Client FAQ: How Should I Deal With Unsolicited Advice From "Random Gym Person"
We Personal Trainers spend hours on end in the gym and see a huge variety of people.
One of these types of people is the (often well-intended) self-proclaimed gym messiah with not a fitness qualification in sight who takes it upon themselves to give unsolicited technical advice to every single person in the gym.
Save me Jesus for I have sinned
Regardless of how bad their own technique is.
Regardless of how it makes the person feel.
As a Personal Trainer I want to help my clients be armed to deal with this kind of person.
To someone who is perhaps more vulnerable to this kind of interaction it could stop them from training, it could ruin the gym for them because they have to see said gym messiah 4-6 times a week and/or put them in what they perceive as a hostile situation.
This isn't ideal when we want our clients to enjoy the training experience. We want them to feel comfortable in the gym. It needs to be a safe place for them to be able to thrive.
The gym should be an escape from stress and anxiety. Not a place which elevates these kinds of feelings. We have the rest of our lives for that!
This article is going to give you a run down of how to deal with this specific kind of gym pest.
Who is the random gym person? What Are Their Intentions?
Maybe to try and sleep with you.
Maybe it's a misguided attempt to help.
Maybe they could potentially have a wonderful piece of advice that would actually help you. Maybe your technique is awful.
....MAYBE THE ENTIRE GYM IS LAUGHING AT YOUR DIABOLICAL TECHNIQUE
.........................Maybe your spine will explode if you keep moving so awfully!
Many of our clients will be suffering from anxiety, depression and the ever so magical combination of the two.
This can promote the kind of run away catastrophic thinking in someone who suffers from anxiety and depression.
Rachel Nall of MedicalNewsToday said this of catastrophic thinking:
Catastrophizing is a way of thinking called a 'cognitive distortion.'
A person who catastrophizes usually sees an unfavorable outcome to an event and then decides that if this outcome does happen, the results will be a disaster.
So a gym example of this might be:
"If that person thinks I am doing something wrong I'M PROBABLY DOING EVERYTHING WRONG! I'M A TOTAL FAILURE."
Causes of Catastrophic Thinking
Here's Rachel again:
"While there are several potential causes and contributors to catastrophizing, most fall into one of three categories.
Ambiguity or being vague can open a person up to catastrophic thinking.
An example would be getting a text message from a friend or partner that reads, "We need to talk."
Or to use a gym example if someone says "your form isn't very good" this can lead to catastrophizing.
"This vague message could be something positive or negative, but a person cannot know which of these it is with just the information they have. So they may start to imagine the very worst news."
"Relationships and situations that a person holds in high value can result in a tendency to catastrophize. When something is particularly significant to a person, the concept of loss or difficulty can be harder to deal with."
So if someone (maybe a PT) comes up to them in the gym and starts telling them they are doing it wrong, it could send them into a spiral of negative thoughts.
Fear, especially irrational fear, plays a big part in catastrophizing. If a person is scared of going to the doctor, they could start to think about all the bad things a doctor could tell them, even if they are just going for a check-up.
A person may also experience catastrophizing related to a medical condition or past event in their life."
In the gym this could relate to a fear of doing things wrong or doing things wrong in front of people and being laughed at. We never want our clients to feel like this but it's essential to arm them with the knowledge of how to deal with someone in this situation.
How should your clients deal with catastrophic thoughts?
First we'll discuss how to deal with the catastrophic thoughts then we'll discuss how to deal with the unsolicited advice.
Here's Rachel once more with 6 ways to acknowledge and help you deal with catastrophic thinking :
"Acknowledging that unpleasant things happen: Life is full of challenges as well as good and bad days. Just because one day is bad does not mean all days will be bad.
Recognizing when thoughts are irrational: Catastrophizing often follows a distinct pattern. A person will start with a thought, such as "I am hurting today." They will then expand on the thought with worry and anxiety, such as, "The pain is only going to get worse," or "This hurting means I'll never get better." When a person learns to recognize these thoughts, they are better equipped to handle them.
