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FITNESS

BODY WATCH : Use Your Head to Improve Your Body

November 29, 1994|KATHLEEN DOHENY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you're a habitual fitness dropout, Laguna Niguel sports scientist Jon Niednagel has a plan to turn you into a lifelong exerciser: Use your head. Literally.

Figure out your brain type, he suggests, and you can then learn which activities you excel at naturally. You'll also know better how to stay motivated.

"Each person is motivated according to the way they are 'wired,' " says Niednagel, who has researched brain types for several years. He is often hired as a consultant to top athletes, counseling them on how to improve performance based on brain type.

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The Brain-Body Connection: Drawing on the work of the famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and a widely used psychological testing instrument, Niednagel describes 16 brain types in his book, "How to Choose Your Best Sport and Play It" (Laguna Press, 1992), which will be re-released next year by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Different brain types, so his theory goes, regulate their mental and physical skills differently. Depending on brain type, some people have excellent gross motor skills, others have excellent fine motor skills. Others are excellent strategists, using their mental abilities to improve their physical skills.

To simplify the theory even further, exercisers can decide which of four brain types most accurately describes them--and learn how to make their brain type make fitness easier, Niednagel says.

"While every person might see a little of themselves in each category, most people fall primarily into one group," Niednagel says.

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Type I (The Here-and-Nows): You won't exercise unless it's fun. And, you expect all this effort to produce a better-looking body. You're the most body-conscious of all exercisers.

"Here-and-nows" care greatly about their looks, Niednagel says. They're the type who wears jewelry to the gym. Sylvester Stallone and Janet Jackson would seem to be classified as here-and-nows. So would pro wrestlers and body builders.

"When these people set out to exercise, the goals must be short term," Niednagel says. "A day at a time, a week at the longest." Rewards are vital to their continued success. If a "here-and-now" makes it just five days with an exercise program, a reward is in order.

"This group would be likely to be into weight lifting," Niednagel says. "If they're runners, they like to run with others." If it's volleyball, they're likely to prefer playing at the beach.

They love to start new things but find finishing them not so easy.

To keep themselves faithful to fitness, the emphasis should always be on fun, Niednagel says.

The good news for this type: "Once they get into exercise, they are compulsive," he says.

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Type II (Structured Here-and-Nows): You love to make exercise as fun as possible, but you're also looked upon by friends and family as duty-bound. You exercise not just for better buns, but a stronger heart.

You're the type who would join Weight Watchers to lose a few pounds instead of going it alone. Nolan Ryan, Geraldine Ferraro and Princess Di would seem to be this brain type, Niednagel says.

Exercise goals can be longer term, up to a month or so, Niednagel says.

Structured here-and-nows are more mechanical in movement than their unstructured brethren, more likely to head to aerobics classes or stair-climbing machines. "They want to be thin, not buff like the here-and-nows," Niednagel says. "So weightlifting is not as common a workout choice as it is for the first here-and-now type."

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Type III (Visionaries): When life gets unpleasant, you want to tune out. You not only yearn for harmony, but believe it's possible.

And exercise is often your great escape, most often enjoyed with a friend or in an organized class where everyone gets along.

Visionaries want to be valued for who they are, not what they look like, Niednagel finds. Tom Brokaw, Goldie Hawn and swimmer Janet Evans seem to be visionaries, Niednagel says. That's the good news. But this type often needs to crack down on themselves a bit to stay faithful to fitness. "They're likely to say OK to the movies if a friend calls when they are heading out the door to the gym."

Yet, they can be guilt-ridden if they don't follow through on their exercise plan. They often need someone to tell them they're doing OK with workouts. This group, more than others, is likely to need positive reinforcement about their exercise regimen, Niednagel finds.

Visionaries also gravitate to outdoor bicycling, walking and jogging, roller skating and kayaking, Niednagel says.

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Type IV (The Logical Visionaries): It's crucial, whether you're at work or play, that you be considered competent. One wisecrack about your physical skills and you're likely to quit. What you like more than anything is to use your mind to figure out how to perform better physically.

Among others, Bill and Hillary Clinton and San Francisco 49er Steve Young seem to be logical visionaries, Niednagel says.

They love new concepts and want to understand the why of what they are doing before they try it. For instance, they're likely to gravitate to Pritikin-like programs, which explain the logic of it all.

"More than any other group," Niednagel says, "they live life in their minds. They have a fear of failure. But they can also look at the grand scheme of things."

Because they love to combine physical activity that uses their intellectual ability, they gravitate to windsurfing, sailing or hiking. While hiking, for instance, they can prove that nature will not outwit them.

"If it's tennis," Niednagel adds, "they like to figure out every angle, how to play."

Once they become exercise-conscious, logical visionaries are probably the most obsessive about workouts, he adds.

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