If you see me doing something at the gym that I could maybe be doing better, I would like you to hold your tongue unless at least a few of the following criteria are met:
*You know my name. This isn’t the first time we’ve spoken to each other.
*You know my goals. How we lift changes outcomes. Do you know if I’m lifting for absolute strength, power, or hypertrophy (increasing muscle mass)? Do you know if there’s an imbalance I’m working around or trying to bring up?
*Related to the previous bullet point, you should probably know my injury history before offering advice. I have a long one, and it impacts the work I do and the pace I do it in. For example, I have internal scar tissue on my right side after the removal of the middle lobe of my right lung. This impacts my range of motion, how efficiently I use the impacted muscles, and proprioception (how I perceive where my right arm is in space).
*You are genuinely motivated by MY best interests. You aren’t trying to sell me something or some service. You aren’t flirting or finding an excuse to make conversation with me. You aren’t trying to impress me with your thick and rippling . . . knowledge.
*You recognize that there are few absolutes in fitness. If your suggestion is about to include the word NEVER or ALWAYS, I’m not interested. The more we know, the more nuanced our advice necessarily becomes.
*You’ve asked ME for advice in the past. This shows that you recognize that I know some of what I’m doing, and you respect it. I would LOVE to have someone with whom to talk about lifting at the gym; but I don’t want a mentor, I want a collaborator. I want someone who sees when I know something and can honestly evaluate when they have something to share. This kind of co-teaching is built on mutual respect, rather than the paternalistic mindset that assumes one person has all the answers.
*Your routine includes more than the bro standards of bench press, bicep curls and crunches.
*You’re not wearing ‘80’s short shorts and a headband non-ironically. Ok, I know this one is petty, but I’m kinda serious.
I am, admittedly, a bit of a nerd when it comes to weightlifting and personal health. I’m a biologist by education and a science and health teacher by profession. I like doing research; I’m not intimidated by primary sources and big words. Most of all, I enjoy reading and exploring these topics. I spend hours a week reading and researching programming, musculoskeletal anatomy, and optimizing nutrition for one’s goals.
This does not make me equivalent to a personal trainer or a physical therapist, and I readily acknowledge that I don’t have those skills. It does make me very good at identifying bullshit, and over the years I’ve honed my ability for identifying which sources to trust on these topics. So the lifts I do, the frequency and volume, are based on professional programs, adapted to my individual needs. And that adaptation is educated by professionals, too, honed by literal years of physical therapy, learning what my unique body needs to be successful in this hobby that I pursue with seriousness.
I welcome conversation and camaraderie, built on mutual respect for each other’s unique goals and experiences. But if you can’t see yourself in at least a few of the criteria above, please keep your thoughts and “advice” to yourself. It isn’t helpful, and it isn’t welcome.
Are you open to advice in your athletic pursuits? What are your rules and requirements in order to be receptive?
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.