Squatting in public can feel very awkward in the best of situations. You’re grunting, sweating and shaking all while sticking your butt out as far as possible (while wondering if your leggings have gone sheer) and hoping not to drop some very heavy weights on yourself. As a girl who squats frequently, I’m just going to say this: Mid-squat is literally the worst time to approach any woman in a gym.
And yet, the other day, as I was dropping it low (in the fitness sense), a man came up behind me. “Excuse me,” he started. I immediately cringed.
As I re-racked my loaded bar and turned around, the young man continued, “I was watching you from across the gym.” (What up, creeper?) “And I have to tell you that you’re doing that all wrong. In fact, I was worried you were going to hurt yourself. I almost ran over and grabbed that bar away from you!”
I bristled as he then proceeded to give me a bunch of unnecessary and wrong advice, “mansplaining” to me how to do squats. He even threw my weights on the floor (!) and moved me out of the way of the bar so he could demonstrate.
After he left me to pick up the mess he’d made, I fumed — because, of course, I couldn’t think of anything good to say in the moment! Instead, I’d offered a meek, “Oh, thanks,” to which he nodded and pointed a finger at me like I was a disobedient child before strutting away.
But, what I wish I could have said was, “Actually, I’ve been lifting weights — and successfully back squatting — for longer than you’ve had facial hair. And also, you’re doing it wrong. Both the squatting and the facial hair.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me, and my experience isn’t unique. Almost every woman who’s spent any time in a gym, especially on the weight floor, has a similar story to share, and it’s one of the top reasons ladies give for not wanting to lift weights at the gym. But lifting weights is fantastic exercise and women need it every bit as much as men do.
So, in the spirit of good relations between the sexes, here are six responses you can use the next time someone tries to mansplain something to you at the gym. (Disclaimer: Of course, not all men do this. Most men at gyms are wonderful and kind and polite. But, there are enough men that do do this to make it an issue.)
Option No. 1: Ask them a question back. “Oh, that’s really interesting! Why do you say that women should never do headstands while on their period?” Often advice-givers are trying to tell you something about themselves (like that they ran track in college and miss the good ol’ days). This will take the pressure off of you to actually use their advice and yet still make them feel heard.
Option No. 2: Give them a hard no. Sometimes the only way to stop the advice-giver is to give them an answer they can’t argue with. My personal favorite is, “God told me not to” because who can argue with the Big Guy, amirite? Other responses include, “Wow, that workout powder sounds really cool, but my doctor says I shouldn’t take supplements that list explosive diarrhea as a side effect.” Or, “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal in all 50 states, but if I ever visit American Samoa, I’ll give it a go.” OK, or you can just be reasonable and cut to the chase by saying, “No, thanks.”
Option No. 3: Take their advice. If it can’t hurt and the giver seems to know their stuff, then why not use their free expertise? This is how I learned the proper way to do Olympic lifts when I first started CrossFit. A man saw me about to do serious damage to myself and butted in with a polite, “Excuse me, but I used to be a competitive lifter and if you keep doing cleans that way, you’re going to crush your windpipe.” It can be hard to swallow your pride at not having thought of it first or your embarrassment at having been caught doing something wrong, but sometimes people are smart! The key is knowing that you only have to accept advice that you find accurate and valuable.
Option No. 4: Laugh. If their advice is utterly ridiculous, pretend like you think they are just messing around with you and laugh. The key here is to laugh with them, not at them. (If you must laugh at them — and sometimes you really must — then save it for when they’re out of earshot. Plus it’ll give you time to make the story really good for your friends.) The more insistent they get, the louder you laugh. Eventually, they’ll either start laughing too or run away because they’ve clearly provoked your seventh personality, the one with all the inner demons.
Option No. 5: Wear headphones. Crank the tunes, go to your happy place and get your sweat on. People generally won’t try to give you advice if they know you can’t hear them. Just give a cute smile and that I-wish-I-spoke-your-language shrug and move on. Even if you don’t actually have your music turned on.
Option No. 6: Say exactly what you’ve always wanted to say. Be sarcastic, funny and awesome if you want to! And if you think of the perfect response in time, then tell me about it because I really, really want to hear all about it.