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Correcting people at the gym who didn’t ask for it isn’t ‘helpful’ – it’s toxic

I’m minding my own business, you should too


I am in what is arguably the most successful gym era of my life. It’s not the first time I’ve ever dabbled, but it is the first time I’ve gone really consistently, remained motivated and seen clear results that are honestly making me feel amazing. In the past, the gym has felt an extremely daunting place. Somewhere that someone like me couldn’t be further from their comfort zone, a place I have to psyche myself up to go. I’ve been a few different gyms in my lifetime, but the first trip to a new one never gets any less daunting. When I’m at the gym I’m in my own determined bubble – I’m invisible. Me and my music doing what I need to do before I go home. And do you know what pops that bubble? Someone barging over to me and giving me their advice and gym help on what I should be doing differently for optimum results.

Whether well intentioned or not, giving people help they didn’t ask for at the gym is toxic – and here’s why.

You don’t know why people are there

Thankfully, no one has actually ever come over to me in the gym and critiqued my form or offered advice. If they had, I probably wouldn’t go – and that’s honestly the truth of the matter. The worst thing that’s happened to me in a gym was in Liverpool when I was a student. I was on the rope pulling machine and took a second to look at my phone and change the song between reps. I felt someone tap on my shoulder – it was this huge, muscular bloke about 20 years older than me. He said, and I quote, “Are you using this or are you just sitting on your phone?” I remember his passive aggressive smile and how much I wanted the ground to swallow me up so vividly. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

I honestly believe if you have the confidence in you to approach a stranger working out in the gym and give them advice they haven’t asked for, then you’ve never known how it feels to stress about going to the gym. And I will say that this approaching behaviour comes from men, mostly straight. The confidence you need to go over to a stranger without them asking is wild to me. I personally spend my gym sessions barely even looking up, and I’m a confident person in non gym contexts. Why aren’t you just working on yourself? If you’re not being paid to be a personal trainer, with all due respect, save your breath. It can be damaging even if you mean it with good intentions.

You might not even be right

If you haven’t got a personal trainer t-shirt on, how do I even know you’re giving me the right advice? Am I meant to just follow you blindly because you’ve got a six pack? Please let me get back to my playlist in peace.

I can’t think of any other situation where someone doing this would be deemed helpful

I saw a couple of comments around uninvited gym help whenever it’s come up online saying “Wouldn’t you like to be told if you’re doing it wrong?” I suppose, on some level, yes? But by this logic, why aren’t we doing it everywhere? If I see a stranger in my office doing some shit writing, should I go over to them and just offer my tips and advice? If I went over to someone buying something ugly in a clothes shop and told them that they should be something more fashionable instead, and then when they protested I replied “I’m just trying to help”, what do you reckon the chances of them saying “Oh thanks!” would be? Slim, I’d bet.

I’m being sensationalist, but you know where I’m coming from. If I wanted help I’d ask for it, and I’d ask it from a personal trainer if I could bloody well afford one.

It’s self-serving

To kind of wrap this frustrated rant up, I think I speak for every anxious gym goer that all we want is to be left alone. Our entire time in there is fuelled by a process of gearing ourselves up. I don’t know if offering unasked for advice to people you deem to be worse at the gym than you makes you feel more validated or useful, but I can assure you, for us it’s hell. If we’re flopping, let us flop in peace. When we want gym help, we’ll let you know. Until then, I’m minding my own business – you should probably mind yours too.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• How to get over your fear of the gym

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