Warriors vs Worriers: How Personality Impacts Performance

By on January 31, 2023

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from coaching others, it’s that training, performance, and fitness are extremely personal. Two people can respond to the same workout and diet plan in entirely different ways.

This comes down to preferences, to limb lengths, to hormones…

Warrior vs Worrier

But it goes even deeper than that. Even your very personality can impact your performance. 

The way you’re programmed.

Your temperament and disposition.

Who you are

It’s all inextricably linked to your speed, strength, focus, and more. 

Fitness Mediated by Personality

There are direct, obvious, ways that this can happen. For example, people who are more extroverted tend to have more muscle mass and better fitness. This is because many activities that improve fitness are also likely to involve socialising and spending time with others. A more outgoing personality will be more inclined to train frequently (study). 

This is easily explainable. But here’s another way in which extroverts and introverts differ: in reaction speed. 

Introverts vs Extroverts 

On average, extroverts have faster reflexes as compared with their more introverted friends. 

People often misunderstand the distinction between introverts and extroverts. Introverts are not necessarily shy. Nor are all extroverts confident. The difference lies in how the individual orients their attention and where they feel most recharged.

I, for example, am extremely introverted according to the popular Myers-Briggs personality test. I’m an INFP, in fact. When I tell people this, they often don’t believe me. That’s because I’m quite outgoing in a group and I talk a lot. I’m not shy.

Working alone

BUT, I am also happiest at home on my own or with my very close family. Reading, writing, or playing a computer game. Even my chosen fitness activities are ALL solitary: weight lifting, calisthenics, rock climbing. I like martial arts best when I’m performing it solo. And it takes me a lot of willpower to actually go out and spend time with people. I enjoy it when I’m there and I genuinely like people. But it’s an effort for me.

Unlike a friend of mine who says he’s so extroverted he gets lonely in the shower!

As an introvert, I spend more time in my own head, which is likely why I’m more likely to respond a little slower to external stimuli. 

Interestingly, though, it also seems the case that introverts actually make fewer errors when reacting. A little more processing occurs prior to the response, which allows for fewer mistakes (study).

And it’s easy to see how this could also influence verbal fluency and social interactions. I’ve always said: I’m clever slowly.

Warriors vs Worriers

Another interesting delineation is the warrior vs worrier. This is a personality type that is actually dictated by genetics. 

Specifically, we’re looking at the gene that codes for COMT (catechol-O-methyl transferase). This is an enzyme that breaks down the catecholamine neurotransmitters, such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

Training alone

In other words, some people have genetically higher levels of adrenaline and dopamine flowing around their system, while others have lower levels. Of course, you can also be a “hybrid” with levels that fall somewhere in the middle.

During everyday activities, higher levels of dopamine can result in more brain activity. This may actually provide a cognitive edge.

The problem is that, during times of high stress, this can actually become too much for the worrier type. It’s at this point that the “warrior” type tends to step in and outperform the worrier. 

And, as you might expect, this makes the warrior type slightly more suited to certain types of competition. For example, most MMA fighters are warrior types (study). 

If you want to find which type you are, you can use a genetic test to find out. I recommend SelfDecode, which I’ve been using for years and which provides a ton of really fascinating information. I’ll leave a link below and if you use that, I’ll get a commission. You just need to send a saliva sample, or alternatively you can download and reuse your DNA data from a site like Ancestry.

But, if you’d rather not spend the money, you can likely reflect on your own personality and make an educated guess: are you in your own head a lot? Do you have racing thoughts? Do you get easily flustered when under stress? I am so that way inclined that I tend to forget my own name when making appointments…

Or are you the prototypical “jock-type?” Seldom worried and good at performing under pressure.

The Strategist

The good news is that, once again, there are pros to both kinds of performance – and ways to maximise your natural potential. 

According to one study, fighter pilots with the warrior genotype tended to perform better on practical test scenarios. Predictably, worriers would be distracted by their own anxiety. 

BUT when given sufficient time to acclimatise to the stressful situation, worriers actually began to perform better.

Chin ups in the dark

And there are ways that a worrier type can mitigate their higher levels of stress, too. For example, they can use meditation or CBT to maintain a calm state of mind. After all, the stress response only occurs if the individual interprets the situation as stressful.

For these reasons, some writers actually refer to the two types as the warrior and the strategist. As this suggests less negative connotations for the latter.

