Purpose and Limitations: What you Need to Know Before Giving Advice at the Gym

As a general rule of thumb, I have a strict rule about offering advice at the gym. Before offering any type of training tips, there are two questions you need to ask the person before imparting your divine wisdom:

1. What are you training for? (i.e. appearance, rehab, lose weight, gain weight, specific activity, hobby, competition, etc.)

2. What are your limitations? (i.e. medical, physical, mental, scheduling, etc.)

Allow me to elaborate on each of these with two short anecdotes.

The Airborne Sit-up
I'm a United States Marine -- and proud of it. But in order to become a parachutist, I had to attend the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. And needless to say, Marines and soldiers do things a bit differently.

In order to pass the airborne physical fitness test, I had to train to do sit-ups like the Army does sit-ups. Makes sense, right?

As Marines, we do crunches. But the Army does old school, hand-behind-your-head sit-ups. They may not be the best kind of sit-up, but if that's what I have to do, so be it.

It doesn't make much sense to critique my ugly Army sit-ups without knowing exactly what I'm training for, does it? How does giving advice on the superiority of crunches over full-blown, neck-wrenching, back-bending sit-ups help me without knowing why I'm doing them?

Answer: it doesn't.

The Shoulder Injury
I grew up in the Midwest and wrestled for a high school in Minnesota -- home to one of the nation's greatest collegiate wrestling teams, the Minnesota Gophers.

During a varsity tournament match my junior year, my opponent (seeded 1st in the tournament, I was seeded 2nd) obtained an illegal hold of my head and snapped my neck to the side -- inflicting paralysis and nerve root damage in my left shoulder (C5).

Long story short, my season was over, but I learned to compensate and found a way to wrestle my senior year (with personal coaching from Jim Mastro, recipient of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Medal of Courage).

It took years for my shoulder to fully recover, but in the interim, I was able to perform a modified shoulder press and some other strange looking shoulder exercises.

It wouldn't have made much sense to give me shoulder exercise advice without knowing the extent of my limitations, would it?

Now, I'm not trying to be a complete jerk on the subject. It could very well be that you see a gym newbie doing sit-ups or shoulder presses all wrong, and wish to be a gentleman (or lady) and offer a little innocent advice. It could very well be that someone is simply doing an exercise wrong and needs to be corrected.

I'm not saying don't give advice.

My point is that you should at least discover the purpose behind that person's training, and any limitations they may have. Even when folks come to me with a specific question, I respond first with those two questions.

1. What are you training for?
2. What are your limitations?

After obtaining the answers, I fully believe much more proper advice can be given.


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