The Intuitive Function and Physical Exercise

This article is reprinted with permission from The Bulletin of Psychological Type. The Bulletin is a publication of the Association for PsychologicalType.

The Intuitive Function and Physical Exercise
APTi Bulletin Vol.26 No. 2 (2003) By: Suzanne Brue

This is the third article (previous articles in APT Bulletin, Vol. 25, no. 3 and Vol. 26, no. 1) in a five-part series on the connection between psychological type and approach to physical exercise. My research in this area indicates different motivations, styles, and requirements influence the approach to physical exercise and environments preferred by each of the 16 types.

To gather information about the connection between type and physical exercise, I have been interviewing individuals of the 16 types who exercise regularly, asking the following questions:

1. Describe a typical week of exercise.
2. Where do you exercise? What aspect(s) of that environment is (are) important to you?
3. Do you exercise alone or with a friend?
4. What motivates you to exercise? Describe the benefits.
5. Describe your history of physical exercise.
6. What types of exercise, exercise interactions, or environments turn you off?
7. What coaching styles work or don’t work for you?
8. What advice would you give people of your type who do not exercise to help them exercise?

For the purpose of this article on intuition and physical exercise, I will provide highlights from selected interviews to illustrate this connection in both the extraverted and introverted expression.

Extraverted Intuition ENTP, ENFP, INTP, INFP

Extraverted intuition in the dominant or auxiliary position is stimulated by the outer world of new ideas and possibilities. Extraverted intuitives are constantly in search of the widest range of new opportunities. They prefer “something else going on” when exercising and are attracted to exercise that occurs inside a philosophy, goal, idea, or purpose depending on whether the auxiliary is Thinking or Feeling. People with extraverted intuition report the following approach to physical exercise:

• An efficient approach to exercise
• Convenience is important
• Often try to disguise exercise
• Can ignore physical needs and easily forget to exercise
• Can easily become bored with exercise routine


Extraverted intuition in the dominant position is attracted to exercise that connects to the stimulating world of new ideas and possibilities. Their approach to exercise is frequently characterized by an “all or nothing quality.” When the auxiliary is Thinking, they are attracted to efficiency, intensity, and accomplishment. When the auxiliary is Feeling, the attraction is to exercise with personal meaning as they define it for themselves.

Accomplishing Exercise in an Efficient Manner, the ENTP Approach
Robert (ENTP), a 52-year-old chemist, exercises five to seven days a week from his home. He has been following this routine for nearly fifteen years. Robert either rides a recumbent bicycle for thirty minutes at a very high resistance level or walks in his neighborhood for four to five miles, weather and time permitting. His work schedule frequently calls for travel. Wherever he is, he looks for a four to five mile route convenient to where he is staying. He avoids gyms and fitness centers at home and on the road. Of late, he has been considering adding weigh lifting to his program, but thus far has not, stating, “it’s too purely exercise, hard to disguise.”

Robert walks by himself, with his wife, or sometimes with a colleague or associate. He likes to have “walking meetings,” and enjoys the efficiency of walking and talking. He also enjoys walking by himself. “When I walk by myself, I use the time for planning.”

Robert exercises because of the benefits. “Exercise makes me feel better. It reduces my level of anxiety and I sleep better.” When asked if he would prefer to get the benefits without exercising, he answered with a resounding, “You bet!” Exercise is not something Robert particularly enjoys, but he has experienced the benefits so profoundly that he believes he cannot function effectively without regular exercise. He is committed to the routine, and believes he will exercise for the rest of his life.


Those with extraverted intuition in the auxiliary position are attracted to exercise that provides them with energy and is consistent with their internal logic or values. Aside from the flexibility and enjoyment of exercising alone, these dominant introverted thinking and feeling types often report enjoying exercise that allows for “solitary activities with other people.” When the dominant is thinking, the attraction is to exercise that enables them to accomplish their self-defined goals and use their strategic thinking. When the dominant is feeling, exercise must have personal meaning and be aligned with their personal values.

Exercise and Play the INFP Way

James (INFP) carefully and with affection described his two modes of exercise for the summer. He characterized one mode as, “disciplined aerobically,” involving a three-mile jog, three to four days a week. James, a former marathoner,stated, “it is important to me to never get so I can’t run a SK race at any time.”

The other mode of activity James describes as, “not aerobically aggressive but I’m not sitting around either.” In this mode, James, a 47-year-old psychologist, fishes in a river near his office as frequently as he can, kayaks two to three times a week with friends, bikes ten to fifteen miles, and walks with his wife. “Kayaking and biking are fun, and I enjoy walking with my wife. It is exercise for her, and I get to spend time with my wife.

For James, “Exercise is about being as alive as I can possibly be. Play is the most spiritual thing I can do.” James loves gadgets and gear, describing himself as a major “gear head.”

When I asked what types of exercise/ exercise environments turn him off, James was clear. “I don’t like football, baseball, or team sports in general, although I’ve always liked volleyball.”