Likewise, the warrior type might be able to overcome some of the more negative traits associated with their less-wired mentality by using strategies to amp themselves up, or even by using caffeine.

COMT and Pain Threshold

Here’s some bad news for strategist types, though: they also typically have higher sensitivity to pain. In particular, the reduced enzyme activity associated with the COMT Val158Met SNP has been linked to chronic back pain. Although strategists are no more likely to experience disc herniation, as an example, they do recover more slowly and experience more pain (study).

That tracks. 

Chronic Pain

But to put a win back in the strategist column, higher levels of adrenaline actually mean that blood reaches the muscles more quickly when needed. We are more “ready to go” and can thereby train with less of a workout. This also rings true for me as someone who has been known to walk into the gym and head straight over to perform a near-max bench press.

The Countless More Factors

There are many other factors that also play a role. For example, oestrogen actually slows down COMT, which means women have naturally higher baseline dopamine levels. So, too, do men with lower levels of testosterone. 

Apparently, I have several genes that make me more likely to experience high levels of oestrogen. So, that’s great! 

BUT weight training and other activities can raise testosterone, and so are very good for strategists.

There are no doubt countless other interactions between various other hormones, genes, neurotransmitters, and lifestyle factors. So it’s not a clear-cut correlation. Despite my apparently high natural oestrogen levels, I find it very easy to build muscle. Clearly, there is more at play.

Half kneeling slam

And, of course, we’ve only discussed a couple of different personality traits, here! This is a growing field of study and one with a lot of promise. Charles Poliquin, for example, was a fan of using the Braverman Test to learn about his athletes and to help guide his coaching. This test attempts to create a neurotransmitter “profile” based on answers to a number of questions. There isn’t a huge body of evidence backing up its accuracy (study), but it’s certainly an interesting attempt to take into account more neurotransmitters – such as GABA and acetylcholine. 

Acetylcholine being the primary “excitatory neurotransmitter” that is also responsible for muscle fibre recruitment across the neuromuscular junction. Thus it may illuminate an interesting link between temperament and physical strength.

I’ve also spoken before about the roles of DHEA and neuropeptide Y. And the ways that they can buffer the effects of cortisol on the prefrontal cortex. High levels of these chemicals are identified in top athletes and special forces personnel. Those top performers also seem to exhibit both heightened sympathetic arousal during stress but also heightened parasympathetic expression and recovery during recovery (studystudyreport).

Handstands in the dark

Even your preferred chronotype, or body clock, might be an important consideration as it affects what time you perform best. Are you a dolphin, lion, wolf, or bear? And what might your role once been among small groups of humans?

Closing Comments

The bottom line is that humans are far too complex to say that “type A” will perform like X (don’t get me started on the actual “type A” theory, in fact, which was invented to counteract bad press for smoking!).BUT what we can say, is that your personality, disposition, and biochemistry, each have a huge role in defining who you are AND how you perform. Learning to better know yourself can be a highly effective way to get more from your training.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.


  1. JMBell says:

    Personally i’d say it should be fighter and strategist.

    “Warriors aren’t born, and they aren’t made…they create themselves through trial and error and their own ability to conquer their own faults.”
    A worrier/strategist is perfectly capable of becoming a warrior, which is meant to mean a battle harded brave fighter/soldier, as a strategist is also perfectly capable of becoming a soldier, and even a fighter if they put the hard work in with discipline/consistency to overcome their genetics as a worrier/strategist.

  2. manuel herrera says:

    I truly enjoy your art in the physical and mental strengths of humans

  3. Dean says:

    Thank you for this interesting article. I think using the standard Big 5 model may be pertinent in explaining training capability based upon personal disposition. For example, those higher in conscientiousness will be more likely to stick to a training program, although I think if you are also higher in extroversion, this may increase the probability for success because you are higher in enthusiasm and assertiveness. Also, those higher in disagreeablenes tend to be more competitive and may be more aggressive in those type of sports. You yourself, seem to be highly conscientious (website/Youtube etc) and this seems to push you through (more power to you!). You also seem higher than average in openness to experience (particularly ideas) with all the different things you are prepared to investigate and try. Openness to experience tends to correlate with higher IQ and you’re obviously a brainy bugger. This makes your personality type quite unusual because it can be quite rare to be both conscientious and open to experience because the two traits tend to cancel each other out in a lot of people (rare/successful and hard working artists/entrepreneurs tend to have both traits). Just a few thoughts. You could go on for ever about this stuff. Cheers.

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