A few months ago, I finished training with a plank when a woman in purple leggings approached me. "You'll hurt your back," she said. "Would you mind?" Before I could answer, she put her hand on my lower back, adjusted my shape and said, "Let's go!" and went away. I sat up a little confused. Who was she? Did she work here? Did she even know what she was talking about? Everything is unclear.
A helping hand can be greatly appreciated, especially if someone is new or seems confused. But where is the line between offering advice and flattening into a strange space? Personally, I can not imagine ever approaching a stranger in the gym to give advice, but hey … I'm not a specialist or an expert. To find out if Purple Leggings is as bizarre as I thought I talked to a handful of personal trainers. Not surprisingly, some go "only when I am on the clock" while others insist that offering unsolicited advice is never a good idea, no matter what the circumstances are.
If in doubt, remember that old adage, "To assume is to make you and me an ass."
Do not take anything about a stranger's fitness. In nine out of ten cases, if you think you know what is best for someone without having the full story (er, that's true in every situation), you run the risk of offending them ̵
"I tend to make mistakes if I do not make assumptions, and try to account for reasons why someone does not do an exercise the way I am used to it," says Summer Pierson a discus thrower and Highland Games Champion.
Andrew Freeman, a LA-based coach, agrees. "Someone may be modifying an exercise for their own reasons or because they have been asked to do so, and provided you know their goals or their bodies are never smart unless they are your client."
But if someone is in obvious danger of being hurt or hurting someone?
The truth of the matter is that liability forms exist. Gym members sign a waiver claiming responsibility for their conduct at the facility. So, if you are not an employee of the gym, this is not necessarily the place where you can play the hero, despite your good intentions.
Jaime Rodgers, a personal trainer in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, says that in an unsafe situation, it is best to ask someone with authority in this gym to join. "I'll say something to the coach I normally work with – that way they can be more personal."
But Freeman adds that intentional sighting with false equipment will provoke a quick response. "When I see somebody messing around on the machines or doing something stupid, I definitely tell him to tear it down, no matter if I work or not, no question."
It's just about the approach.
Some trainers believe that there is a polite middle ground where they can be helpful and instructive without being obtrusive (or defending someone). The pros agree that if you turn to someone, it's important to introduce yourself as a coach and always ask before you enter. "I ask a question like" Do you have any questions for use. "This equipment?" Says Kate Browne, a fitness instructor in Bloomington, IL. "It gives people the opportunity to take their advice without feeling defensive about criticism."
Use your best judgment and take a second to observe the person before you go in to save the day. If they look like they're in the gym seven days a week, they probably think they know what they're doing and do not want them to earn two cents. On the other hand, if someone goes around aimlessly and wears a kettlebell like an ax, it might be safe to start a conversation to see how they feel about the equipment.
"It's usually appreciated," says Chelsey Hughes, a coach in New York. "Someone must be quite proud to refuse the advice of a veteran or expert."
Conclusion: If you are not a professional or an expert, you should generally leave others alone in the gym.
If you have real concerns about their safety, discreetly ask a staff member to intervene – even if you're a fitness professional, giving up someone with authority in this particular gym is still the best way.
And, of course, the one piece to each coach I've talked to is the following: Never did you shake hands with someone unless you asked permission and received them (but that is just a good piece of advice, to be honest) The woman who corrected my plank form once again made me believe that she was just a well-intentioned passer-by who was worried about my lower back. But for those of us non-professionals out there, even if your intentions are pure, the best course of action is the following: If no one is in immediate danger, if it is a stranger in the gym, live and let live.  Laura Munoz is a freelance writer and dancer who lives and works in Los Angeles. Further work can be found on lauramcreative.com.