“Excuse Me, but…” 5 Tips for Dealing With Unsolicited Advice in the Gym

by Charlotte on December 4, 2012 · 20 comments

“Excuse me but I think you are having a wardrobe malfunction.” Where’s Justin Timberlake to slap his hand over a nipple when you need him?!

“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.)

“Excuse me, but are you looking for the Easter Bunny?” (Nope!) “Because he’s in those bushes over there!” (Good to know!)

“Excuse me, but you are laying in my lap sir.” (Okay, that was me saying it but there should never be a gym situation that warrants that sentence! And even worse, he didn’t move!)

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. Synchronized Sprinting: if there was ever a fitness endeavor that warranted a two-man unicorn costume it would be that one.) 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.” I laugh-cough-snorted so hard I hit the front of the treadmill.

“Um, what?” Megan answered. (He wants her to run in front of the big windows that overlook the basketball gym so… she can wave to the audience? So she can ref since they’re short a man? So they can look up her shorts?)

“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.”

Ladies and Gentlemen we have a winner: 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.

We’ve all been there. 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 her 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? Stop decorating the sea ‘roaches! They’re a delicious food, not a craft project!! ANYHOW. Thankfully my better nature ruled and I said something much nicer. And shorter.

This phenomenon is so common Reader Erika even gave it a name in her comment on Ryan’s Fitness Villain post when he asked you guys to come up with names for the different bad guys you meet in the fitness world:
“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.

Option #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.

Option #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 that list explosive diarrhea as a side effect 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.”

Option #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 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.) The more insistent they get, the louder you laugh – eventually they’ll either start laughing too or run away because they’ve clearly provoked your 7th personality, the one with all the inner demons.

Option #5: Wear headphones. Crank the tunes, go to your happy place and get your sweat on – people generally won’t try to give you advice if they know you can’t hear them. Just give a cute smile and that I-wish-I-spoke-your-language shrug and move on. Even if you don’t have your headphones on.

Has anyone ever tried to give you advice in the gym? How do you deal with unsolicited advice about your exercise or diet? Or have YOU ever been the one to jump in with a helpful tip? What kind of reaction did you get?


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Bek @ Crave December 4, 2012 at 11:47 pm

I’d definitely get defensive haha I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for technique and if I get told to correct something, at times, on the inside I can be burning up with hatred for that person. But I fix it, breathe and realise- they’re doing what’s best for me. Plus I do it ten times worse when I teach anyways ;)


Rach December 5, 2012 at 12:29 am

I take Megan’s tack – thank them for their advice and then engage them in some chat about their training. I have to say though that in almost 10 years of regular gym-going this has happened about three times. I guess I am not very approachable.


Jess December 5, 2012 at 1:05 am

I hate advice at the gym. I go there to have time out, not be advised. If I wanted training advice I’d seek it! I have definitely been approached with advice, I get so embarrassed and try to find a corner to hide in. I’ve never been the one giving it, except when working as a trainer and only to my clients or when someone was at risk of injury.


EmmaS December 5, 2012 at 6:28 am

In my small, cozy, local gym, where everybody knows everybody, we all give each other advices all the time. It is just part of the culture. And for the most part, I find the advices I get really helpful. I do not think I ever get defensive. It rather makes me happy. I love the idea that people care for each other, but perhaps that is just very Scandinavian…


Jenny December 5, 2012 at 7:54 am

“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…”

AH! What an ASSHOLE! Whatever myriad of food issues you had at the time, at least you didn’t have the issue of BEING THE NITRATE POLICE TO STRANGERS AT A PARTY. #yikes

I definitely do the headphones. I’m super friendly and personable in non-gym life, but when I’m at the gym? Headphones in, no eye contact, nothing. I go to the gym to get in and get out, and don’t nobody approach me while I’m bench-pressing to Biggie.


Meghan@themeghamix December 5, 2012 at 8:23 am

I am ALWAYS fighting my bossy-told-ya-so inner big sister to not give unsolicited advice to those around me in the gym. Like “hey, doofus, just because I’m a chick and you’re a dude does not give you a right to blow me off when I ask to work in on the back squat machine THAT YOU ARE HOGGING DOING BENCH PRESS.” Or, “Excuse me, high school athlete – it looks like your working on your pullups. Did you know that kipping could really help you out? Want a demo? Allow me.” Yipes. This is probably why I mainly stick with CrossFit, so there will always be a coach who isn’t me and so I’ll be working too hard to worry about what anyone else is doing.


Geosomin December 5, 2012 at 8:33 am

The only time I’ve ever been offered advise was when I was doing something wrong form wise and was new at it. It wasn’t condescending – they just didn’t want me to hurt myself.I appreciated the help, and it didn’t bug me at all. I go to a university gym, so there are a lot of athletes, teams, coaches and trainers and so people are friendly but leave you alone generally. I like to know that if I look like I’m going to hurt myself someone will help…


Jenny C. December 5, 2012 at 9:08 am

I used to get unsolicited advice all the time when I’d be swing dancing. Not during lessons, which I took regularly, but during the actual social dances. That really bothered me for a few reasons: A) It was never a quick tip – it was always a mini lesson that took up a few songs – songs that i could have spent social dancing. B) It was usually about something incredibly inconsequential like how high above my head my hand should be when I turn… which is the lead’s responsibility anyway. C) I’m actually a somewhat decent dancer, but it was never the more talented dancers giving me “advice.” It was always people who obviously didn’t actually have any idea what they were talking about but thought they did. D) The advice givers were always very insulting and condescneding in their manner of instructing me.

