Giving Gym Advice

Many people at the gym want to help others and I would like to suggest a good way to do this. The wrong way is to run around “giving helpful hints” to everyone. Unsolicited advice is almost never helpful because if they wanted advice, they would ask for it. That newbie doing endless mirror curls on January 2 is very excited because they just watched Arnold in “Pumping Iron” and they now are an expert on biceps workouts. Any unwanted advice will fall on deaf ears and piss them off, seriously, who are YOU to give them advice? Arnold himself showed them how to curl!

The right thing to do is simply to make it known that you are friendly and willing to talk. When you see some clueless person wandering around at the gym, simply saying “Hi! If you need help finding anything, let me know.” is a great way to let them know you are approachable. They probably wont ask you for advice today but they very well might next week, and when they do, they will be very receptive to your advice. When they do, be gentle.

Remember the ego is a very fragile thing, and for many people, simply showing up at the gym takes all the courage they possess.

Listen to their coded language as they probably will not come out and say “Please give me advice” but rather they will say something like “I’m frustrated with my progress”. Again, be gentle and remember that you were once in their shoes. Educate them that building muscle is a very slow process. Assure them they are not weak or “hard gainers”, they are normal. At the gym, people often make the mistake of thinking that everyone shares their goal of “getting huge” but that is often not the case. Rather than just blurting out “Stop wasting your time on machines, just do squats and deadlifts!!“, find out what their goals are and what health issues they have. Don’t overwhelm them. Everyone likes to be asked for advice but watch for clues that their brain has reached the saturation point. Close by making sure they know they can ask you for further advice and also tell them online resources that might be helpful for them to look at in their spare time.

What if they are using dangerously bad form?

One painful education process for me over the years has been to learn that there is not a single “right way” to perform any given exercise. There are lots of right ways and a few wrong ways. Just because someone is using different form than me does NOT mean that its wrong. Just because some respected bodybuilder or powerlifter says that is the “right way” does not make it right for everyone. Remember, it all comes down to goals – dont make the assumption your goals are their goals. The reason that this was a painful education process for me was that it taught me that the world does not revolve around me and what I think. MY #1 goal in the gym is always to avoid injury, my #2 goal is to gain muscle, and my #3 goal is to get stronger, but for many people those are scrambled. For many people, their number one goal might not even be on that list – their goal might be to increase impulse power of their punch which is all fast twitch training.

So back to form, be very careful when you are tempted to tell someone they are using “bad form” and keep in mind that there is some chance they are actually an expert. I used to automatically categorize “bad form” as reps that were too fast and anything that used momentum. This is often the case but there are some circumstances where this is exactly what you want to do. Train like you race. If you are a boxer then limiting your chest training to slow bench press reps is stupid as you will never knock someone out with a punch that takes 2 seconds to reach their head. Maybe that person who is doing ballistic bench press is an olympic boxer?

OK, but what if its totally clear that what they are doing is dangerous?  For example, they are deadlifting with a cringeworthy rounded back.  True, they are going to kill themselves.  The thing is, they think they are experts.  If you try and give them advice, their first thought will be “jealous weakling!”.  If you really want to help someone like this, again, try the soft approach.  Try this, say “Wow, thats a lot of weight!  Want me to take a video of you with your phone?” and they will usually say “Thanks!”.  Then, at home they will look at it to post it and cringe.  They had no idea their back was so rounded!  Mission accomplished! Rather than tell someone they have “bad form” simply offer to video it for them so they can decide if they are using the form they think they are.