Saying "stop!": To cease the repetitive, catastrophic thoughts, a person may have to say out loud or in their head "stop!" or "no more!" These words can keep the stream of thoughts from continuing and help a person change the course of their thinking.
Thinking about another outcome: Instead of thinking about a negative outcome, consider a positive one or even a less-negative option.
Offering positive affirmations: When it comes to catastrophic thinking, a person has to believe in themselves and that they can overcome their tendency to fear the worst. They may wish to repeat a positive affirmation to themselves on a daily basis.
Practicing excellent self-care: Catastrophic thoughts are more likely to take over when a person is tired and stressed. Getting enough rest and engaging in stress-relieving techniques, such as exercise, meditation, and journaling, can all help a person feel better."
How should you or your clients deal with unsolicited advice?
I thought I'd put the question of how to deal with unsolicited advice to a group of trainer's on a Facebook group from the PTDC called Online Trainers Unite and here's some of the best advice:
For beginners it might be worth putting insecurities aside for a moment and listening to what Random Guy has to say. Some of my best conversations in the gym occurred when I was open minded and will to accept some feedback. For more experienced lifters and exercisers, still it’s worth being polite and hearing what Random Guy is suggesting. You might learn something new. But if you’re automatically closed off the being approached by strangers or listening to someone else you could be shutting yourself off to positive growth.
You could always say " Blow it out your ass". Just kidding. Seriously though, when I used to work at the gym before, there was this one obnoxious idiot who gave unsolicited advice to almost everyone. Members would complain to me about him! Obviously I couldn't spend all my time watching this guy, so I told them to say "Thanks for your concern, but this is the program given to my by my trainer. Don't worry. I'm in good hands". That just shut it down, because they were being polite to him with words like Thanks and Don't worry. If you get confrontational it's just going to escalate and make things uncomforfable the next time you see him.
Not sure if this counts, but I had someone do this to me once years ago, and I asked/challenged what the purpose of xyz exercises were for and how they were relevant to a long distance training program (I was training for a half marathon at the time). Guy literally had no answer, then tried to correct my deadlift (he was lifting with his back during his “demo”), which I called him on (politely and professionally), then informed him that I’m a PT and a former collegiate sprinter/jumper who learned how to lift properly from other certified professionals. I’d offer to my clients that if someone does it to them, question the purpose of what said person is offering if they choose to hear out the person, or to politely decline. I realize that most people are lifting for a reason, and the the random person isn’t going to probably ask why they are doing what they are doing before giving the unsolicited/potentially unsafe advice.
Having someone random come up to you at the gym can be a jarring experience.
Regardless of the intentions of the giver of unsolicited advice, it's important to know how to deal with this kind of situation in a way that causes as little conflict as possible if you want to get away.
1) Not make them look stupid by telling them to "fuck off" or something similar. Most of the time they are just trying to help.
2) Even if you aren't listening to music wearing headphones definitely stops many from approaching
3) Say you have a coach who asked you to perform your exercises in a particular way or that you'll speak to your coach about any changes to your programme or say that you need to run through any training changes with your coach before you try anything new
4) Write down their suggestions if you feel they have a good point and ask a coach about it before you start changing all your exercises. Someone who isn't qualified as a fitness pro is more likely to be wrong
5) Thank them for their help if they are genuinely trying to help
6) Remember, your form probably isn't awful and everyone in the gym probably isn't laughing at you. If someone comments on your form being bad have a couple of sessions with a coach and just make sure you aren't going wrong in any way. We all have an exercise we struggle with. You are not alone. You don't look stupid. You inspire people by regularly going to the gym.
7) Speak to your gym if you are having problems. If they don't do anything about it join a new gym or train at a different time if possible.
Make the gym your safe place to be as strong, fit and lean as you want to be.
I have space for a few online or in-person clients. Please get in touch for more details!
By Chris Kershaw