Since I left London in June 2015, my experiences of European gyms have been pretty painful. Only now can I truly appreciate the great gyms I trained at in Australia, London and even Guatemala.
In Italy, Croatia, Sweden and now France, I was/am typically the only woman in the weights area. Weight lifting is still a very new activity in most European countries, and men dominate gyms in the same way they once did in the US, England, Australia, etc. For some reason, this makes men feel like they need to give me advice – even when they are new to lifting themselves. Mansplaining 101.
When I trained in Sweden, a 70-year-old man told me to stop squatting to parallel because it was bad for my knees. When I nodded and smiled he said, “trust me, I used to be a powerlifter”. Mmm hmm. My best friend who was with me at the time, who knows nothing about lifting, even knew that he was giving me bad advice.
Over the past nine months, I’ve had people tell me to stop lowering the bar all the way to my chest and stop locking out during a bench press, to stop arching my back, to try pulsing quarter squats instead of powerlifting squats and to drop my deadlift weights so I can do 20 rep sets.
Usually, after I politely explain that I am okay doing what I am doing, everyone else in the gym gets the message and leaves me alone. By my third week in the gym, I am usually left to train in peace.
But not in Paris. Almost every single workout I’ve done has been interrupted by some douche canoe telling me what to do. These are the types of guys that make an unhealthy amount of noise, constantly flex at their own reflection and would never dream of putting their weights back.
Two of the guys recently came up to me and took their shirts off, asking me to tell them which one was hotter. I almost laughed, as they were nowhere near as big as their joint case of invisible lat syndrome led them to believe.
It has gotten so bad that I genuinely dread going to the gym. Yesterday I stepped into the gym, saw how busy it was, and seriously considered turning around and going home.
Three different guys have interrupted me mid-set of squats. Amazingly, I caught this one on camera. This dude interrupted me mid-set with “sa va?” (how are you?”) and, when I didn’t respond, he started giving me “advice”.
This is the kind of shit I have to deal with. I was about to do my final rep of 5 sets of 5 at 85kg (188lbs) and this wanker who doesn't even lift chose that exact moment to chat me up. Apparently I wasn't clear the first time I told him to fuck off, so I made it crystal the second. The exact same thing happened last week. The gym is supposed to be my safe place but this one is doing my head in!!!!! #youdontevenlift #goaway #fuckboyseverywhere #iwillcrushyou #vatefaireenculer
A couple of weeks ago another guy interrupted me in the middle of my bench press set to tell me I will end up with back problems. I had headphones in the time and assumed that the only reason someone would interrupt me like that would be for an emergency. Needless to say, I ripped him a new one.
Maybe my patience is also low because I have to do all this in French, and I would rather save my language efforts for actual meaningful conversations. Or maybe it is because I am yet to see someone squat or deadlift more than me, or maybe because I am a personal trainer and they are not, so what right do they have to dish out advice?
If this really is what all commercial gyms are like, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my top tips for getting rid of (almost all of) the douchebags.
- Wear headphones and keep your eyes down: The best solution is to stop them from coming over in the first place. Nowadays, I always have headphones in – and sometimes I don’t even have music playing. If they still begin to approach, a good old-fashioned death stare may make them scurry backwards. If they start speaking, just point at your headphones and shrug your shoulders.
- Pretend you don’t understand their language: Sometimes a simple “je ne comprends pas” while giving them a look that says “I do actually understand you, but if you don’t piss off this minute, I will drop this dumbbell on your head” does the trick.
- Ignore them: If someone gives you advice and you don’t have the time or patience for any of the suggestions below, simply ignore them and begin your next set. They will get the message, sooner or later.
- Tell them you have a coach who is looking after your form: It doesn’t matter whether this is true or not, but politely explain that you already have someone looking after your programming and observing your form, and trust them.
- Say you are training for something specific: Most people retreat when I tell them I am a strongwoman/powerlifter who has competed in national-level competitions. This is particularly helpful given that most French people do not know what strong(wo)man is.
- Respond with a question: If someone tells you to stop doing a certain exercise or to do it in a different way, ask them why. When they deliver a BS answer – or, even better, stumble over their words and can’t come up with anything – explain to them why they are wrong. This, of course, only works if you know a bit about training and anatomy.
- Show them an intimidating picture of a hulk: This is my personal favourite tactic. I have dated a few huge, scary-looking men over the years. When the skinny boys are annoying me, I casually drop in a “I learnt to squat from my ex” and then show them a picture, which usually sends them running. You may not have actually dated a beast, but they don’t need to know that.
- Name drop: Another line I like to use is “Ed Coan told me I have a great squat” (which is actually true!). Inevitably, they will say “who?” I will then scoff and say “Ed Coan is arguably the greatest powerlifter of all time. Maybe you should do your research before you try to give other people advice.”
- Tell them you are in hurry: If you want to be polite, interrupt them to say that you are in a hurry today and may be free to listen to their advice at another time. Hopefully, they will understand this is code for “I want to listen to your squat advice on the 12th of never.”
- Laugh at them: If you have no problems being a complete bitch, just laugh in their face. They will most definitely back away, either to save face or because they will think you are crazy.
- Explain that their behaviour is unacceptable: If someone is persistent to the point of being annoying or engages in dangerous behaviour by interrupting you in the middle of a set, you do not have to be polite. Tell them they are being a pest and, if they continue, report them to staff. After the guy in the video interrupted me, I told him to never do that again to anyone, and that just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I need his help. He blushed and was sufficiently embarrassed in front of his bro mates, but I didn’t feel bad as he completely killed my mojo for that session.
Don’t get me wrong, I will take advice from experienced lifters who know what they are talking about. However, I have no patience for curl bros who look like they just stepped foot in the gym for the first time last week and seem to be using their advice as a pick-up strategy.
What are your best tips for dealing with unwanted advice in the gym?