Important context:

The gym I go to is a powerlifting gym. Not your everyday example when you think of a gym. It's a lot smaller and the people who lift there are typically professional body builders/wrestlers/professional athletes/etc. who warm up with half the plates in the gym. However, the gym is still open to the public, so you get the occasional person who has no idea the first rules of safety in the gym. These people are typically 30s or older, as we don't see that many young people at this gym. The gym is also a 24 hour gym so a lot of the time I lift there is no employee present.

A little about me: I'm one of those rare young people. I don't exactly have the same intimidation factor as most of the other guys there, even if I can lift almost as much as them. Just because I'm not 6'5'' doesn't mean I don't know what I'm talking about. I have 5 years of professional weight training and 2+ years of teaching new weight lifters how to properly lift.

Here's where my problem comes in. Every once in a while I'll see someone perform an exercise dangerously wrong. If they continue to perform in the same way it will lead to damage that could have been prevented with proper knowledge of how to lift. As a trainer myself, I feel a big urge to try and help this person so they do not get hurt. However, I don't want to be "that guy" who goes around the gym thinking he knows everything or come off as rude. I also do not want them to take the correction in a wrong way. Because of the gym, they can get easily offended if you try to correct them because the atmosphere is if you go here, you know what you're doing. Now if someone came up to me and said "hey, you're not doing this right, try to do it this way..." I would be very appreciative of the advice. Not everyone is like this, unfortunately. Maybe this wouldn't be such a problem if my expertise was obvious from looking at me, but it's not.

How can I approach someone doing an exercise in such a way it will hurt them, without having them be put off by my offer to help? All the times this has happened in the past I have just ignored it and hope they don't get hurt. I talked to some friends and family about this and they seemed to agree that was the best action to take, but just ignoring it does not feel right. Should I continue to ignore it or is there a way I can help them?


7 Answers 7


I am a physician, so I have a lot of expertise in medicine. I constantly see people do things that are harmful to their health, and I do mean constantly, to one degree or another.

I mind my own business. Even though my natural inclination is to help, I keep quiet.

The only time I speak up to strangers is when something is truly life-threatening, like a dangerous skin cancer, or a constellation of signs that is indicative of an occult tumor. Even then, I am hesitant.

If I feel compelled to insert myself into a stranger's life, I always introduce myself as a physician, apologize for intruding, ask them if I may give them some advice, and only if they say yes, I ask them if they have had, say, that lesion evaluated.

Maybe if you introduce yourself as a trainer, apologize for intruding, ask them if you may make an observation, and if they say yes, have at it, and see how it goes.

Edited to add: People looking for help (those that seek me out, e.g. In the ER) are grateful for it. Those who don't, aren't. I'm still learning when to keep my own counsel. I had an acquaintance complaining about a constellation of symptoms quite consistent with Menière's Disease. I have had Menière's since I was 27, and I have no significant problems from it. Yet when I told her what she probably had, she became angry and glared at me. I tried to reassure her that it can often have a very benign course. I wasn't successful. (It makes me wonder, why do people go on and on about their symptoms to a doctor if they don't want advice?) Anyway, for me, though I still slip up, the moral of the story is if people aren't asking for advice, it's probably best not to give it.

This is just one example: Long ago, I noticed an adolescent female with obvious signs of Grave's Disease. Now, Grave's has to be pretty advanced to be diagnosable without doing a physical exam. I was a resident then, and more likely to speak up. I did what I said, and when I told the mother of the girl with Grave's what her daughter had, she actually got very angry with me, almost to the point of being abusive. Two weeks later, mother and daughter showed up in my clinic (residents don't have offices.) In spite of being right and treating her appropriately, the mother stayed mad at me for months (I have no idea why she came to see me.) The treatment lasts at least a year. In all that time, the mom never seemed appreciative. Maybe it's different with weightlifters.

