T Nation

Telling People They're Doing it Wrong


So I didn't know where to put this at the time so here goes....

I work at a local gym and I constantly see people of all ages doing certain exercises wrong. I want to tell them "Let me show you how to do it right" then I imagine someone coming up to me and saying that, I would take offense.

When it comes to my closest friends trying to dead and squat I'm quick to show them how to properly. The other day my hockey friend was squatting just above parallel and I was telling "squat deeper!" He then says "that's as far as I need to go" which wasn't parallel.

When I hear this how many people really want advice when it comes to doing exercise properly?


this is hard to say. I actually have come across the same problem starting out as a personal trainer. Usually I only give advice to individuals i recognize as having very little experience in working out. If its a guy thats fairly big/looks like they feel they have an idea of what they are doing, then dont bother approaching. its a judgment call. some ppl appreciate the pointers, others dont. you learn to recognize each set of individuals as you get used to it. its usually a more focused individual thats you dont want to approach.

another thing you should take into account is possibly addressing what their goals are (if it turns out the person is "more experienced". try to ask what it is they are trying to acheive, and perhaps gain knowledge from those ppl. it could be that they only work within a given range because they are injured or have specific training goals that requires them to do an exercise differently. if theres no specific training goals that they give, then you at least get a better idea of the perception of some ppl have for a given workout.


In my experience, if you are bigger and stronger than the person with bad technique, and especially if you are hitting the same bodypart they are, they will usually come and ask you for advice if you don't have a black hooded sweatshirt pulled over your head with headphones on and wearing a nametag that says Hi My Name is LEAVE ME ALONE.


They usually won't take your advice. You know, they ride a bike so they don't need to train legs.


Only time I've given a stranger advice at the gym was when I was sharing equipment with them, and their technique was bad enough that it looked dangerous. Examples would include doing RDLs or Deadlifts with a rounded back, half-squatting, rounding the back on the squat, or horrendous bench form.
Granted I see someone doing something wrong everytime I walk into my gym, whether its a bench press or a fucking curl, so unless dispensing advice is convenient I don't bother, otherwise I would never get around to actually training.


I'm figuring this means you're a trainer there, and not front desk or janitorial?

You would be offended, and rightly so. People don't want to be scolded and told they're doing wrong. If you're going to approach someone to "correct them", there are a few rules you need to follow.

1) Understand ahead of time that, in all likelihood, they'll just "yes" you to death while you're talking and revert back to their own method as soon as you turn around. If they really wanted help, they would've hired a trainer.

1A) Be sure that the person doesn't already have a trainer. If they do, and you contradict that trainer's advice, not only do you confuse the client, but you piss off a co-worker.

2) Be 115% sure they're doing something "wrong" before you go to correct them. Are you pissed because someone's doing a partial ROM seated row? It could be on purpose. Maybe they're working around an injury. Shallow squats? Maybe they're being quad-focused or nursing an ankle injury. Point being, unless you know their entire training program without a doubt, you're only noticing a snapshot. Jumping to a conclusion could be a mistake.

The other day I had my girlfriend doing overhead cable reverse shrugs (think pulldowns without bending your arms, for scapular retraction/depression.) Now, if you (or an uninformed person) saw her doing those from across the room, you'd think she was just some spaz with horrendous pulldown technique. Truth is, she's addressing some shoulder issues. So, what you see, might not be what is.

3) If you've decided to approach them, phrase your comments as being more helpful, not just, "You're wrong, I know what's right." Instead, try, "Hey, sorry to interrupt. I was wondering if I could show you a variation of that exercise that works LMNOP muscle more, and is a little safer for your XYZ."

That approach is more likely to get you an in, but still, don't be surprised if they respond with a "No thanks, this works fine for me." You can't save 'em all, man.

Training friends is a little different. Either flat-out stop helping them if they're just going to waste your time or take the time to explain why deep squatting is better (if you believe it is) and, in this case, explain how it'll help his hockey game.

Can you imagine if a math teacher said "Johnny, you need to study your multiplication tables." Johnny says, "No, Addition and subtraction is all I need to learn." Same principle applies here. You're a teacher, clients are students. Teach, instruct, and hope that some of it actually sinks in.

Few. Few people want unsolicited advice. This shouldn't be a surprise.

For what it's worth, when I used to work in a gym, wearing the shirt with "TRAINER" on the back, I learned quickly enough that the benefit:hassle ratio of giving out unsolicited advice wasn't worth it at all. I saved my advice for clients, that way, it's more valuable.

When I'm doing my own workouts, I don't bother addressing other people's training unless they're in immediate risk of injury (which rarely happens, surprisingly/fortunately). If someone's benching and struggling to get a rep up, I'll pay attention and get ready to bolt over if it comes down.

But even when I see round-back lifting, I don't leap to the rescue, because it isn't necessarily a dangerous thing (depends a lot on the individual, the exercise, and a few other factors generally not worth stressing over at the time.)


