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The Dos & Don’ts of Giving Fitness Gifts

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Okay, it’s time to be real: Gift-giving is almost always a challenge. Matching a person you love with something they’ll love is hard — especially when you put in the complicated math of trying not to add more clutter to someone’s life, trying not to buy something someone already has or just doesn’t want. While the truth is that there’s no product, item or shiny thing that can actually match up with the deep feelings you have for a friend, family member or other loved one, that doesn’t mean those of us with that gift-giving love language won’t keep trying!

But, something that I feel like I’m constantly asked as a Health Editor is this: Is it rude or weird or uncomfortable to give someone a fitness or wellness-themed gift? And I can’t say I blame them! We all saw the Peloton Wife commercial. We all know the weird feeling of having a friend/family member or acquaintance inquire about our diet and exercise habits (or lack thereof). So we know the line between “Aw, this is really thoughtful. Thank you!” and “Oh, thanks. I never would’ve picked this out myself” can be a treacherously thin one.

Now, to be clear, I am not talking about your fitness fanatic friend. If there’s someone special in your life with a loud, proud and pronounced fitness hobby (the gym rat! the daily run devotee!), you are in the clear to gift them something that complements it (though, being tactful and mindful of how you do that is also part of the game). But odds are you won’t insult your gear-head friend by getting them some fashionable reflective-wear for their next cycling adventure or a subscription to a cool app that they’ve been meaning to try. These folks aren’t your concern.

Today, we’re talking more about the other folks on your list — the ones who maybe have a normal to meh relationship with the gym, the ones who maybe have said “oh that seems cool” about an ABBA-themed Peloton class or respond with polite disinterest when you mention your favorite fitness tracker. The normies.

With them, we recommend being a bit more careful and tactful about the kind of gifts that cross the realm into the fitness and wellness lifestyle territory because the last thing you want is to imply that you think they should overhaul their lifestyle choices in a way that’s intrusive and unsolicited at best and insensitive or hurtful at worst. (Basically, you don’t want to make it weird!)

Which brings us to the Dos and Don’ts of giving these gifts:

Do: Consider the things they have shown interest in.

So if your friend has asked about your Fitbit or Smartwatch of choice and seemed intrigued, you might be able to safely gift them one without it coming off weird. If they seem excited about weight lifting or boxing or running, you might be able to set them up with something cool to assist them in the exploratory phase (think: a cool beginner-friendly app, a thoughtful relevant book, a beginner’s DVD or low-cost subscription).

Suggestion: I’ve loved the book Lifting Heavy Things by Laura Khoudari as I’ve started getting into lifting. Thinking in terms of reading up on an activity (or a cool athlete) is a way to complement someone’s existing interests without imposing anything.

Don’t: Try and push your obsession on to them.

This one goes out to devotees of [insert high-end fitness brand here]. We love that you love your [activity/fitness obsession]. I am certain your friend is overjoyed that you are overjoyed and feel strong and content. That does not mean that your thing is going to be their thing. So if you get like polite nods when you hype up your last sweat sesh, read that room and don’t try and force it. I guarantee you will not win over a prospective workout buddy that way.

Suggestion: ClassPass remains a cool and flexible way for folks to try out a variety of fitness options. This lets someone who has expressed interest embark on their own journey without the weird vibes.

Do: Offer low-lift, versatile and easy-to-opt out of options.

Sometimes thinking smaller is better. Consider when you first stumbled into your wellness/fitness obsession of choice — you didn’t immediately get all the expensive gear or double down on turning your guest room into a weight room. So maybe avoid throwing impossible to cancel workout classes (especially in this pandemic flare-up season) or gym memberships or clutter-causing gear at your loved one. Instead maybe again look at how you can nurture the exciting exploratory phase (again, assuming the thing is something they actually want to explore) or support the journey they are already on.

Suggestion: I often think workout recovery items are a cool middle-ground here — they can be versatile for day-to-day aches and pains in addition to athletic ones. A good foam roller is something I think every person with a body will love and value at one point or another. Especially if they’re part of the “bad back” hive!

Don’t: Give something based on what you think they need.

This one involves a tiny bit of introspection (as a treat). Sometimes family members have opinions about how our loved ones should live their lives (or, worse, “improve” their bodies, per some outdated definition of improvement). That’s an occupational hazard of being a person who cares about other people in our own special ways. Nonetheless, it never hurts to consider whether a gift is trying to express an opinion without doing the work of maybe having conversations with that person — and even then considering whether it is our place to express those thoughts at all.

All’s to say, if you think the gift can be received in a way that says “I think you should change a thing about yourself” it might be rude (or even harmful) and it might not be the move.

Suggestion: A good and honest chat with yourself.

Do: Be mindful that everyone’s health story and needs are different.

Due to diet culture and the more toxic parts of fitness culture that make people feel bad about their bodies and abilities all day, every day, a lot of us have complicated relationships with the wellness/fitness industry. So this can mean that the nutrition book that saved your life or personally excited you might be upsetting or triggering to someone you know and love who struggled with disordered eating or exercise habits. It can mean that the fitness tracker you love reminds someone of negative habits or attitudes they are trying to grow from. If you operate with this knowledge that what works and feels overwhelmingly positive for you may not be so for someone you love, you’ll avoid a lot of missteps in this space.

Suggestion: Give them something that helps them practice body positivity or self-care instead.

Don’t: Surprise them with something that takes up a wild amount of space.

Again, I’m going to call back to Peloton wife. If you haven’t explicitly gotten confirmation from someone that that stationary bike (or treadmill, weight bench, etc.) is something that will fit into their living space without being a stressful nuisance, hard pass on it. The price tag alone might give them a load of anxiety and put pressure on them to make use of the thing without it really being what they want to do. Or it’ll get returned promptly. Or you’ll get a weird phone call. Either way, you absolutely never want to be that guy giving an unsolicited giant gift without a warning.

Suggestion: If they want gear but are Yikes! about space, there are some cool space-saving options on the market like this under-desk treadmill (again: make sure they want a treadmill) or stackable weights (I love my adjustable kettlebell).

Do: Ask them!

I know, I know, we all love surprising the people we love, but sometimes certainty is worth spoiling a surprise. Check with your loved one (or a mutual conspirator) to be sure that your gift will be received in the spirit it was given (and, again, make sure to vibe-check the spirit in which you’re giving a gift if you’re operating based on what you think is best for them). And, if you ask me, knowing that your fitness gift inspires excitement and fun rather than those weird body shame-y vibes does wonders for the anxiety and will make your holiday a much happier one.

Suggestion: A stealth group chat or a nice phone call.

Before you go, check out the workout recovery essentials we’re obsessed with: 

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