. John Rusin's dynamic warm-up is great for them, and they need to emphasize phase 1 and 2 the most. They also need to do more myofascial release work (fascia roll, etc.), as well as flexibility training.

Activation training is not as important for them. If you do too much of this, it can even have a negative impact by making you more susceptible to stress and increasing cortisol levels even further. They may even forgo activation training altogether.

Basically, this type doesn't need to rev themselves up at all before training - nor should they. This will only further increase anxiety, flexor tension and cortisol release during the training session.

When it comes to the heavy basic exercise of the day, this type needs more preparation sets than activation sets to feel confident in their technique. For these exercisers, I recommend a technique called compensating tension (CTT). Here, the lack of weight is compensated for by increasing muscle tension. It's basically about making a light weight feel heavy. This is achieved by generating as much tension as possible against a light weight.

With squats, for example, this could look like this:

  • Press your feet firmly into the floor. Try to turn your hips outwards.
  • Push the bar as hard as you can.
  • Consciously tense your upper back hard.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles hard. Imagine that you are about to get punched in the stomach.

Then go down while maintaining maximum tension. Keep these muscles tensed during the entire upward movement. Make each repetition as heavy as possible.

Perform 4 to 5 sets of this type with progressively heavier weights and then move on to your warm-up sets. For your working sets, you're still using tension at the beginning, but now you're focusing on using excellent technique and not on making each repetition heavier.

The whole thing would look like this

Preparation sets:

  • Set 0: bar x 10
  • Set 1: 165 x 5 reps
  • Set 2: 195 x 5 repetitions
  • Set 3: 215 x 5 repetitions
  • Set 4: 235 x 5 repetitions
  • Set 5: 255 x 5 repetitions

All these sets are performed at a slow pace and with maximum tension.

Work sets:

  • Set 6: 275 x 5 repetitions
  • Set 7: 275 x 5 repetitions
  • Set 8: 275 x 5 repetitions
  • Set 9: 275 x 5 repetitions

2 - Training variation

Neurotype 3 exercisers do not need much variety. For them, variety itself can be a stressor. Also, if the workout doesn't turn out the way they expected - like if the trainer suddenly changes the program or they can't perform the planned exercises - then this will throw them out of the training zone and increase their anxiety, which in turn will lead to an increase in cortisol levels.

The actual exercises should remain the same over a long period of time (for up to 12 weeks), which is especially true for the heavy basic exercises. If variation is necessary to prevent habituation, then it is best to change what will cause the least sensation of change: Pause intervals, tempo, exercise order and set/repetition patterns - in that order.

Other changes need to be made very carefully, little by little. Don't change everything at once. Start with support exercises that require less complex skills and pose less of a threat.

This neurotype copes better when the training schedule is stable - which also means training on the same days at the same time.

3 - Training frequency

Neurotype 3 is prone to stress and an overproduction of cortisol...and a training session is a stressor. This type also tends to get muscle soreness more easily, which is normal as high cortisol levels make you catabolic, reducing the speed at which muscle damage can be repaired.

Neurotype 3 exercisers are not negatively affected by non-training days as they have normal/high dopamine levels. Unlike neurotype 1, they can continue to perform well even after a few training-free days.

The best training frequency for this type is 4 training days per week, using an upper body/lower body split. The optimal weekly training program would look like this:

  • Day 1: Lower body
  • Day 2: Upper body
  • Day 3: No training
  • Day 4: Lower body
  • Day 5: No training
  • Day 6: Upper body
  • Day 7: Training-free

Some exercisers of this type may need even more training-free days if they have a stressful life or a physical job. These two things will increase their baseline cortisol levels. Too much training can even prevent these exercisers from building muscle mass and getting leaner. Therefore, a training frequency of 3 training days per week makes more sense in this case.

If this type wants to use a higher training frequency - e.g. 5 days per week, which is a lot for him - then he needs to further divide the muscle groups of his body and use a lower training frequency per muscle group and schedule at least one "light" training session per week, such as an arm day or a cardio/calf/abdominal day.