You basically nailed all my questions and concerns!
I'm working on getting my personal training at the moment and I work at the front desk of the gym. From reading what you have wrote I have still much to learn about being a personal trainer. Thanks!


I would say don't interrupt someone's workout at the gym unless they are asking for advice or unless they look like they are doing something clearly dangerous. You never know, they may be doing it that way for a reason (injury, etc.)


I will give some unsolicited advice and it is usually taken well. the only time I give any advice is when someone is doing Deads, squats, or something equally difficult and it looks like their form could do with some help. if they are doing something bullshit "something showing no effort" then I don't even bother. I usually tell them it's cool that they are doing them. I am one of the only people who do them in my commercial gym, not the power gym. then I try to help them out and adjust their form.

I've yet to run into someone who doesn't mind some help. just don't be a dick. say "wow impressed you're hitting deads but if you arch your lower back it might help the weight and not injure your back." I usually help out the guys like me when I started. I was very fat as a kid. I am helping out a 8th grade kid who's been coming in with his mom. he's a "big" (very fat) kid and I just say to him hey man if you ever have any ?'s and I'm here feel free. He's asked a few and he's motivated so I like helping. If you look like you know what your doing, or lift like you do people don't mind the help. if someone came to me now and didn't look like the lifted or could move some weight I would be dismissive, if they had some insight I would listen though.


This is an amusing topic for me.

For the most part, I try to just do my thing. I really try hard to not be Unsolicited Advice Guy.

Lately, however, there seems to be a terribly misguided college woman's basketball coach who has sent these girls in throngs out into the community with a written training plan where they do ab work and standing militaries before overhead squats, blah blah blah, and every one of these girls (whom are all taller than me which isn't saying a lot) look absolutely miserable in every movement they do. Shit, they can't execute walking from the bench to the squat rack with good form. It's downright distracting.

I finally snapped with two of the harder working ones that came in and asked them what the hell was going on with their training. I tried to be nice about it and at first they were kind of taken aback and sheepish. They didn't feel that they could deviate from the written plan is the bottom line.

Interestingly, now when they see me in the gym they ask me to look at their form and have actually quit doing the overhead squats and are doing front squats instead and are doing that movement first because what I told them about what they were doing apparently sunk in after our talk. They have also backed off the weight they are handling significantly as that was a huge part of the problem.

I guess my point is sometimes hard working, goal oriented people get programs written by coaches who couldn't find their ass with both hands and a map, that actually will make them vulnerable to injury when the competitive season starts, and they just need someone to question what they are doing.

The same thing, for example, with a young kid who has written his own program based on something he read on the internet and is of the opinion GM's are the end all be all of lifts and can't even execute a back squat with reasonable form. When you are looking at a kid about to tear his shit up, I kind of feel obligated to ask a few well placed questions.

Some folks need help. It's just how you approach them


If somebody big gives me advice, I usually listen to it. If somebody small gives me advice, I usually want to slap them.


Well, in my case it probably helps even more that they see me training there with strong, technically sound lifters their age.


Being big doesn't automatically mean they no more, saying that generally i'm more likely to take on board advice from people bigger than me. Equally i've seen the "bigger" people using seemingly unorthodox training techniques to say the least.


If the guy is really doing it wrong and I feel generous I come to the guy and I say: Lemme give you a trick so you can ''name exercise'' more weight or grow faster. I dont go like: You are all wrong!! I tell them how to do the exercise and why it is better to do it that way.


There are a couple people in my gym I would listen to if they gave me advice. Other than that, I despise unsolicited advice. I think I've made reference to that fact that I was born a mutant, we're talking freak show dog girl in the circus kind of shit, so while I look normal now, I have some physical differences from other people. There are certain ranges of movement that I am simply not capable of while others are easy for me and incredibly difficult for most people. Sometimes I look really weird, but that's normal for me and I'm not willing to seriously injure myself in an attempt to force my body to be "normal".

I try to keep that in mind when I see someone at the gym doing something "stupid".


Bigger, stronger people know more than smaller, weaker people about getting big and strong. It's basically a fact.


maybe he cant squat deeper because he has a bad knee or tight hips. you dont always have to squta below parallel for it to a squat.


Unless someone's in immediate danger of hurting themselves I figure it's none of my business as I remember getting unsolicited advice when I was younger and didn't appreciate it.



So your saying a strong 250lbs 35% body fat gym member would know more than a personal trainer that is say 190lbs 8% body fat behind the desk would know more? Lets just start hiring big strong fat people to run a gym then.

Be more specific.

I meant squat deeper to get to parallel not necessarily ATG.


I never said that ^^^. Just because some one isn't bigger and stronger doesn't necessarily mean they no less than some one who is. Some people are born with better genetics so can get away with a lot more and get better results than lets say some one who's pre-disposed to be puney but reads up about every technique going to get better muscle and takes every supplements but can only gain a few pounds. Not everyone wants to get too that size, but i'm not disputing that if your going to take advice from someone you'd take advice from someone who's achieved similar goals to what you want to achieve. If I wanted to become a slim under wear model type i'd want to ask the under wear models.