Unsolicited advice at the gym | why it’s sometimes better to keep quiet

I love that many people view their gym or workout studio as a community.

That they support and encourage their fellow gym-goers. Share workout tips and tricks. Are quick to offer a spot when need be. Share equipment when it’s busy. Express concern if an exercise looks like it might result in an injury. Offer advice for improving the benefits of an exercise.

However, there’s a fine line between being helpful and being critical.

advice in the gym

Not a kettlebell, not a clear shot. Go ahead. Critique me 😉

Imagine, for example, that you see a woman performing a kettlebell swing.

Based on what you’ve been taught, she’s swinging the bell too high.

You don’t know this woman from Adam. Do you interrupt your own workout to walk over to her and voice your concerns? Telling her why you don’t think she should be performing the movement the way she is? Asking her where she learned to swing like that? Citing your experience to ensure that she understands why your approach is better than hers?

Even if your intent is truly to be helpful, your advice may have other unexpected consequences.

Unsolicited advice at the gym | why it’s often better to keep your comments to yourself

  • people are much more likely to respond positively to unsolicited advice when they know the person offering it. If you see somebody you don’t know performing an exercise you don’t think is safe or effective, a comment from you, a stranger, is unlikely to convince them to change what they’re doing. At best, you’ll have wasted your time. At worst, you’ll have alienated a potential friend and workout buddy.
  • receiving unsolicited advice can be embarrassing. For newcomers to exercise or those who already feel uncomfortable exercising in front of others, having their ‘mistakes’ pointed out publicly can lead to feelings of incompetence and low self-worth. It may reinforce the feeling that they don’t belong at the gym. It may make them think twice about coming tomorrow. Your good intentions may undermine their fitness journey, rather than enhance it.
  • exercise science is not black and white. Even certified fitness professionals don’t always agree on the ‘best’ way to perform a given exercise and frequently admit that what’s good for one person’s body may not be beneficial for another. Sharing your favourite version of an exercise may contradict what her trainer has shown her to be an appropriate movement for her body and fitness goals. Don’t become a ‘my way or the highway’ cliche.
  • if you’re a fitness professional, unsolicited advice may be interpreted as ‘pushy’ or ‘sales-y’. Most people don’t want to be ‘pitched’ when they’re exercising. We all get enough of that via e-mail 😉  (Warning, if you sign up to receive a copy of my free e-book ‘5 Steps to Exercise Happiness’ below, you’ll only receive invites to programs you’ll love)

Have you ever been given un-asked for advice at the gym?

How did it make you feel?





  1. I have once – funny it was kettlebell swings. But it was from the gym owner who was also a trainer and trying to get me to teach there. I actually wasn’t offended. But, I knew him well and was happy to learn to be doing it correctly so as to engage the right muscles. I could feel it immediately so I knew he was right. It can be so hard to not want to help someone though, especially when you are worried they really might actually hurt themselves. Good post!

    • I think it’s fine if you know the person. This post was actually triggered by an encounter a client of mind had at the gym with another trainer (one who doesn’t even work in our gym). Let’s just say that the encounter was a tad aggressive…

  2. It’s been so long since I’ve worked out in an open gym I can’t remember if I’ve received unsolicited help. But I know there have been times I wanted to give it. I just keep my thoughts to myself. 🙂
    Pamela Hernandez recently posted…Monthly Workout Playlist August 2014My Profile

    • As a trainer in a public gym, I regularly put my blinders on. I’m happy to help my clients and other gym members when asked, but would never think to approach a complete stranger and critique their form!

  3. Great advice. I used to see a woman running in my neighborhood wearing Keds. I really wanted to suggest that she go to a running store to get good running shoes, but I stopped myself. 🙂
    Coco recently posted…Blogging Smarter — My CoSchedule ReviewMy Profile

  4. I know not to do this for sure from experience! 🙂 I think the points you made are clear & correct. If someone asks me, yup, will offer up advice!

    I once had a guy come up to me in my younger years. I was quite a bit fitter than he was & as you know, I am a form person. He wanted to offer up advice…. I smiled politely, thanked him & then asked him if I looked like I did not know what I was doing??? 😉
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & That DashMy Profile

    • I LOVE your answer Jody! But now I’m wondering what he thought he needed to tell you that you didn’t already know? 😉

  5. I had a guy at a gym come up to me, tell me I had lost “a ton” of weight and then proceed to tell me how to lose weight. This guy was very overweight and I was at my weight goal. If he had asked me for weight-loss advice, I would have told him to put the time he spent being a know-it-all into working out.
    Jen recently posted…After the #EmptyGlassCity crisis: What next?My Profile

    • Jen, who needs that kind help? Honestly, do people have no sense of tact? I’m sorry you had to experience this 🙁

  6. I never give advice, but I’ll always answer when asked. Be careful what you ask…

    Contemplative Fitness recently posted…Formative Moment #3,287: Fitness Culture On The Skids…My Profile

  7. Sorry, wrong video. Never mind 🙁
    Contemplative Fitness recently posted…Formative Moment #3,287: Fitness Culture On The Skids…My Profile

  8. Yes, sometimes it’s better to keep your comments to yourself…but not if that person is a total beginner and does an exercise in a completely wrong way. By sharing your expertise not only you help him learn the correct form, but you also help him prevent future injuries.
    Johnny B. recently posted…What Are Tonsil Stones?My Profile

  9. I once tried to show and explain how to do an exercise to a friend of mine. What a disaster that was. I’m not a trainer and although I was doing the exercise correctly as I have worked with a trainer for many years, I could not figure out what was going wrong when she tried to follow my instructions.
    Anyway when I see a person doing something that may cause them injury I always just report it to the staff at my gym. They are the experts that can access if it is really a problem.

    • Some people have a really difficult time following physical instructions. I’ve seen it many times in group fit classes and have a couple of clients who need actual hands on to figure things out. Good call leaving it to the weight room staff. That’s what they’re there for!

  10. I had a young guy awhile ago, ask me if I wanted him to remove plates off the leg press machine when he was done. I said no, I wanted to add more but thank you. He went on to ask me if I knew what I was doing and to be careful. I wanted to pinch his cheek and tell him he was “so cute” to make a point!