4 - Training volume

Remember that this neurotype tends to produce too much cortisol. The main function of cortisol during exercise is to mobilize stored energy. So the more volume this exerciser performs, the more energy is required and the more cortisol will be released.

This is true for everyone, but in the case of neurotype 3, this cortisol response is more pronounced. Incidentally, this could be one of the reasons why these people are good at endurance activities: they are efficient when it comes to mobilizing stored energy.

When it comes to hypertrophy training, these exercisers are better off with a lower volume approach where a few work sets are performed to near the point of technical muscle failure without going to the point where the form of the exercise execution deteriorates. Two to three progressively heavier warm-up sets and 1 to 2 work sets per exercise are best.

When it comes to strength training/heavy training, this guy is better off with training that focuses on technique - submaximal sets at 75 to 85% of max weight for 6 sets of 2 to 3 reps with a focus on correct technique - rather than maximal effort workouts. The latter increases cortisol levels too much due to fear of injury. A weight that is close to or above 90% of the 1RM will cause this exerciser to simply stop due to an increasing fear of injury.

Exercisers of this type do really well with conditioning training because of their high dopamine to serotonin ratio, because they don't get bored with such training and because they won't run out of energy due to high cortisol levels. However, too much conditioning training will affect their muscle development far more than it does for other neurotypicals.

5 - Training intensity

Remember that type 3 exercisers can become demotivated if they feel unsure about performing an exercise. Therefore, intensity zones that may look optimal on paper can lead to poor progress due to anxiety (conscious or subconscious).

When it comes to hypertrophy, this neurotype is better off with slightly higher repetition numbers - 8 to 15. When training for strength, he will do better with sets of 4 to 6 repetitions if the RM system is used and the focus is on technique. This trainee should focus on technique in the heavy exercise of the training session and use 75% to 85% of the 1RM for submaximal training with 2 to 3 repetitions and many sets. He should use a low-volume RM system, using the highest weight with which he can perform 4 to 6 repetitions with perfect technique for one to two work sets followed by 2 to 3 warm-up sets with increasing weight.

Big motivation killers are feeling an exercise in your joints or in the wrong places, as well as not having the feeling of perfect control. This is why this type should focus on precision, perfect technique and slow eccentric movements (negative repetitions).

6 - Equipment, methods & strategies

Neurotype 3 exercisers respond better to changes in equipment, methods and strategies than to changes in exercises. Let's first take a quick look at the definitions of these terms:


Training tools used in the execution of a movement pattern. Using a bar with a large diameter grip instead of a regular bar is a change in equipment. Other examples include special bars, chains and bands, dumbbells, kettlebells and cable pulleys.


This refers to how the individual repetitions are performed. Examples of changes in methods include changing the speed of the concentric (lifting) or eccentric (lowering) phase of the movement, using isometric pauses during a phase of the movement, using partial repetitions, etc.


This term refers to how the sets are organized (sets x repetitions), as well as a use of intensity techniques such as descending sets, rest/pause, etc.

Type 3 exercisers respond best to changes in strategies: Changes in the work/pause ratio, variations in the load pattern, or changes in the exercise sequence.

The methods can also be changed, but this should not be done as often as with the strategies and not for all exercises at once. Small changes such as changing the speed of movement or adding isometric pauses should be the first choice - and not intensification approaches such as rest/pause, descending sets and the like.

Equipment modifications should be used infrequently and reserved for advanced exercisers with solid technique. This applies in particular to chains, bands and similar aids, which should only be used infrequently. The bars used (barbell bar, dumbbell bar, etc.) can be changed, but this should be done less frequently than changes in methods and strategies (perhaps once every 6 weeks).

In terms of load pattern, this type does best when using the same number of repetitions with the same weight on all working sets of an exercise.

7 - Exercise sequence

When we talk about the exercise sequence, we are only talking about the actual training itself. Proper training preparation is not considered, but assumed.

This neurotype has the capacity to perform well even at the end of a training session on the heavy basic exercises. In fact, they can often even perform excellently if they perform the heavy exercise of the day at the end of the training session. They feel better, are less tense, are better prepared and this approach also reduces some of their inhibitions and anxiety.

