Do You Appreciate Or Get Annoyed By Unsolicited “Help” From Men In The Gym?

September 5, 2017  |  

I’m not crazy about getting uninvited advice from men I don’t know when it comes to most things: smiling, fashion, weight, relationship stuff — the whole nines. But I really don’t know how to feel about it when I’m in the gym.

men in the gym


Over the weekend I went to the gym and was doing some barbell exercises off to the side of the weight section. I had gone out of my way to finish up my cardio fast enough so that I could get to the strength training portion of my workout while traffic was low in that part of the facility. I wanted it that way so that I wouldn’t be surrounded by men who either watched me or men who treated me like I was taking up space in an often male-dominated area.

I got to work lifting, lunging, squatting and doing the whole nines with one side of the barbell while using the other side to keep me stable. I executed moves I researched online before I started.  At one point, while prepping for the third and last round of five moves (at 10-15 reps), a man came over to me to tell me that I might be better suited in my workout if I used the bar holder, stationed a few feet away from me, to hold the barbell. I told him I didn’t know that the bar holder was made for such workouts, but stated that since I’d gone through the workout just fine for the last 20 minutes without it and was almost done, I would pass on using it this time. He said “Okay” with a shrug in a way that gave the impression that I was going to cause my own ruin. I said “Thank you, though!” just in case he felt some type of way.

I continued my last round in the same place, using the same barbell and weights I had been using before I was interrupted, only to have another man try to get my attention. I removed my headphones, and when I did he said, “There is a machine right here to hold the barbell for you. It will stabilize the end.”

*Deep sighs*

I responded by saying, “Oh really?” though I had already been made aware of the machine by the last man less than 15 minutes earlier. It was the only response I could think of that could possibly mask my bubbling irritation. At that point, I gave in, thinking that if I was going to keep being told about the holder, it might expedite the end of my routine if I just went ahead and used the damn thing. As I picked up my barbell to move it to the other side of the room, I thought about my predicament and said to myself, despite my best efforts to go unseen, I was still being watched by more than one man in the gym.

He showed me how to lock it in, and from there, he let me be. I appreciated his assistance for the most part because the machine was useful (though I didn’t need it, and for the record, most of the images of the workout I’d seen online didn’t use a holder). When I left, I found myself wondering if maybe I was always being too hard on the guys in the gym. Maybe they were just “looking out.” But when I broached the subject with my best friend, she didn’t see it that way.

“I can’t stand that sh-t,” she said to me exasperatedly as we sat on my building’s stoop eating popsicles. “Why do men have to act like women are damsels in distress, though? Did I ask you for your help? No, so let me do my thing.”

I thought about it some more, and while I wasn’t stereotypical feminist angry about the unsolicited “help” I’d received from the two men (particularly the latter one), I was pretty much over it. It wasn’t the first time I’d been instructed on the “right way” to exercise by a man I didn’t know, and instructed by someone with no degree or certification in health or fitness. And just like the time a man ran me down on the track to tell me I should lower my arms to make my run less work, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth from it all yet again.

I don’t think men mean harm in moments like this, or that they’re trying to be as creepy or intrusive as they come off in other interactions. But I do wonder why I never see them instructing other men on ways to make their fitness experiences “easier.” And why should one assume that I would want my barbell workout to be easier? Not using the machine required more strength from me in order to keep the barbell stabilized on the end that wasn’t carrying the weight, and in the grand scheme of things, that’s exactly what I wanted — to be challenged. I won’t build more muscle and obtain the strength I’m hoping for if I take the “easier” route. I won’t be a better runner if I go about things “easier,” and I won’t be the best version of myself, for myself, if I sit around listening to men (who I don’t know from Adam) tell me what they think is best for me. Thanks bruh, but no thanks.

While such concern is somewhat appreciated, it’s unwarranted and unwanted. You focus on your workout and let the ladies, who are just as strong and sometimes even stronger, focus on theirs.

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