Gym Newbies Beware! Receiving Advice in the Gym

Personally, I have been a member and regular attendee of a commercial gym for seven years. During this time, I have both experienced and witnessed situations in which a lesser experienced person (termed the gym newbie) is given advice with regards to their training. But I'm not talking about the often "good" advice you will receive from a trained professional (such as a personal trainer). I am talking about the recommendations from your Average Joe who trains a few times a week and is a self-proclaimed expert in the field of exercise and nutrition.

If you are a member of a commercial gym, you will know the exact persona that I am talking about. There are always a few people like this in every single gym. This person is the relatively inexperienced gym-goer who really doesn't have the best physique themselves. Their resume may entail one (or more) of the following attributes:

  • Claims to bench press 100kg (when really they need a spotter to assist and can't lower the bar right down to their chest)
  • Have read several pages on a bodybuilding web site
  • Had a personal trainer for a period of time
  • Have been a member of the gym for a year
  • Reads fitness magazines often
  • Knows "someone"

For the purposes of this article, let's call this type of person "Mickey" (inspired by Mickey Mouse).

From my personal experience, I have found that Mickey will approach you for one of two main reasons. The first would be to genuinely assist you because you're new to the gym and aren't too familiar with what you're doing. The second is to fuel his or her own ego, which can often be the case with guys in the weight lifting area. Whether their intentions are selfish or selfless, you need to ascertain whether or not Mickey's advice is sound and should be taken on-board.

The irony of this topic is that often Mickey will be an expert in the field that they personally struggle most with. In my early days of training, I received weight loss advice from someone who was at least 30kg overweight. I have also received advice on how to gain muscle mass from someone who looked like they had never picked a weight up in their life. As humorous as this may be, it's often an unfortunate reality of the commercial gym.

Now I must admit, this article has been inspired from a first-hand experience last week. I was in the gym with my girlfriend who had recently suffered a minor thoracic back injury and is quite inexperienced with her training. We were going through a workout together and I was showing her some new and relatively basic exercises that would aid in her core control throughout her midsection, whilst I was training alongside her. Having worked one-on-one with many elderly and rehabilitative patients over the years, I have learnt a lot about the benefits of core strength, particularly for the prevention and rehabilitation of back injuries. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I do have an good idea about what I am doing from my professional experience in the industry. As I am showing my girlfriend some very basic floor double leg raises, a "Mickey" comes up and advises us that she was shown an exercise by a personal trainer instead of the one we were working through. Her alternative incorporated a fitball and was far more complex than the basic double leg raise. Whilst I thanked her but suggested that we would stick with this exercise, she continued to insist that my girlfriend gave it a go. Yes, my patience wore quite thin, yet eventually she gave up (and spent a good deal of time preaching to a personal trainer how good her exercise was!).

Here's the reason why I strongly insisted for my girlfriend not to attempt this fitball exercise.  Due to the increased complexity of the fitball exercise, this would require additional control throughout the midsection (which she does not have at this point). Additionally, a more involved exercise does add in more variables to worry about within the exercise itself. An increased level of complexity also increases the risk of injury and doesn't necessarily increase the effectiveness of the exercise. Whilst I personally believe that Mickey initially wanted to help (that is, until her ego kicked in), it was very obvious to me that she had a very limited knowledge of what she was talking about. Mind you, even if she was a trained professional, it would be negligent to prescribe an exercise for someone without even assessing that client first!

When I first joined a commercial gym, I vividly remember receiving some advice from another male in the weight training room. Mickey, in this case, would have been around thirty years of age of small build with no significant amount of muscle mass. I was spotting my training partner at the time on shoulder presses for safety, yet I was not aiding him with assisted repetitions (by pushing his elbows so he could pump a few more reps out). Mickey approached us and asked me why I wasn't helping him to get more reps out. I advised him that we were training to failure and were not utilising assisted reps. Mickey then told us that using assisted reps was the only way to build muscle and we were wasting our time.

Now here's a typical example of how someone who has seemingly little experience themselves is an expert in the field of hypertrophy and bodybuilding. Whether or not assisted reps are more effective than unassisted - who knows. There is next to no research out there to suggest either way - and certainly no conclusive evidence! Yet Mickey was addiment that assisted reps were the way to go.

A very common example is the overweight Mickey giving advice on weight loss. You see self-proclaimed "experts" of weight loss all day, every day - not just in the gym! I have been advised by numerous Mickey's on how to lose weight by:

  • Going on the latest fad diet
  • Performing a certain type of cardio
  • Eating a certain way
  • Cutting out all carbohydrates after a certain time in the day
  • Consuming the latest fad supplement

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Unfortunately these people don't know enough about exercise and nutrition to realise that the advice they are giving is quite ill founded and unsubstantiated.

So, with all this said and done, how do we decide from whom we will take our advice from? The answer - not Mickey!

First and foremost, I would recommend a professional in the industry - a personal trainer. Personal trainers are formally trained in nutrition and exercise in order to provide you with a holistic approach to you achieving your goals. Ensure that this personal trainer does have adequate experience in an area relevant to you, for there is no use in hiring a pre-natal expert to help you bulk up!

Whilst a professional personal trainer will often deliver, there are some very knowledgeable people who dedicate their life to their own health and fitness. You will see them training away in the gym on a regular basis, going about their own business. Unlike Mickey discussed within this article, this other type of person will be in great shape themselves and won't preach their methods to the latest gym newbie. If you need to ask someone a question, and a personal trainer isn't available, then this would be the person to ask. Often you will find that they will be more than happy to help you out.

So I hope I've helped to shed some light on the topic. Be careful when you are approached by Mickey with the latest way to achieve your goals. It could quite easily result in a lot of wasted time and you could even hurt yourself if the advice is bad enough!

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