Exercisers of this type can even perform well with weights if they have previously performed an endurance activity. For example, I once had a powerlifter as a client who set a personal best in deadlift shortly after cross-country skiing. I've also had CrossFit athletes set a personal best in the snatch after a 5 kilometer run (of course, it all looks very different when someone is out of shape).

Neurotype 3 does better when the heavy exercise of the day is placed further back in his training session. In the beginning, his performance might drop off due to fatigue, but once he has adapted to this, he can perform really well with this setup.

8 - Progression model

This neurotype is overly cautious when it comes to increasing weight and can be thrown off balance by not knowing whether to do so. He does not need much variation. He is detail-oriented and constantly has the risk of injury in the back of his mind, which is why he tends to stay conservative in his choice of weights.

He can get good results with periodization programs where the weights are planned months in advance (5/3/1, 915, Sheiko) because these programs force him to increase the weight on the bar. And because he knows a long time in advance when he needs to increase the weight, this makes him more confident in increasing the weight. This helps him eliminate his inhibitions and perform better, while also reducing the cortisol response.

Pre-planned programs give this neurotype security and peace of mind. As a result, they will train harder. This neurotype does better when given a precise task, such as performing 4 sets of 4 repetitions with 80% of 1RM weight. The more vague the task is (e.g. 4 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions with 80 to 85% of the 1RM weight), the more insecure they become and the harder it will be for them to train hard. This type needs specific guidelines.

In terms of phase-to-phase progression, exercisers of this neurotype respond better to a model where you start with more volume and gradually increase the intensity over time. Intensity (the amount of weight used) is a stress factor for these exercisers, so they need to work up to it, gradually getting used to it.

Optimal nutrition for neurotype 3

  • This neurotype needs a small amount of carbohydrate at each meal to feel good during a diet. On very low carbohydrate diets, these exercisers may experience depressive symptoms as they have low baseline serotonin levels. A low-carb diet can lower serotonin levels even further, which will make this type lethargic, increase their sensitivity to pain and lead to a reduction in motivation and willpower.
  • Exercisers of this type also need carbohydrates due to their overproduction of cortisol. One of the functions of cortisol is to mobilize stored energy/glycogen - and the more glycogen you need to mobilize, the more cortisol needs to be released. By consuming carbohydrates before training, you can reduce your cortisol production during training.
  • If cortisol levels are constantly elevated, the conversion of T4 to T3 decreases, which can lower the metabolic rate. T4 is the inactive thyroid hormone, while T3 is the thyroid hormone that plays a major role in metabolic rate and energy expenditure. Low T3 levels lower the metabolic rate, making it harder to lose fat. In addition, carbohydrates are needed for optimal conversion of T4 to T3. Putting this type, who already has high cortisol levels to begin with, on a low carbohydrate diet can result in a significant slowdown in fat loss by reducing T3 levels.
  • Although this type should eat a small amount of carbohydrate at each meal, there are two times when carbohydrate is particularly important - especially if muscle building is the goal. The first is before training, as carbohydrates will lower cortisol levels at this time. As serotonin levels are low and dopamine levels are high, carbohydrates before training will not affect training motivation and focus. The second time is the last meal of the day to boost serotonin levels when it matters most: during the night to promote restful sleep, reduce anxiety and aid recovery.
  • The amount of carbohydrate needed depends on insulin sensitivity, body mass and activity level. A good starting point would be 2.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight if the goal is fat loss and 4.5 grams per kilogram of body weight if the goal is muscle gain. This amount should be adjusted depending on how the body reacts to this.
  • This neurotype copes better with a lower calorie deficit over a longer period of time. In other words, a diet of longer duration with only a slightly reduced calorie intake will be best. This type does not do well with extreme, short-term diets with a high calorie deficit.
  • Exercisers of this neurotype do not need regular refeeds. If they do refeed, it should consist of healthy foods that they are used to eating and not junk food.

In the next part of this article series, we will take a closer look at training sessions for each of these neurotypes and also look at mixed neurotypes.


By Christian Thibaudeau

Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss