My unsolicited advice to the armchair trainer

You may have learned a lot in this place, but unless you're being paid to train people, or unless your advice is sought, then remember that the gym is not your pulpit.

Unsolicited advice.

Does anyone really like it?

I know I don’t. A lot of it is stuff you can blow off. But there’s something about it when it happens in the places where you train that makes it particularly annoying, especially when the advice sucks.

Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and an untold number of conversations lament the proliferation of the worst kind of gym rat there is: The armchair trainer.

What distinguishes this guy from others in the gym are two horrible character traits: They don’t know jack and they think they need to tell you what they think they know.

I’ve witnessed this personally. A trainer will be working with a client, trying to do some very specific exercises and techniques to deal with that person’s needs.

Then some lizard will walk up, strike up a conversation, then offer, “I don’t see what that exercise does for you. No one does that move in real life.”

Really dude? Don’t you have somewhere to be? Like pumping out sets of 200 on the ridiculous ab machine in the corner? The trainer is a professional. It’s their job. Not yours. So stow it.

Yes, we have all seen people do silly things in the gym. You think to yourself, “That person could use some tips on that.” But you don’t act on it because it’s not your place. If and when that person realizes their terrible form isn’t helping them, or is in fact injuring them, they’ll ask for advice. And if you happen to be the person they ask, then feel free to dispense your wisdom. But until that time, just move along.

I say this as a person who has decent form in the gym, so-so form when I run. I’ll take advice, but I prefer to take it when I ask. Just like everyone else.

Imagine how mortifying it would be if you were out at the park, getting your miles in, and someone jogged up by you, then started critiquing your running form?

“You really should heel strike less.”

“Have you ever considered minimalist shoes?”

“I see you out here all the time and I really think doing fartleks would improve your performance. Because you run kinda slow.”

Thankfully, that’s not too common. Not like there aren’t tons of know-it-alls in the running world. It’s just that they tend to dispense their amazing revelations of awesomeness in other realms. Like running shoe stores.

The nice thing about those stores is the better ones will have those fancy treadmill/video cam analysis services. So once again, unless you’re the guy/gal doing the analysis (and paid to do it by the store offering the analysis), don’t speak until you’re spoken to.

Unfortunately, you can’t escape the armchair trainer on the trails, either.

Hiking is fun, and hiking in the mountains gives you an added bonus: the ability to hike or even climb to a high summit. It’s a rewarding experience, so much so that people who do it once often become obsessed with it, almost like people who run their first half or full marathon.

So what happens? All too often they get so fired up that they read “Into Thin Air” about five times and buy all the newest and best gear they can find to help them get that next summit. By the time they’ve bagged three or four summits, you have a potential “expert” with the gear to match.

If that happens, you’ll meet armchair trainer: mountain edition.

Lord help you if you meet these people if you’re headed uphill in the afternoon, with rain clouds present or wearing jeans.

This species of the armchair trainer, who will be clad in $200 Vasque hiking boots, an Osprey pack, North Face hiking pants (synthetic fabric, of course) and titanium hiking poles will warn you about the weather, advise you against going up too late and frown at your cotton-clad wardrobe choice.

Because they’re experts, you see.

Relax, man. The dude hiking late in the rain may just be out for a quick mile-and-back stroll with no intention of hitting a summit, going above treeline or whatever. And that person may just well have bagged 50 summits tougher than the four under your belt, did it wearing jeans AND ACTUALLY LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT.

So to that point I will say this: We get it. You bagged that amazing Class 1 walkup, had a revelation, then sought to turbocharge your career as the next great alpinist by buying $800 worth of courage at your local REI. The sales guy, the store manager and the city of Denver (or whatever city you live in), well, they’re grateful for it. And you look the part, man.

But unless that jeans-clad dude is headed into a lightning storm or a blizzard, then just say “hi,” let him use his brain and save us the angst of listening to all that hard-won mountain wisdom you want to share.

We don’t want to hear it.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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6 thoughts on “My unsolicited advice to the armchair trainer

  1. Awesome post, though it’s lamentable it’s so true. I don’t know if it’s any comfort, but fitness enthusiasts aren’t the only ones… try getting a group of horse people together. Everybody’s an expert and everybody else is not only doing it wrong, they’re going to *ruin* their horses! Guess nobody believes in leading by example anymore. ;D

    • I can only imagine. It’s everywhere. I used to be a jujitsu instructor, did it for about three years. Every now and then, I’d get someone come in who thought they knew it all, would tell other students how it’s done, then tell me how it’s done.

      My favorite comment was how he was tired of doing all this “beginner stuff” we were doing in drills.

      My reposnse was something like, “Hey pal, if doing 100 basic arm bars or shoulder locks is good enough for guys like Jean Jacques Machado (he’s a world-class jujitsu practitioner), then it’s good enough for everyone, including you.”

      The rule of thumb is simple. Shut up and train.

  2. The other day we ran by a guy who yelled out that we were hurting our knees by running on the road and we should stick to trails (for the record, we HAD for the first 6 miles). Um, thanks for the info, pal.

    Extra points for including “fartlket” in your post!

    • Unbelievable. It takes a certain level of commitment to d-baggery to comment on someone’s running WHILE THEY’RE RUNNING. For the record, I run primarily on pavement (not much of a choice) and my knees are fine, or at least they’re not worse for the wear because of it.

      And yes, I gained a certain level of inspiration from your own “fartlek” musings…

  3. Good stuff, Bob.

    On these nut-jobs observing/commenting on poor form: Form is not black and white. People’s bodies are different, and while there might be generally accepted pathways for a barbell or dumbbell or cable — it’s not universal.

    I think these armchair trainers forget that. Or don’t know it because they’ve never actually trained anyone.

    Just think of the physics. Deep squats for the long-legged aren’t the same for us fireplugs. What about ripping a clean with T. Rex arms? Observing isn’t enough. Only a trainer who works with someone one-on-one can get close to knowing someone’s physical peculiarities.

    The other thing is injuries. There’s lots of people in the gym that are working with/on/through an injury, or even rehabbing one. There might be a very good reason they’re doing triceps kickbacks instead of a pull-down, or their bench grip is a little narrower than normal.

    Buzz off and get busy.

    The only unsolicited help anyone should give at the gym or on the trail is a word of encouragement.

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