“Excuse me” can be a really loaded phrase in the gym. Sometimes it’s only someone trying to squeeze by you to get to the dumbbell rack but quite often it’s followed by something bizarre, incongruous, hilarious or even rude. My favorites:
“Excuse me, but you’re drinking out of my water bottle.” (Oops. It’s true. It’s bad enough when I accidentally do it to Gym Buddy Allison but this woman was just an acquaintance. I might have also used her sweat towel too. Curse Target and their sale on identical BPA-free water bottles that only come in two colors, both of which I own.)
So you will understand why I almost flew off my treadmill when I heard a gruff, male voice from behind me announce loudly, “Excuse me!”
The Gym Buddies and I were running Tabatas
(8 rounds of 20 seconds maximum sprint/10 seconds rest) and since treadmills were in short supply, Megan and I were sharing one. (Not sprinting at the same time although that would be hilariously awesome. And overly personal.) She had just finished her four minutes of hell and I’d just started mine when we were interrupted. “Excuse me,” he repeated even louder, “I need to tell you something about your treadmill.”
“Yes?” Megan replied. I felt a giggle welling up; there was no way this was not going to end fantastically. My only regret was I couldn’t see Megan’s face as it is nigh to impossible to turn your head when you are sprinting that fast.
“Well I was watching you run,” he began (what up, Creeper?), “and I can tell you’re really serious about running.” (Oooh, a compliment! Is he hitting on her? Wouldn’t be the first time Megan’s big blue eyes have laid a man out!) “So what you need to do is run in front of that big window over there.” You know that sound they always make on TV, like a record screeching? I couldn’t hear over the noise of my own wind-sucking but I’m pretty sure my brain did that.
Megan’s too. “Um, what?” (He wants her to run in front of the big windows that overlook the basketball gym so… she can wave to the audience? So they can look up her shorts?)
“You see you get all hunched up when you run and I can tell you’re trying to run fast but you could go a lot faster if you’d focus on your form by dropping your shoulders and loosening up your arms (easy for him to say – anyone who has run Tabatas will know that shoulder shrugging is the least of your pain) which is why you should run in front of the window so you can look at your reflection (ahhh!) and see when you are tensing up.”
He was an unsolicited advice giver!
Megan went on to very graciously thank the man for his advice and then tell him that she used to run hurdles in high school and understood the importance of staying loose and so she appreciated his concern and so forth. Frankly, I thought she took it very well because as anyone who has been on the receiving end of unsolicited fitness or health advice knows, your first reaction is to get defensive.
I remember at a party once, someone I barely knew came up to me to tell me that I shouldn’t be eating the bacon-wrapped prawns because surely the bacon was not nitrate free. My initial response was to tell them to back the heck off because with my myriad food issues it was hard enough to eat in public, not to mention I had already picked the bacon off because I hate bacon but I love prawns and why does nobody serve prawns without anything else – what is with all the coconut crusting, sauce dunking, pig wrapping nonsense? Thankfully my better nature ruled and I said something much nicer. And shorter.
“What about Corporal Correction? The person who feels compelled to correct the form and formula of every person within 15′. They believe themselves to be the expert on every workout, every technique, and every diet ever invented, and will hold you hostage as they regale you with their mountains of knowledge. This person will “know” within moments of seeing you all of your workout problems and how to fix them. Highly insulted if you are not grateful for the “help” and may get angry if you attempt to ignore them.
Super Fitness Villain Weakness: A well-trained trainer.”
Which leaves us with the conundrum of how to respond to unsolicited advice. Hang around a gym or eat in public and you’re guaranteed that this will happen to you at some point so it’s best to have an idea ready. Being taken by surprise can lead to hilarious, but usually inappropriate, answers.
Answer #1: Ask them a question. “Oh that’s really interesting! Why do you say that women should never do headstands while on their period
?” Usually advice-givers are trying to tell you something about themselves (say, that they ran track in college and miss the good ol’ days). This will take the pressure off of you to actually implement their advice and yet still make them feel heard.
Answer #2: Give them a hard no. Sometimes the only way to stop the advice giver is to give them an answer they can’t argue with. My personal fave is “God told me not to.” because who can argue with the Big Guy?? Other, more reasonable options, include, “Wow, that xploding powder sounds really cool but my doctor says I shouldn’t take supplements without checking with him first.” or “That super cleanse sounds amazing but my trainer has me on a great nutrition plan now.” or “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal in all 50 states but if I ever visit American Samoa, I’ll think about it.”
Answer #3: Take their advice. If it can’t hurt and the giver seems to know their stuff then why not use their free expertise? This is how the Gym Buddies and I first learned the proper way to do the Olympic lifts when we first started CrossFit. A man saw us about to do serious damage to ourselves and butted in with a polite, “Excuse me but I used to be a competitive lifter and if you keep doing cleans that way you’re going to crush your windpipe.” It can be hard to swallow your pride at not having thought of it first or your embarrassment at having been caught doing something wrong (“Excuse me but you could please wipe all your sweat puddles off that weight bench?”) but sometimes people are smart.
Answer #4: Laugh. If their advice is utterly ridiculous pretend like you think they are just messing around with you and laugh. The key here is to laugh with them, not at them. (If you must laugh at them – and sometimes you really must – then save it for when they’re out of earshot. Plus it’ll give you time to make the story really good for your friends.) Or think of some other humorous response. I’m not good with the off the cuff one-liners but if you’ve got a gift for it (Gym Buddy Jeni!) then by all means use it!
What’s the best “Excuse me….” line you’ve ever gotten? How do you deal with unsolicited advice about your exercise or diet?
Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2010. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!