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. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .
15 thoughts on ““Just trying to be helpful?” How to know it’s ok to offer me advice at the gym”
Hell yes, love this post and your attitude 💪🏼💪🏼
Thanks! It’s nice to be back at the gym. 🙂💪🏼💪🏼
I LOVE how you’ve laid all of this out, Marjorie — you are the best.
Some of us do better with lots of examples. And visual aids. Too bad Sam didn’t include a picture of someone lifting in ’80’s era jogging shorts and a headband. 😉
I would add, interrupt me if you see me doing something that you KNOW is dangerous. I’m fairly new to weight lifting, and I’ve had a coach to teach me the proper techniques for the equipment, but there may be something that someone else sees that might be dangerous.
My own rule for myself on that one is to only offer advice if I’ve seen someone there several weeks, consistently making the same mistake. While it’s important to use good technique, most of the risks come from poor technique over a long period of time. Otherwise, you’re most likely just risking a muscle strain, dropping a plate on your toes, and similar minor issues. For serious damage and bodily harm, it usually takes serious commitment to your mistakes! 🙂
Such a great list!
Excellent list. I’d like to steal it and adapt it for bouldering please if that is ok with you! 🙂
Why, of course!
It was really hard to follow this blogging without wondering what gym this picture was taken at lol. That is the cleanest weights I have seen EVER lol.
AND they’ve all been put back correctly, in order, and matching pairs!
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