How to Help the New People at the Gym Without Being Condescending
New year, same old you—but now your gym is crowded with people discovering fitness for the first time. Some of them will disappear by February, it’s true. But for others, this is the start of a lifelong journey, or at least a solid longterm habit. Here are a ways to help them out without seeming rude or scaring them off.
Literally just say hi
To many new gymgoers, the whole situation is intimidating. They think everyone else is steeped in some meathead culture, stronger than them, and silently judging their every move.
Their misconceptions aren’t your problem, but hey, you want to help. If it’s the kind of place where regulars know each other’s names, introduce yourself. If it’s not, at least give a friendly smile and nod when you cross paths. A friendly hello can make a big difference to how it feels to be the new person.
Notice when they look confused
You may notice a noob by the way they lift their weights, but most likely the things at the top of their minds are everything except the exercise: Where do I put my stuff? Where do I find the 2.5-pound plates? How do I put on this dip belt?
So instead of only noticing people when they’re exercising, pay attention to the folks who are wandering around with a confused look on their faces. For example, if they hover near a machine you’re using, ask if they’d like to work in, and be prepared to show them the lever that adjusts the seat.
Say, “Can I give you a tip on that?”
If you notice somebody doing a thing wrong—or in a way that makes it more difficult than it needs to be—it’s OK to offer to help. But that’s the key: offer.
I’ll never forget the kind stranger who saw me struggling to load a plate on a deadlift bar when I was new. (It’s not easy to get those suckers on.) I was already embarrassed at the thought that a bunch of strong guys behind me were probably laughing or rolling their eyes. I was afraid that I wouldn’t figure it out, but also afraid that somebody was going to walk up and tell me I’m a dummy for not knowing how to do it.
But then this person walked up and said, “Can I give you a tip on that?” Well, yes, of course. So he showed me how, then had me do it to make sure I’d be able to do it by myself. That was all I needed, and I’ve since paid the favor forward.
Offer to spot them on bench
If somebody’s lifting a challenging-to-them weight on bench press, and they don’t have a buddy around, ask (after their current set) whether they’d like a spot. Or if you notice someone hovering around the benches almost making eye contact with people, there’s a good chance they want to bench but aren’t sure how to ask someone to spot them.
While they can always drag a bench into the squat rack, that’s hard to do when the gym is crowded. We have a guide to the spotter/lifter conversation here; guide your new friend through the process of saying how many reps they’re going for and how much help they would like.
Volunteer to answer questions
Besides offering a tip in the moment, another way you can be helpful is by offering to answer questions in the future. This is a good way to approach someone who is doing an exercise with what you perceive to be bad form. (In general, we advise not correcting people’s form unless they ask you. You aren’t necessarily an expert on what they should be doing.)
But plenty of beginners are secretly wishing they had someone to give them a few pointers. They also tend to be unsure of who they can ask or whether it’s OK to ask.
So if you’d like to be that person, start by saying something friendly or encouraging when they’re between sets. If they say something about being new to doing squats (or whatever), that’s your opening to say, “Oh yeah, I love squats, do them all the time. If you want any pointers, just let me know.” Some people will politely thank you and then never ask. Others will immediately want to know if you can watch them squat and tell them what they’re doing wrong. It’s up to you how much time you take out of your own workout to help the new person. But chances are, they’ll appreciate the offer—and maybe you’ll even end up with a new gym friend.