Learning Styles and Exercise

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In the course of school or work you may have had the opportunity to engage with some literature around learning styles or personality types. There are lots of tests and types like Myers Briggs, Insights and Honey and Mumford learning styles

What has this got to do with exercise? In my opinion: everything! Taking up a new sport or exercise is a big decision – there is going to be a steep learning curve. There are ways of doing things, rules to follow and best practice. If we know our learning preferences we can avoid putting ourselves in a position we feel uncomfortable with (and no, I don’t mean downward dog).

Before I get on to learning styles, I want to address something: it is tempting to write off these sorts of tests as mumbo-jumbo and I understand that. They are hardly scientific. How can they proclaim to “know” your style after a dozen or so basic questions? But, often, they do resonate. Contentious? Yes. And yet, thought provoking. To be clear though, it’s not about putting you in a box. It is about considering preferences: your own, and those of others.

Let’s look at Honey and Mumford learning styles (in no particular order) and see what we can apply to how we learn to love exercise. If you want to play along, you can find a basic learning styles questionnaire here

If you are an activist you are a full-on, throw yourself in person. If you want to get involved in a new sporting activity you’re going to do it by rocking up and giving it a go. In fact, you are probably reading this post thinking: “hold up, what do you mean: learn exercise? Surely you just go for it and get sweaty?” This attitude towards fast and frantic may draw you towards team sports. The thing you have to be careful of is your tendency to leap without looking. If you don’t know what you are doing with that 24kg kettle-bell you are at serious risk of doing yourself an injury. And that will certainly put a sharp stop to your love of exercise!

Ah, the cautious crowd. You guys will be experts in exercise before you burn a single calorie. You’ll learn by reading all the books and articles you can find. The massive bonus of this is that you will know exactly how to keep yourself safe and you will plan your exercise carefully. The biggest thing to be careful of: reading is not the same as taking part! At some point you will have to jump in. Take the time to prepare yourself first and you will enjoy the process more but don’t let the fear of imperfection prevent you from taking those first (actual!) steps. You may be drawn towards sports where theory and planning improves your practice – think climbing, or yoga.

You learn best when you can see a practical application. You will want to experiment. This is a really positive approach to learning when it comes to exercise. You like to get on with things, no time-wasting! You may, however, be at risk of impatience. You want to learn, apply, and improve. Great! But don’t be put off if the learning process is a bit slower than you expect. You may want to consider exercise that you can pick up and apply quickly. Running or cycling may suit you. You could also benefit from personal training where you can work closely with an expert to keep things fresh, practical and focused on your goals.

You guys enjoy observation. You want to learn by watching the experience of others and you appreciate having time to analyse. Your approach to learning should incorporate time-outs, considered feedback and discussion with others. You also have a tendency towards caution. You need to remember that to reflect upon your experience you must, at some point, have that experience first-hand. While considering what sort of sport or exercise you might most enjoy learning, you may be drawn towards those that you already have some experience of. This doesn’t have to be your own experience. Try going out with an experienced friend. Consider sports that progress in phases, where you can analyse each phase as you go on. Racquet sports, for example, or weight lifting may suit your temperament.

So, guys, what do you think? Can your learning style preferences help you enjoy the experience of exercise?

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