I mean, if I’m doing something wrong, I’m happy to listen to quick, polite advice, but please don’t monopolize a big chunk of my time to tell me that I’m a terrible dancer because three songs ago I let down my guard for a moment and made an error with my footwork or something.


Erin December 5, 2012 at 9:48 am

I see people in my little apartment gym all the time using the weight machines in ways I’ve never seen before. My favorite is the people who do whole bunch of reps really, really quickly without full extension or contraction of the muscles. My husband told me I should go up to them and ask “Can you tell me about your workout routine? It looks interesting!” But I typically leave them alone because I don’t want to be the unsolicited advice giver!


noah July 3, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Can you tell me about your workout routine? It looks interesting!” That tid bit is a jackass comment and why I do not offer help. People like you anf your husband ruin it for those who actually care.


Kim December 5, 2012 at 11:19 am

I loved this post!! I wish I could have seen both of y’all’s faces when it became obvious what the man was all about. Maybe he should have taken the next turn on the treadmill for a Tabata and shown y’all his awesome form!!!


Stefanie December 5, 2012 at 1:07 pm

This is a good topic we can ALL relate to! You are right that most people are not very receptive to advice from a stranger from the gym, and maybe for good reason most of the time. As a trainer, I try to word my advice in a way that is not condescending but helpful while pointing out something they are doing well.. Some people don’t take their trainer’s advice either, so don’t be offended if someone doesn’t take yours. I think the headphones are a great way to get in your zone and maybe make others “get the hint”.


pensive pumpkin December 5, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I get unsolicited advice once a year or so, and have started actually wearing ugly race t shirts to the gym because it seems to curtail it. Having said that, my new response will be “God told me not to.” Thanks for helping me be snarky in a concise way.


Charlotte December 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I kind of hate any unsolicited advice ahort of “Excuse me, you’re about to step under a truck”. I think that “Would you like some advice about your plank/stretching/children’s behaviour/dinner plans/dog training/fill in the blank?” is a reasonably polite thing to say in almost any circumstances. But if the answer is “Actually no thanks” then giving it anyway is pretty much always rude.


Sagan December 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Bwhahaha. So funny when random people do that.

One of my favourite parts about doing yoga in a studio or taking boot camp rather than exercising at home is that you get the benefit of a professional watching your form and correcting you when necessary. But random people? Just weird. Unless you’re about to hurt yourself; THEN I think it’s definitely warranted :)


Cyndie December 5, 2012 at 7:39 pm

A few weeks ago I was doing alternating kettlebell swings WITH headphones in when an older guy did the old “excuse me”. I finished out my set without dropping the bell (thank goodness), and then he proceeded to tell me how to swing the bell properly. His advice was textbook “what not to do” per Tracy Reifkind, Lauren Brooks, etc. I was pretty much fuming, but thanked him, put my headphones back in and proceeded to do it the right way, against his advice. In retrospect, I wish I had told him that I’ve actually worked with an RKC and knew what I was doing, but at the time I was too shocked that someone would actually try and correct my form when I was in the midst of swinging a dangerous object!


Alyssa (azusmom) December 5, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Ha! I love this!
I have to say I just don’t get it. Unless someone is about to do serious bodily (or psychological) harm to themselves or others, I say let it be.
I’ve been lectured/yelled at for all sorts of various bizarre things, from total strangers demanding to know if I was planning to breastfeed to a guy in line behind me screaming at me because the wind was whipping my hair into his face. (OK, dude: try stepping back a little and not pedestrian tailgaiting me, Creepy McCreeperson!)
Only once, however, have I received unsolicited advice at the gym, and that was from a trainer. I could tell she was new, and the gym policy was to have trainers on the floor correcting people. At least for a while. I think a lot of members got really tired of it really fast, and they stopped.


Matt December 6, 2012 at 7:21 am

I’m a self confessed advice giver myself. I know it’s rude, but sometimes I just can’t help it.

My weakness is seeing people do things that I used to do that left me injured. If I see a child playing with a swiss army knife of matches then I should do something right? But how can I turn a blind eye to someone doing something I did that left me unable to write with my right arm for 2 weeks?

Or it could just be that I’m trying to boost up my frail male ego and try to be super man by saving the pretty lady in distress. That’s probably it.


Karen December 9, 2012 at 7:34 am

I live with the “advice” giver and it drives me nuts ! He’s has a habit of knowing all he can about what he’s into – diet and excersise being top of the list lately. Are you really going to eat that, have you worked out yet, ohhhh you’re skipping the work out tonight, and on and on and on it goes. My girlfriend laughs because when we go to the movies I eat a ton of crap because it just isn’t worth even trying at home. Memo to the advice givers out there unless we are putting ourselves or others in danger then I say back off unless you’re asked !


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