the joy of strength training


January 13th, 2008 at 4:06 am

What do you do when you see someone lifting with bad form?

Commenting on a fellow trainee’s form seems to be the ultimate no-no in today’s fitness clubs.

bad formRecently I’ve seen some poor deadlifting form in my gym. Basic stuff: rounding of the lower back, hyper-extending at the top of the lift, that kind of thing. But gym etiquette dictates that you can’t say anything to people if you are a fellow gym-goer as they will be mightily offended.

Now, I do have some sympathy with this. Weightlifting is an emotional thing! I’ve been on the receiving end of helpful advice and it can be hard to take. I have actually found it more fruitful to ask for advice on the internet using my video clips. It’s easier to be honest with yourself when the session is over and you’ve watched your clips. You can keep the emotion out of it.

I wasn’t sure what the role of the gym instructor was in this scenario as I’ve never seen any gym staff approach a member who is using bad form and offer advice. So I was interested to read in Steve Pulcinella’s blog that he has virtually given up trying to advise people in his Iron Sport Gym:

“And before you all jump down my throat for being the gym owner and not helping them let me just say this, “I have, believe me”. I don’t know if it’s a male ego thing or if people are just scared of a 320lb guy telling them what to do but everytime I try to nicely correct somebody they act like I just spit in their face. So until somebody asks me for advice they can just keep doing pulldowns until the bar is in their lap and 2″ range of motion leg presses as long as they keep paying their membership.”

I see where he’s coming from! But I think gyms have a responsibility to foster a culture where members are encouraged to seek advice. There will always be some stubborn idiots who won’t, but for the rest of us the gym can be intimidating enough without having to go and ask for advice or a spotter.

Asking for advice isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and determination to succeed. Why can’t gyms do more to encourage this? Instead of having “tummy sessions”, they should run a 10-minute “deadlifting 101 session” in the free weights room. Or play Dan John’s seminar clips on the tv screens instead of MTV.

I would like to thank publicly everyone who has helped me with my lifting, both online and offline. I’ve made enormous progress thanks to the sound advice I’ve been given. I’d even like to thank the guy in Jubilee Hall Gym, Covent Garden, to whom I was a bit sniffy when he dared to comment on my grip style!

What do you think, people? How can we solve this issue?

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  • 1

    It’s a double edged sword, many people often times can get defensive, and sometimes it’s the difference of opinion, not what is right form and what is not, specificity comes into play heavily at times. I say if they’re clearly a beginner, then it’s fair game, if not then it’s survival of the fittest.

    Jason on January 13th, 2008
  • 2

    Do you not think that gyms have more of a role to play in educating people about good form? Or are they just simply facilities that people come along and use in whatever way they want to?

    I’m not talking so much about differences of opinion, just really obvious things like dangerous back rounding.

    gubernatrix on January 14th, 2008
  • 3

    i work in a highly safety orientated culture (on the rigs) where everyone is responsible for their own safety, but it is the responsibilty of the more xperienced ppl to look after the newbies, which is what should happen in the gym. the problem in the gym there are a lot of inexperienced ppl going to gyms, and ppl do get put off by the 320lb bloke snarling and shouting at the wieghts, the way i get around it is point it out to the instructor who should then go and point it out to them the correct way to do some thing, after all they are probably paying to use a safe facilty, and it probably wont be long before someone gets sued because they were shown the wrong way to do something or they werent corrected by the gym staff. Ultimately if it was my gym i would want my staff to correct the gym goers, and if they dont like it they wouldnt come back. in case you are wondering, part of my job is to look after the gym on the rig and i will point out problems to ppl using it if they use bad form or missusing equipment.

    tentigers on January 14th, 2008
  • 4

    Tentigers, what kind of reaction do you or the instructors get if they try to advise somebody? I was discussing this with the manager of my local gym last night and she said, “They won’t be told”.

    gubernatrix on January 14th, 2008
  • 5

    mostly quite positive at work, we are all in the habit of looking out for each other, so its not problem. at the gym at home i go to the instructors are fairly good at it any way, and dont seem to have to much bother if they do speak to ppl.

    tentigers on January 14th, 2008
  • 6

    pressed wrong button there and hadnt finished, i suppose it helps if you know the person enough to be able to approach them and say something, plus the gym i use at home isnt a real hardcore one ie a municipal one not a powerlifting one so maybe the testosterone is not flowing as much!


    tentigers on January 14th, 2008
  • 7

    *sigh* I used to point out bad form. But, you know what… the onus is on them to learn what their doing. Too many people take it the wrong, and I think makes them a little ashamed. Better to let them learn by seeing.

    Christine on January 14th, 2008
  • 8

    I am popping out of the lurker’s closet for just a moment —

    Here is what I would do: I would not say anything unless specifically asked. As they ask, I would look into their eyes — you can usually tell if they are just asking, just want someone to train with them, or if they really truly want to learn. That last group is very small.