James tends to stay away from fitness centers and organized classes. “I would never go to an aerobics or spinning class. I hate the idea of a drill sergeant in the front of the room yelling, “Go! Go! Go! Push yourselves harder, harder!”

“I’ve got to be having fun. No thanks to boot camp,” James said, laughing, as we finished our interview on a beautiful sunny day on a park bench in Burlington, Vermont .

Introverted Intuition INTJ, INFJ, ENTJ, ENFJ

Introverted intuition in the dominant or auxiliary position is stimulated by messages from the unconscious about insights, possibilities, and new perspectives. These insights arise in visions from the unconscious to provide stimuli for action. Since introverted intuitives are so preoccupied with these internal visions, they are attracted to exercise with a rhythm that does not require too much attention and response. People with introverted intuition report the following approach to physical exercise:

• Like activities that allow for mental drift
• Exercise program/week is loosely envisioned ahead of time
• Prefer to know the terrain
• Like familiar places and routines
• Attracted to intensity
• Provide own structure for exercise; resist imposed structure
• Repetitive motion is appealing


Introverted intuition in the dominant position is attracted to exercise that allows for quieting and calming the mind. The activity is typically planned ahead of time. Introverted intuitives approach exercise in an orderly and methodical manner. When thinking is the auxiliary, the orientation is toward achieving results. When feeling is the auxiliary, the motivation is to exercise in the beauty of nature, or with a friend or companion.

Independence is the INTJ way

Julius (INTJ), 60, is an investment consultant. As a high school and college student, Julius was a competitive athlete and describes himself as a “jock” in his youth. Today, Julius has little interest in competition. Although he usually runs a leg of a relay marathon, his goal is not to embarrass himself at this event which he describes as largely social.

Although very physically active and involved in many inside and outside home projects, Julius did not start exercising regularly until 1984. He describes being motivated by an afternoon of raking leaves when his back “popped.” He did not have the strength he thought he should have. It took a while to begin a strength building and exercise program, but since then Julius has been a member of a local health club and exercises on cardio and weight equipment three to four days a week .

Julius chose this particular fitness club which is “off the beaten path” because he knows very few of its members and does not bump into people with whom he socializes or does business. He usually works out at lunchtime, a quiet time for the club. Although Julius rarely interacts with staff or members, he enjoys being in the weight room when there are a few people around.

Julius is motivated to exercise because of the results he gets physically, mentally, and emotionally. He states, “Without exercise, I feel restless, unstable, and weak. Exercise enables me to do things I enjoy doing,such as skiing, and I like the way I look.”

In addition to weight training, Julius enjoys running and biking outside. “Running with someone else is not fun. I like to know my route, gauge my stamina, and zone out. When I’m running, my brain goes to another place. I examine what I’m feeling. I don’t do intellectual work. I zone out when I’m running.”


Those with introverted intuition as an auxiliary enjoy variety in their exercise routine, and approach exercise with a plan envisioned in their mind ahead of time. These dominant extraverted judging types prefer exercise that calms the mind. Those with dominant thinking have a results-oriented approach to exercise, wanting to improve a particular aspect of their physical appearance or performance. The exercise environment must be logically structured to support these goals. Those with dominant feeling prefer exercising at their own pace, enjoying the feeling they are doing their best. They can exercise alone or with others, as long as it is in a friendly, harmonious environment that supports their goals.

Physically Active and Friendly, the ENFJ way

Elizabeth (ENFJ) is a 20-year-old college student, attractive and energetic . I interviewed her while she was on her summer vacation from college, working as a lifeguard at a local swimming pool. Elizabeth said was initially motivated to exercise to avoid gaining “the freshman 15,” which is an extra 15 pounds or so that freshmen in college often gain if they do not intentionally maintain their normal activity level. As a freshman, Elizabeth was matched with a roommate who was very athletic. They did not have much in common and the only way of connecting, as Elizabeth saw it, was by going to the gym together.

This provided the impetus for Elizabeth to get into the routine of exercising at her college gym. From that point on, Elizabeth continued to go to the gym with friends in the afternoon. At the gym, they usually separated and “got into their own worlds,” as Elizabeth described it, but this provided the impetus to maintain the exercise routine.

Elizabeth enjoys a gym where there is sufficient activity. She observed, “It’s weird to walk into a totally empty gym. Aside from that, people watching me is one of my favorite things.”

Elizabeth loves to dance, in addition to structured workouts at the gym. She enjoys music and usually listens to music with a headset when she is exercising on the cardio equipment at the gym or cleaning the swimming pool where she works. As a high school student, Elizabeth was on the basketball team. She spent most of her time on the bench, but loved being part of a sports team and contributing to team morale as a supportive cheerleader.


Extraverted intuitives and introverted intuitives perceive information through the sixth sense of patterns and possibilities. They differ, however, in focus which greatly influences their approach to physical exercise as these examples suggest. This article completes the exploration of exercise and the perceiving functions. The next article will explore the connection between the thinking function and physical exercise.


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