  • 9
    The angriness probably stems from the subconscious association with the disease and the distress that realization caused her. Unfortunately, people tend to shoot the messenger of bad news...especially if they think the messenger points out mistakes of their own - and some mothers consider anything bad happening to their children without them noticing a mistake they themselves must have made. Dec 4, 2017 at 12:50
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    I think I'll try this approach (in combination with the others) the next time I run into this situation. I think establishing credentials provides an important context (rather than just saying "hey, can I give you some tips") because the person will wonder why you introduced yourself that way, and be more inclined to listen or accept the advice. On a side note, I think it's very sad we live in a world where good intentions are often kept quiet for fear of backlash by the recipient.Thanks for sharing your story.
    – anon
    Dec 4, 2017 at 19:22
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    @Darkwing - I had realized the first part (that I upset the balance of her world) but I never even considered the second part (that the mother might blame herself!) So, thanks for that insight. :) Dec 4, 2017 at 21:13
  • My mom in law was only diagnosed with breast cancer after a local nursing sister inserted herself in our lives briefly of her own accord. We had no idea, and it was because of her that my mom in law was able to receive treatment. After her diagnosis was confirmed we said thank you and took the nursing sister flowers and a gift.
    – user6818
    Jan 2, 2018 at 21:06
  • "why do people go on and on about their symptoms to a doctor if they don't want advice?" They just need to vent maybe? I'm sure if they want you're opinion they'll ask for it (and pay hopefully).
    – Andy
    Jun 30, 2018 at 19:53

Approaching somebody you are not familiar with because you have a concern is very difficult, however in the case you mention, I think people will understand.

As a trainer you have the knowledge and authority to train people.

You have a genuine cause to "interfere" with somebody's business. Don't cave into the general wisdom of "mind your own business". Read up on crowd apathy and why "mind your own business" is a dangerous fallacy.

Some pointers:

  • Be as polite as possible. In this case, being super polite (more than is normal) might be good. The fact that you're making an effort here will generally make people more open to at least hear you out for a few seconds.

  • Make sure you have your facts straight.

  • As you make your approach, watch your body language. Don't be imposing.

  • Maintain a good distance so you are not within their personal space, 2 meters is a general rule (depends on culture but keeping 2 meters away from somebody is a good average)

  • In your particular case, be aware that people get defensive, especially where physical prowess is concerned - even if they flip you the bird now, they may go over it in their minds later and it may still sink in.

  • You bring up some good points and good advice on how to approach the situation. Do you have any suggestions on how to initialize the conversation? This can be the tough part by trying to emphasize my offer to help without being imposing.
    – anon
    Dec 4, 2017 at 19:09
  • Its very difficult to get it right, unfortunately there is no step by step advice. The main thing to remember is not to intimidate - which is why I raise body language and personal space. Dec 4, 2017 at 21:22
  • I was a certificated trainer at one point. I had to have insurance. And the insurance very clearly said it did not cover me unless the claim was regarding a client of mine (e.g., they signed all the waiver forms and stuff I had to give them).
    – Andy
    Jun 30, 2018 at 19:56

I work out with a personal trainer who is quite imposing. I have never seen him approach someone to tell them they are doing something incorrectly, although he has sometimes pointed out to me that someone's technique is all wrong.

You specifically ask

Should I continue to ignore [their incorrect technique] or is there a way I can help?

I suggest that the best thing for you to do, if you feel compelled to help, is to do the exercise yourself, smoothly and proficiently, where the person who was performing it incorrectly can see you.

Another approach, or a complementary approach, would be to strike up a conversation with the person and try to become acquainted with him. Once you are on friendly terms, you can ask if he minds if you give him a few tips.

You cannot correct a total stranger in any way that does not make you seem officious.

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    "You cannot correct a total stranger" Yes you can. The OP is a qualified person and knows that somebody is at risk of injury - they should speak up. Dec 3, 2017 at 2:23
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    @gburton - "Could" and "should" should not be confused. Dec 3, 2017 at 15:03
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    No confusion. I meant it when I say should. Dec 3, 2017 at 18:39
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    @gburton the OP know that on his side, "he should". But he thinks, with reason, that he will probably not only get ignored but tag as the "know it all" man. Meaning, he will get ignored and he will very likely backfire to him. So before speaking up, he should at least try to know if those he want to approach want to be told they're wrong.
    – Walfrat
    Dec 4, 2017 at 15:25
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    Good advice if executed correctly. In the past this has usually happened after I finish a heavy lift. I think at that point it would be too much trouble to set up everything just in hopes that the person may see me and also be able to learn from it. However, depending on the circumstance, this could work. As for befriending the person, it could be advantageous depending on the person. Even after the banter, the transition to the correction could render it useless and be seen as fake. This could work for a long term type goal, but most are in-the-moment. I'll keep this in mind for the future.
    – anon
    Dec 4, 2017 at 19:02

The hard part with a lot of men is they have this alpha property where they don't like to be taught things. If they look like they've been lifting for a long time and they are older than you, it's unlikely to change their routine and I'd just ignore it. The best way to convince someone of something in general is to point to a reliable authority that supports the assertion you're making. e.g. "I happen to know a physician that's also a bodybuilder and he told me that...., I don't know if its true but it came back to me when I saw you perform that exercise as I used to do it the same way."

