Should you correct a stranger’s form at the gym?

Wow. Excuse me while I clean up the dust bunnies and cobwebs that have collected here during my absense.

In the meantime, here’s a story from today.

Earlier at the gym I did a back workout, followed by a cardio finisher (specifically the one found here).

I was in the bathroom right before I was about to jump on the treadmill for Tabata intervals, when a woman stopped me.

“Excuse me, I’ve noticed that you do a lot of the right exercises, but it seems like sometimes you don’t take the time to do them with fully correct form.”

Oh boy. Here we go. I noticed myself getting defensive, but kept my cool.

“Like what?” I asked.

She told me that I lean back too much while doing chin-ups, instead of staying straight, and that I drop down too fast. She also mentioned that I should bring my back knee lower when I do jump lunges.

I was immediately annoyed and started running through excuses in my mind, like: Keeping my body straight while I do chin-ups is something I already know that I need to work on. Even for the majority of experienced lifters, very few have 100% perfect form. It’s one of those things where there is almost always room for improvement. And as for the jump lunges, I noticed that I was keeping my back knee kind of high and made an effort to drop it for a few reps, but this was cardio and I was more focused on breathing and trying not to have a heart attack.

The lady made it very clear that she wasn’t trying to criticize me, but I still felt nit-picked. Partially because I already know I need to improve those things. But mostly because of my ego. I know that the learning process will never stop, but I feel pretty well-informed when it comes to exercise form. So when someone challenges that, I have to make an effort to silence that little voice in my head that says, Well who do YOU think you are?

Once I got a hold of my defensiveness I was able to accept that she was just trying to be helpful. And I had to admit that she had a point. I get lazy about my form sometimes, and that’s something I really should avoid if I want to be strong and injury-free. All the things that I told myself to justify my less than great form were, as I said, excuses. Self-defense mechanisms, yanno?

So as you can see, going up to people and correcting their form in the gym is a touchy subject, especially if you aren’t a trainer.

This is the first time I’m mentioning this, but I’m actually studying to get certified as a personal trainer by the NASM. The exchange I had with this women is actually kind of interesting to me, because it’s addressed in a chapter about customer service.

Basically, the book says that as a personal trainer, there is a very specific way to approach people to correct their form. If you say things like, “Can I help you with that?” or “Do you mind if I show you the right way to do it?” it is extremely off-putting to the other person because it challenges their personal beliefs. And I can totally see why. People don’t like to be told they’re wrong. And you might embarrass them or make them feel self conscious.

That’s a big part of the reason why I never go up to anyone in the gym and try to correct their form. One, I’m not a personal trainer. Two, it’s none of my business. Three, there’s a good chance I’m going to offend them.

I’d like it if people chimed in on this. I know we’d all benefit from not getting defensive when someone corrects us, but is there ever a time when a person should keep their comments to their selves?

Also, I’m genuinely curious to know if other people get lazy about their form!

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14 Comments

  1. Amanda - RunToTheFinish

    hey saw you listed on hlb as a miami blogger and wanted to say hi!

    I agree correcting someone’s form is really touchy. I have an itch to do it with running, but won’t unless someone asks

    Seriously impressed with your pull up pictures from a previous post, i’m working on it but can’t yet!

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      Thanks for stopping by! Sorry I’m responding so late. I guess I’ve stopped receiving emails letting me know when people comment. But anyway, keep trying with the pull-ups! You’ll get there eventually 🙂

      Reply
  2. Conor Maguire

    How did you know that you lean back too much during chin-ups? Do you watch yourself in a mirror? I have always appreciated when people who I respected have given me advice on form in whatever it is I am doing whether that be dancing, track, at the gym, whatever. Doesn’t mean I have to know them either – I am fine with random people who know what they’re doing trying to help me out.

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      The thing is that a lot of people who try to correct your form at the gym don’t know what they’re talking about, as evidenced by the ridiculous things I’ve heard countless times before. Personally I feel like those people just like to hear themselves talk.

      Reply
      1. Heather

        I completely agree. I am a strength and conditioning major at the university I go too, & I’ve taken countless weight training & conditioning courses. I am also a certified personal trainer. I was doing squats one time at the gym, & this guy came up to me and started critiquing me. & It was awkward because the advice he gave me was all wrong, & he told me “it’s what he learned in high school.” I smiled politely and said thanks. But Yeah. If a random person comes up and critiques you, you need to make sure they are a credible source.

