Posted at 3:08 am by Charlotte, on January 20, 2011
Probably good advice, actually. (To see the rest of Eminem’s Top Ten Pieces of Advice For Kids, see the vid at the bottom of the post.)
“Well what you need to do, see, is get some creatine. Yeah it’s gotten a bad rap over the past few years but it’s pretty much the only supplement worth your time.” I almost dropped my barbell when the personal trainer standing next to me dropped this little psychic gem. Has he been listening to our stretching mat babble? (Note to self: shut up.) But then I realized he wasn’t talking to me – he was advising his client, a young woman who judging by her wide-eyed look of fear was new to exercise.
She nodded like a bobblehead, “Oh, yeah, I’ll go get some! For sure! Ok!!”
And then the trainer added, “The best kind is creatine monohydrate.” Holy bloat from hell batman! Gym Buddy Krista met my alarmed look in the mirror. Sure the trainer’s advice was decent at first. I personally wouldn’t have told a newbie to go straight for the creatine supp because 1) I think you should focus on learning how to lift properly and getting comfortable with a good program before you even think about supplements and 2) The effect from creatine, while validated by research, is relatively small even for fit people and that combined with the water retention might dishearten this January gym tourist before she even gets the umbrella out of her protein shake.
“Should I say something to her?” I mouthed to Krista. She shook her head ever so slightly. The trainer and his client moved on and the moment was gone.
A month or so ago, when I wrote a post about how to deal with unsolicited advice in the gym, an interesting discussion evolved in the comments about the best way to give advice in the gym. VaMomof2 asked, “Is there a good way to give advice without offending? When I used to go to a gym, there were several women in my BodyPump class who did the deadlifts so badly that it made me squirm. The instructors would never bother to correct them but I found i could not be part of classes that allowed people to do things that could cause them harm. Is there any right way to offer advice without sounding snooty?”
Let’s be honest: we’ve all been in that position. You hang around a gym long enough and you’ll see all kinds of cringe-worthy crimes against fitness being committed. You want to help out but people don’t generally like being told what to do, especially not by strangers. What’s a smart fit guy/gal to do?
Charlotte’s Advice on Giving Unsolicited* Advice
1. Examine your motives. Sure we’d all like to say that we’re just doing it to help a brother out but if you really ask yourself why you want to tell someone else something they might not want to hear you may discover a different driving motive. For myself, I’m a terrible know-it-all. I know. But hey, at least I can admit it! I like to call it “educating.” Other reasons include showing off (“Give me that bar and I’ll show you how to do a real squat!”), chiding to vent your annoyance (“THIS is how you re-rack a weight!”) and preventing immediate harm. I have bad news for you guys: the only truly legitimate reason to interrupt someone’s workout to give them advice is that last reason. If they’re about to really crush their skull doing skull crushers, by all means step in. Nobody likes it when blood makes the weight floor all slippery.
2. Consider your authority. Personal trainers are paid to give health and fitness advice. The rest of us are not. I know you think that your way is the best way and they’d be a fool to do it any other way but the longer I do this gig the more I realize how much I really don’t know. When I first started working out I was 100% sure that I knew the magic formula. Until it stopped working. I realized that the human body is a lot more complicated and messy than we give it credit for. I’m not saying that your knowledge isn’t valuable and important but I am saying that if you’re not in a position of authority then they have no obligation to listen to you. If they’re doing something dangerous or really annoying, consider asking a gym employee to step in and say something to them.
3. Consider the timing. Can it wait? If you just want to talk shop, then wait until they’re done with their workout. Most things aren’t that time sensitive. Are you at a party or other social function? Just don’t.
4. Approach from the front. You’d think this one would be a no-brainer but I can’t count the number of times someone has tapped me on the shoulder right in the middle of a to-failure military press. Unless you want a dumbbell dropped on your foot, walk up to them in their field of vision and make eye contact.
5. Ask permission. Everyone’s time is precious and a lot of people just want to get in the gym, do their workout and get out without a lot of chit-chat. (Clearly those people are not me but you know, to each his own!) Start with something easy like, “Hey do you want to see a little tweak that will make that move twice as effective?” Don’t go with, “Look moron, you have scrawny little legs because all you do is chest press and talk loudly on your phone.” And if they say “No, thanks” or ignore you then just drop it. Loudly yelling the advice over their earphones only makes you look like a jerk.
6. Ask questions. Part of the Rachel Cosgrove workout had us doing lunges where our knee extended out past our toes – you know, exactly the way every fit instructor will tell you not to – and we got at least one comment every time about how we had bad lunge form. If they had asked first what we were doing then I could have explained that this is the way the move was meant to be done, and if you try it you’ll see how it really works your glutes in a way nothing else does. PS. No Gym Buddies’ knees were harmed in the making of this experiment.
Reader Hal in the original post had an interesting tip (really her whole comment was gold): “If you really must give advice on form or intensity or something else, you could try doing so in the guise of actually looking to *receive* pointers. “Hey, sorry to bother you. I noticed that you use a much different form on these dead lifts than I do and I was wondering if you could tell me about it? I want to make sure I’m not doing it wrong.” Usually you can work in a “Well I was always taught that…” somewhere in the ensuing conversation. It’ll give them something to think about, at least.”
7. Keep it brief.
8. Be a friend. Nothing makes a gym newbie feel worse than having some person straight out of an Atrophex ad bop in to tell them they’re doing everything wrong and then bounce right back out of their lives. If you see someone who clearly needs a lot of help and you want to help them, get to know them first. Invite them to do a workout with you. Lead by example. Be kind. People can tell if you’re offering advice because you really care or if you just care about being right.
What’s your advice giving strategy? Would you have said something to the creatine girl? Ever had an advice-giving situation go horribly awry?
Click through to see the video – and trust me you want to hear #4!! – if you are reading this through e-mail or a reader.
*These tips only go for approaching a relative stranger with unasked-for advice. If they’re a good friend or they ask you for help then by all means effuse with gusto!
Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!