People in lift mode tend to not like distractions to begin with. Make sure to be friendly, and smile. A legitimate smile will help disarm anyone, and will lower the intensity of the interaction.

Remember, at the end of the day, the worse case scenario is you annoy a total stranger.


As an obsessive user of my local gym, as well as others, I've encountered this scenario many times where either,

  1. A gym member is performing an exercise in a manner harmful to their health
  2. A gym member is performing an exercise in a 'less than optimal' or 'correct' way

In the case of 2, I refrain from commenting, for two reasons: it's not my responsibility to make sure they get the best out of their training and the 'correct' way can still be debatable sometimes.

That being said, in the case of 1, if the person is in imminent danger of injuring themselves (e.g. spinal injury), then you should feel compelled to intervene if you have the expertise to do so. It is no different than seeing someone about to slip on a wet surface: you've noticed an imminent hazard to their well being and should be prevented if it doesn't put you at risk as well.

If on the other hand, the danger to health is such that it is not immediate (e.g. shoulder cuff issue down the line), you can offer your advice (if they will receive it), or refrain from doing so.

Here's one approach:

Hi, sorry to interrupt your session, I was wondering if you'd mind if I made a recommendation about your form for that exercise?

If they are receptive, you can move on to,

I'd recommend [how to perform exercise], as otherwise it can lead to [health problem].

Unless in immediate physical danger, do not talk to them during a set! Emphasising that you're trying to address a risk to their health will hopefully convey you're thinking of their well being, and not trying to show off that you know how to get the best out of an exercise.


Another option is to talk to someone working at the gym (even if you are a fitness professional) either at the time or later, to defer the responsibility on to them, and they can make a call.


I've done this quite a few times out of concern for the person's safety, but I generally don't approach someone unless continuing will undoubtedly hurt the person. I don't approach someone if they are just not doing an exercise in a preferred manner. If they want guidance for general how-to do an exercise, they will generally look for someone else doing the same exercise that appears to know what they're doing and ask them, observe, or keep it inside. If you start coaching every person to do an exercise the right way whether they ask or not, you should probably pick up a paycheck.

I've refined my approach to the following:

  1. Wait for them to finish whatever set they are currently doing. Also wait a moment to see if they immediately go into another exercise for a super-set. Wait about 10 seconds or so so they can catch a breather.
  2. If you haven't already, try to learn the difference between "having a bad day" angry and a passive angry face. If someone's lifting seriously, they probably have an angry face on - that doesn't automatically mean the person will brush you off, but "having a bad day" angry generally means they will not appreciate interruptions.

3) I have the following script, which emphasizes the following:

  • Don't say they're doing it wrong
  • Use a respectable title
  • Ask permission to offer what you're seeing
  • Explain why it can be harmful
  • Most importantly - offer an alternative

    "Excuse me, sir, would you mind if I point out something I'm seeing with your lift? (...) I noticed that at the bottom of your bench press you're letting the bar drop on your chest and I can see your chest compressing. In my experience you can get a more effective lift if you try starting the push a little earlier so that the bar turns around about an inch over your chest or at most gently touching your shirt. This serves to not let the spring action of your rib cage take away some of the work, while also reducing the risk of a fracture or break."

Be prepared to walk away without any emotion or taking it personally if they decline your first question. Wish them a good workout on departure no matter if they accepted or declined your perspective. (I've had people decline, then come back later to talk some more).


One way would simply be to offer to be their spotter(a) or, better yet, be each other's spotters.

Then, provided they accept, just casually bring up the odd suggestion as part of that.

If they don't want a spotter, say "no probs" and go back to your own exercises. They are, after all, grown adults responsible for their own health.

(a) I think that's the correct term, it's been a few decades since I did any serious weight training. Nowadays it's just high reps, low weight in the garage :-)

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