    Before I go on, I must disclose that I am a dog trainer. I teach obedience classes, and I’ve trained and competed with my dogs for over 20 years. I lift weights because I like it, and I like being stronger than the average man. (I’m a 50-ish female and I am very petite, and I find scaring the boys hilarious, and being strong helps with the dogs of course).

    If I saw you on the street with your dog, I could size up in a second or two what you are doing wrong, and I’d know how to correct it. Should I interfere? What if your dog is showing signs of early aggressive behaviors — don’t I have a moral responsibility to warn you to change how you interact with your dog?

    So up I come to you, a complete stranger. It is obvious to you I can handle dogs. It is also obvious I know what I am doing. But, here I am interfering with your life, without being invited to do so. What are the odds you will listen without taking offense? After all, your relationship with your dog is very personal, as is our relationship with our own self-image. It is difficult to take even constructive criticism on such things, even when delivered in the most positive way possible.

    What does this mean in a gym setting?

    I think if you are in a position of authority at your gym, AND you are asked, you should help. But, don’t be surprised if nothing comes of it. Just be happy, proud, and delighted the few times you are able to get through to someone.

    ok back to lurking

    ClickerTrainer on January 14th, 2008
  • 9

    @ Christine: yes, I see your point. I guess the people who really do want to learn and improve will work it out eventually and start asking for advice. And the others – well, they didn’t want it in the first place!

    @ClickerTrainer: hey, come out of lurking more often! 😉 That’s a very interesting insight and has made me think. I’ve taken advice a little badly in the past. But the advice has stayed with me and I’ve ended up following it – after stewing for a while, naturally!

    gubernatrix on January 15th, 2008
  • 10

    In my experience, the best way, particularly for correcting deadlift technique in male gym members, is to approach them after finishing a set and comment on how good it is to see someone in the gym doing such an effective exercise.

    That usually takes away the defensive reaction you sometimes get when you try to correct someone’s form. By making out you’re giving them a compliment first, it helps making a technqiue suggestion slightly easier.

    What I then do is say something along the lines of ‘do you want me to show you a good tip for being able to up your deadlift weight quicker?’ Nine times out of ten the guy says ‘sure’.

    You then show them the correct technique, making it look like you are giving them some ‘insider tip’ on hoe to get more out of the exercise, rather than telling them they’re doing it wrong in the first place.

    I have to say, it works for me. Hope this helps!


    Simon Dainton on January 15th, 2008
  • 11

    Very cunning! That would work on me for sure.

    gubernatrix on January 15th, 2008
  • 12

    Another lurker here … hello!

    This is such a touchy subject, as I think is evidenced by the range of replies it has already received.

    My story is that I used to be overweight, joined a gym, lost 70 pounds, became a group fitness instructor, trained to be a powerlifter (cut short due to shoulder injury), and been employed by the same gym I joined for the last 5 years. My knowledge and experience far outweighs that of most members at the gym. I, however, never protest to be an expert or even really good at training. I simply offer advice and suggestions that will help people reach their goals without causing injuries.

    This question is one that I am faced with each and every day. My experience has been that of what ClickerTrainer said. If I am asked, I’m more than happy to help. If not, I mind my own business and just shake my head in hopes that they really don’t hurt themselves.

    The main issue that I have run into is that “experienced” (I use this term loosely) lifters feel like they already know it all and take extreme offense to any advice offered by anyone, especially “A Girl” like me. New members are usually more receptive, although you do still get those who will be upset if you approach them and try to help them in any way – resulting in them never returning again or simply continuing to do it their way anyway. Plus, once again they look at me and think, “Why should I listen to *her*? She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

    In short, I’ve resigned myself to simply doing my job and being there to offer help/advice when asked. Otherwise I keep to myself unless the situation is extreme. And despite my better judgment in this instances, I’ll step in and make someone mad.

    Just my experience and two cents. Thanks so much for bringing this topic up and I’ve truly enjoyed everyone’s take on it. Definitely something I will carry with me to work on Monday morning.

    bluezfire on January 19th, 2008
  • 13

    Many thanks for your thoughts, bluezfire. It’s interesting that this topic has struck such a chord but I’m so glad everyone is sharing!

    In fact, I was reading a thread the other day on just this issue over at the Mark Rippetoe Q&A forum on Strength Mill.

    Rip’s response is well put:

    gubernatrix on January 19th, 2008
  • 14

    I do nothing, unless they ask for help.

    Natural Woman on January 27th, 2008
  • 15

    Yes, it seems to be the consensus that one really can’t do much about it but let people find out for themselves (or not!).

    gubernatrix on January 27th, 2008
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