        Reply
  3. Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans

    Such an interesting topic!! In my opinion, unless you are trained and certified to give out this type of advice you probably should keep quiet for a few reasons: One, you may actually be giving incorrect information and do more harm than good. Second, you might have your credibilty called into question and should be able to justify why you are in a position to assess someone else.
    That said, if someone is risking serious injury you may want to step in or ask someone who works at the gym to nicely give the person the feedback they need to keep themself safe.

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      I agree with you on all accounts!

      Reply
  4. Caitlin

    I once saw a kid who was flopping dumbbells around while trying to do bicep curls and so I suggested that if he moved his arm slower and with more control, he’d get more out of the workout. The kid looked so embarrassed that I was sorry I ever said anything.

    I’ve never had anyone correct my form, so I don’t know how I would take it if someone did. I’m sure I’d probably be embarrassed at first but if the advice seemed useful and well-intended, I bet I’d eventually be okay with it.

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      I try to keep an open mind about it and remind myself that the person is just trying to be helpful. But a lot of the time what the person is telling me isn’t helpful, like the gajillion times guys have told me that I’m squatting too deep. In this case the lady, although a bit nit-picky, was a little more accurate with her suggestions. So that’s why eventually I was okay with it.

      Reply
  5. Sable@SquatLikeALady

    Oh boy you’re never gonna shut me up now!

    First of all, I have noticed that most of the people who approach others directly, um, kind of don’t know what they’re talking about. This is all anecdotal and obviously not statistical but I’m just saying… the advice I’ve been given first-person by other gym-goers has almost always been bad, sometimes DANGEROUS, advice. Things like “you’re squatting too deep” (when I was going 2″ below parallel) and “Why are you tucking your elbows when you’re benching?!” HOWEVER….because I work out with Max sometimes very experienced people (we have a couple of IFBB pros in our gym) will tell HIM things that I should change to get more bang for my buck. (This is how I learned how to *really* bench – how to arch, use leg drive, etc.) I think it’s because they realize the value of being polite.

    ALSO… funny story: Max is ripped. Like, obviously knows what he’s doing, 7 years of training experience, 20″ arms, etc. On a WEEKLY basis someone who is obviously new in the gym (as evidenced by their form, demeanor, etc — not that there’s anything wrong with being new in the gym) will come over and say something like “Your legs will grow more if you squat with a wider stance!” It’s the weirdest thing.

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      I KNOW!!! I’ve been told countless times before that I’m squatting too deep, which is just…NO. But I’ve accepted that when you go to a commercial chain gym, you’re not exactly going to be dealing with the most fitness informed crowd.

      Reply
  6. Otakitty Cosplay

    Oh man… I’m nowhere near the level of a trainer or even a hardcore fitness aficionado, but I’ve been working out long enough and learning about certain things here and there to not consider myself a noob…
    Of course, once you know a bit more, you start noticing the things that other people are doing wrong, and I guess, in a way you get an urge to help them, for their own good! So they don’t waste time at the gym, or get injured.
    I shut my mouth cuz I don’t look like a fit person at all, and I probably don’t know all that much anyways; but I tell friends what I know and try to keep them in line if we work out together (like with Teri).

    But do I get the urge to butt in to other people’s business? I do. Would I like it if somebody else chimed in about how I workout? If they look like they know what they talking about, I’ll listen!

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      I think it’s all in the approach. One time I tried to help two girls who were trying to figure out how to squat with a barbell, but I ended up scaring them away lol.

      Reply
  7. matt

    Cpt here. It’s too bad that really means jack all now considering how many “personal trainers” I’ve seen who screw people over with their crappy knowledge.
    However, when I see someone wrecking their joints doing odd ball exercises that I know they saw on instagram, I get really concerned for peoples health. That being said, sometimes I approach, sometimes I don’t. However, when I do, I try to be as polite as possible. I start wirth stating my qualifications, then by saying I’m concerned that joints could be damaged, then say, “in my opinion/experience…” Seems to be better taken, however, I’m thinking of never saying anything, because people will always put their guard up.

    Reply

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