Gym Etiquette 101: Giving Training Advice


However often you are at the gym, you are bound to find someone using incorrect and  at times atrocious form. On a daily basis, I get to witness the same guy rip out his spine from his piss poor form on the deadlift. Sadly, this guy has yet to add even a 10 lb plate to what he was pulling from the floor six months ago…

Crappy lifting technique may not necessarily be a strike in the rules of gym etiquette, but screaming like someone is circumcising you with a dull butter knife for every rep is just plain obnoxious. As painful as it may be, I choose to ignore the temptation of committing a gym etiquette no-no myself: offering unsolicited training advice.

Is it wrong to show fellow gym members proper form, or should we let these people continue on their way?

As a trainer, I used to experience the temptation to correct others all the time. When I was gung-ho on helping people performing an exercise wrong or improperly using a machine, my basic instinct would be to go over and correct them. For the majority of us, this comes from a good place in the heart as we generally want to correct people for the right reasons. But when it really comes down to it, its usually not worth your time since more than often these people aren’t too receptive.

This is almost always the case in men. Now I’m not saying that all men are doing their exercises wrong, but they are more than likely not going to take advice from some 23 year old half hipster/half personal trainer (me) telling them how to lift. No matter your approach, its unlikely you will spark a training revelation and cause them to change up the technique they’ve been sticking to for the last two decades.

Girls on the other hand, will probably just assume you’re hitting on them. You know, since obviously, when a guy approaches a girl in the gym, he wants to sleep with her. Right? No…


After a while, that emotional ware to care about these people will diminish. It’s not that you don’t want to help as you are certainly concerned for them. But after you’ve tried to correct 50 people and all 50 go right back to training like a Turd Ferguson, you’ll quickly realize its not worth your time.

So unless you are the owner of a facility and these people are destroying your equipment or hurting your business by driving away other members, there is really no need to approach them. If you really feel compelled and you think that someone is hurting themselves, you can probably just give them a little warning, but in general, make it a habit to just ignore it and not go out of your way.

If you have any thoughts on this matter, I’d love to hear your feedback!

Flaws in “Functional Fitness”

I’ve had the pleasure of being entertained by some of the funkiest exercises you could think of. From faulty “hybrid movements” to “stability exercises”…I’ve seen them all! These people have fallen into the the wide sweeping generalization that elitists use when referring to functional training. Just about every one of these methods have little carry over to being functional in life and sport. So to save you from wasting your time with exercises that don’t offer much, I think its important that we define what functional really means.

Functional gain refers to improvements in physical qualities which can be transferred to sport actions. In other words, the body will work more efficiently in specified movements patterns and planes. Functional gains are mostly due to improved neural factors and can thus happen without a change in muscle mass. But even if one were to solely focus on functional training, there would still be a carryover to the structural aspect (muscle mass). This works vise versa as one will find functional gain in training structurally (body building). For one to say that body builders aren’t strong is complete BS. Are they as strong as a powerlifter or a player in the NFL? Absolutely not! But they’re still moving against a force in various ranges of motion a lot more than your Average Joe. 

(Geek-Speak: non-kinesiologists ought to skip to next paragraph)  

Functional training means that you improve by making better use of what you already have. Improved neuromuscular and intramuscular coordination are two of the most important reasons for that increase in function. Intramuscular coordination refers to the capacity of the nervous system to optimally recruit the motor units within a muscle while performing a motor task. Intermuscular coordination refers to the capacity of the nervous system to use optimal timing between the muscle groups involved in an action.

Functional training is a specialized form of motor learning. The key concept in motor learning is that frequency of practice is the most important determinant of success, not repetitions. Now does this mean we should practice crappy technique? Of course not! This frequency of practice must be performed correctly if one wants to effectively adapt and improve in the movement pattern they are training for. Now what is the biggest factor that effects the performance of an action? Fatigue! So why would you train a functional movement for hypertrophy (7 or more reps)? Functional training requires not doing a lot of reps at any given time, but rather doing less reps (1-3, maybe 4-6) with higher quality (high force production and proper technique).

Earthquake? No problem…we’ve been working on our stability balls!

Now I know some stability and swiss ball advocates will argue that unstable movements are good for functional improvements because of their high level of complexity. From a motor standpoint, yes, these movements are very complex. However, since the potential for strength and speed improvement is very low, I don’t really consider them to be functional for anything other than preparing oneself for an earthquake…

Here are two ways we can incorporate functional training in its truest sense:

1) Multi-Joint Movements

Complex motor tasks require much more from the nervous system than an action that requires minimal joint action. It is key that we use strength training exercises that are complex, therefore, multi-joint exercises are the way to go.  If you want to get “functionally strong”, focus on the big, compound movements. 

