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I am always curious about this, not sure if its appropriate question, but I imagine others wonder the same thing. I usually don't care when it is simple exercises like biceps, but sometimes I see people squatting, deadlifts or the jerk and clean in very dangerous ways. (I.e. going up on tippy toes using calfs instead of using quads for the jerk and clean. You can kill your lower back by doing this)

Should I tell them, or just ignore it and let them possibly hurt themselves badly? I am not a personal training, so I don't feel it is my place to tell them what to do. But I know horrible and dangerous form when I see it.

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I hate unsolicited advice. I don't want to put on more weights. I don't want to do other exercises. I have my plan. If I want to know something, I will ask an instructor. –  gruszczy Nov 27 '11 at 14:25
    
There are hundreds of ways to do every exercise. Just because you think it's bad form, doesn't make it so. Why not just go to the gym to workout and leave your critiquing hat at home? Problem solved. –  BradH Nov 29 '11 at 16:15
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3 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Unfortunately this is a landmine... You never know how the other person is going to take it, and more often than not it is not well received. I know of people lifting much longer than I, and when they mentioned something to someone else about technique, the recipient of the constructive criticism got very angry.

Here is the problem: you are not affiliated with the gym in any way other than being a member. It's not your responsibility to correct them, and if you ever mention something to them it is unlikely that the well intentioned comment will be received. If you were a personal trainer affiliated with that gym, it might be better received.

Now, I know this is a remote possibility, but you may be wrong in what you are telling the person. Even if the problem you are trying to correct is the right problem, the wrong cues can get the person to be even more unsafe. It takes working with someone over time to find out which cues work with them and which ones don't.

Bottom line: hold your peace and hope for the best. However, if they ask you, then answer their questions honestly and truthfully.

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Berin brought up the gym's personal trainers, which presumably you are not - but if there are trainers around, why don't you casually ask them if the person is doing something wrong? Maybe they'll tell you it's correct (in which case you either learn something - or decide the trainers aren't very well trained :) Or maybe they'll agree that it's wrong, and the trainer has an opportunity to offer corrections to one of their customers.

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It's all about presentation really. Before I officially became a personal trainer I started out randomly helping people at the gym. Out of the hundreds I've given advice to only a handful took it negatively and even then we just didn't see eye to eye and life goes on.

First thing is to weigh how helpful your advice against the fact that you are going to interrupt their workout/take their time. I would only say something if it's something major or the person involved clearly is a novice and is struggling.

Here's how I do it:

  • Don't just barge in and tell them they are doing something wrong. Open with a question like "have you ever had knee/wrist pain" or "are you trying to improve your squat form". This will show that your intention is to help them, not be a judgmental asshole.

  • After you learn more about their situation and if they are having problems connect it with your own personal experience. For example, "I developed knee pain after doing squats and it only went away after focusing on sitting back more".

  • That way you can slowly deliver your advice and get a feel for how the person would respond.

Remember, people like advice but they don't like to be belittled or insulted. Make sure your intentions are clear and don't make complete assertions -like you should never do X or Y even if its true. Stick to phrasing like "its better to" or "that works a lot better".

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A tip that a lot of people at the gym used to do to me was ask, "Can I make a suggestion?" rather than outright saying something is wrong or right. It's a good tactical signal to prime the person's mind that what they're doing is not completely wrong and also open them up for improvement. If they say no, then that's fine. –  Matt Chan Nov 28 '11 at 0:28
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