Giving and getting advice

It’s the last day of February! I always forget how quickly it zooms past, given that it only has 28 days. I’ve also only got 18 measly days left until my first ‘ultra’ which so is not terrifying at all. LOLJK TOTALLY SCARED.

Today I wanted to chat about advice, because I had an interesting scenario this week which got me thinking about how we give and receive advice. Maybe I reacted too strongly, but I feel there might be other people who feel the same way.

It’s a bit of a classic example really: I was in the gym on Monday morning doing an upper body workout, and had nearly finished with my session. I was in the middle of doing bicep curls on a machine, which I do in a set of 6×12.5kg, 12×7.5kg, 24×2.5kg all one after another. 2.5kg is very light and looks a bit silly, because there’s only one thin weight moving up and down, but after the heavier weights and with 24 reps it gives you a good burn.

Anyway, I was there lifting my light weight when a guy walked up and started talking to me in rapid French and making bicep curl motions. My defenses went up immediately and I just felt like my space had been completely invaded. I basically managed to tell him to go away, abandoned my set and got the hell out of there. It wasn’t a fun situation.

So here’s the thing: on reflection (and discussion with Sye, who saw it all happen) I don’t think either of us were in the wrong. It’s simply that my history with the gym and context of receiving advice were different to what the guy expected.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you may know that I only started to get comfortable with going to the gym towards the end of last year. Prior to that I had always felt incredibly out of place and self-conscious. However, after four months of consistent attendance, I got to a place where I could walk into the weights section, pick up some dumbbells and do my exercises next to those huge guys who typically dominate that area.

I can happily go to the gym and do my thing now, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve come far enough to be able to deal with people talking to me. Leave me to myself and everything is grand, but please don’t expect me to converse with anyone. I still think people are judging me constantly, but if I’m left alone then I can block it out. As soon as someone starts talking to me, that illusion is shattered.

Yes, that’s a particular quirk of mine, but I can’t be the only one. The gym is an intimidating place with all of its machines and weights and bro-culture. The very fact that you have to have an ‘induction’ to teach you the ‘rules’ alienates anyone new. It’s very different to the ‘lace-up and go’ nature of running (although I am aware that some people also find running intimidating).

Back to the story: when this guy came up to me, I couldn’t deal because I am not comfortable enough in the gym environment to deal with conversation, let alone rapid French first-thing in the morning. It also didn’t help that the guy was dressed in ordinary clothes (although I later discovered he is a PT at the gym) and I had seem him strutting around earlier seemingly showing off how much he knows.

And yet, if I really was doing something wrong which would have caused an injury, he was also right to try and correct me. Unlikely with my 2.5kg, but still a valid point. He does probably know more about the correct technique and the most effective way to build muscle, and it’s perfectly valid to share that sort of information. I just don’t think he did it in the best way for me.

Take last Sunday for instance, where I went for a long run with my friend Adrien. Adrien has won multiple 100mi races, and regularly runs trails and ultra-distances. Given that I am new to that side of running, it’s incredibly valuable to me to gain any wisdom I can from him. During our run, I was lucky enough to get a lot of stories and tidbits from him which no doubt will help me when I take on my own ultras.

The difference is the context: I was open to getting advice from Adrien and actively asked him questions for my own benefit. He wasn’t a stranger who came up to me in the middle of one of my runs and told me that walking up hills is wrong. Instead, after we walked several hills together he suggested trying to follow his lead and slowly jog up one – if I wanted to. It was welcome assistance and it felt good to give it a go.

If you want to give someone advice, I think the first thing you should do is ask whether they want it – and be open to them saying no. If the gym guy had come up and said (in slower French!) ‘Hello, how are you going today? I’m a PT here at the gym, and I’d love to give you a few tips to make the most out of your workout. Are you open to that?’ then perhaps I would have said yes.

Or maybe I just need to be view the gym as a social place where people work together to give each other support and advice as needed. Going to the gym has certainly been a great benefit to my training, so maybe I should view the environment more positively too.

Have you had a similar experience? How did you respond?

1 thought on “Giving and getting advice”

  1. Brilliant post Julia. Aside from being very well written (IMHO – but the fact that I read it start to finish in one sitting without just flicking through is a good pointer I think) and very good points. I feel the same about gyms and have also occasionally wondered whether to help someone out. Now I can think about this next time I need to judge it.

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