When developing a program, always base things around the core exercises: squats, deadlifts, presses, cleans, snatches, chin ups, dips, etc. Think big, heavy, and basic, and you’ll be on the right path. Isolation drills should be thrown out if you’re strictly interested in functional gains.

2) Utilization of Non-Traditional Training Means

Want to find a way to solve you lack of “real world functional strength”? Quit your desk job and apply for a moving company…no really!

 On a serious note, if you are really looking for something different and non-traditional, it would be in your best interest to start using strongman training: kegs, heavy sandbags, thick ropes, tires, implement throwing, and pushing/pulling/carrying vehicles, sleds, or whatever else you can! I believe there is a lot to gain from these methods mentally and physically.


Training to be functional should be priority if we aren’t training for a bodybuilding show or preparing for a part time modeling photoshoot (theres nothing wrong with doing a little vanity work every once in a while). So ask yourself what you are trying to be functional for. I highly doubt its to effectively run back and forth through a ladder or to strike the infamous beach scene pose from Karate Kid. If it is, you are just getting really good at looking ridiculous in the gym. Get strong in your compound movements and don’t forget to do your yard work on the weekends…I promise, you won’t be disappointed in your functionality!

Phys Ed: A Faulty Grading System Contributing to a Soft Society

I’ve already accepted that this post may cause a handful of people to disagree with me as each individual has had different personal experiences with the physical education taught in our schools. I also realize that there is a vast number of incredible PE teachers out there who not only encouraged their students to be physically active, but influenced their views and understanding of fitness and health. The point has already been made many times and I don’t think you’re going to read anything new. I’m just ranting about my personal experience and views of physical education. I know this won’t start a revolution, as the public education system already has the parameters set in place, but hopefully we all can agree on some of the points I make.

The number one problem that I have with physical education is it’s grading system. It is neither valid nor reliable. Since when do we grade students on participation?

Statistics have shown that well over 90% of the student’s grade is based (or better said: judged) upon their participation. Other grading components include: effort, dressing out, and attitude. Why doesn’t the majority of the grade reflect on the student’s score on skills test (1 mile run time, maximal push ups, sit & reach measurements)? The only reality students receive on their physical fitness level is at the end of the year when they are placed within a percentile rank based on a national scale (The Presidential Fitness Award). But in the end, everyone is still “rewarded” with a certificate, even if they display poor performance.

So why does this happen?

It’s because we live in a sensitive society. The moment a PE teacher tells a student that he/she should be more active or tell them the reality of how overweight they are compared to students on a national scale, a law suit gets filed. Lazy and plump Johnny Anderson goes home and tells his mommy (who by the way is doing a horrible job at monitoring her child’s health). She becomes defensive about her parenting skills, feelings get hurt, and Coach Smith finds himself sitting before a school board deciding whether or not they should give him the boot.

Now I realize that everyone has different potential through “genetics”. There’s that athletic kid who’s dad has signed him up for every football season since he could crawl. He could sit on the couch playing nintendo for a month and pass the mile test with a breeze. Then you have those kids who do sports year around, play outside just about every day, and keep a considerably healthy diet…yet they struggle to stay under the maximal time.

How about those kids who don’t have any accountability at home for their physical activity? Maybe their parents have never signed them up for sports or served them a dinner that wasn’t picked up at a drive through…

But what we really need to consider is what is the objective of physical education? What are we trying to teach them? What skills and qualities do we expect them to acquire by the end of the year?

Achievement and success in the classroom will and never has been about showing up. And it is rare the the majority of a student’s grade will be reflected on whether or not they bring their pencil and paper. If a student hardly pays attention in class and doesn’t bring his books, yet he easily passes his tests, isn’t he meeting the objective? He clearly already knew, or learned on his own what he was expected to know by testing time. Grades should not be used for encouragement or to make the student content with where they stand. Why would a teacher give the same grade to a kid who got 90% of the questions right as the kid who got 45% of the questions right? Whether or not the kid had good math teachers in the previous years, if he got 45% of the questions right, then that is what he should get. Potential should not be a dictator.

So what are we teaching kids in physical education? Is the objective just to show up and participate?

We need to grade PE classes just like we do others and grade off of achievement, not effort. Grades are a measurement, not an evaluation of what we think of the person and their potential.

After all, when it comes down to the life quality of our children, is understanding how to do long division correctly any more important than being able to demonstrate some type of physical activity?

Lets all strive to do a better job at influencing our youth through fitness and health and no longer contribute to the softness and sensitivity of our society!