Advice at the Gym

An interesting psychological game plays out on occasion at the gym between guys. This might go on between girls, too, but I’ve never been involved in it. It involves unsolicited advice and action.

You’re there, you have your program, and you see someone doing something so wrong, it can’t possibly be benefiting them, and might actually be hurting them. Or, conversely, you have your plan and it only looks like you’re doing something wrong, that actually does benefit you, even though it appears you might be in extreme jeopardy of injuring yourself.

What to do if you’re either one of those two? My general rule is to never comment on someone else’s routine. I live in my cone at the gym, and I’m there doing what works for me, and I expect others to live by the same guideline.

But doing something different from the norm – say for example, following the Mark Rippetoe system of training which involves heavy lifting and pushing yourself to add slightly more each week – can elicit the odd comment now and again, and the odd action. Here are some of the usual suspects and how they behave:

  • The Questioner – This guy asks you about your routine, but not with real curiosity. He’s asking because he wants to tell you what you’re doing wrong. An example of this: “Hey, man, I noticed you’re looking at the floor on your squats. Why man? Throws your back out of alignment. Now, if you want to do a real squat, etc.” I usually cite Rippetoe’s method, and leave it at that. I’m not trying to make a convert.
  • The Recommender – Your set is done, you’re feeling good, if a little spent, you’re ready for a nice long sit. Old dude with a bandanna circling his head, either wearing jogging pants that hit him too high at the ankles or possibly jeans, says, “You know what works for me…” And I’m sure it does work for him. But if I’ve got something working for me, why would I switch to his routine? Because I aspire to his reach his sartorial levels?
  • The Hoverer – This is the guy who thinks you might need a spot, even though you know you don’t. I’m not afraid to ask for someone to spot me, but if I know I’m fine on the weight, I don’t. This happened to me with a young kid a few weeks ago. He would just linger during the entire set, a shadow that I found distracting. I didn’t end up saying something to him, but I was sorely tempted.

Here’s why: I don’t mind the Hoverer so much. I think the inclination to save the life of your fellow gym member is a good one. It’s like when my wife warns me about something while driving. My inclination is to say, “Yeah, I see it,” with some reprimand in my tone to send the message  “hello, I’ve got this driving thing, you don’t need to give me the extra pair of eyes routine.” But I try to keep that biting tone in check, and say thanks. An extra pair of eyes could save your life, and a hoverer could save your neck.

In general, I don’t fall into any of the three roles I mention above. But who knows? As my pants get shorter and my inclination to give people personal space erodes (does that happen to everyone past a certain age?), maybe I’ll start advising the heck out of the whippersnappers at the local Y. “I’ve got some questions and recommendations while I hover, and don’t you forget it!”