Be the Expert: How would you persuade this guy to change his workout habit?

Ramit Sethi

I was at the gym the other day and saw this guy who was doing an ab workout all wrong. I caught eyes with a trainer, who shook his head. We both smiled.

So we started talking and I asked him if he ever corrects people that are doing exercises wrong. He tells me,

Quiz: What is your earning potential? Choose the answer you agree with the most
View Results

“Yeah, I actually used to go up to people and say, ‘Can I show you a better way to do that?’ But these dudes got REALLY mad…especially the ones from Jersey. And especially guys who had been working out a long time.”

I started cracking up. He said, “One guy looked me up and down and said, how old are you? 24? I have a SUIT older than you.”


Aside from an NYC bar or a new-mother meetup, there is almost no place more fascinating to study applied psychology than a gym: We claim we want to lose weight and dream about getting a 6-pack…but we rarely work out. Some of us actually do go to the gym, but after 12 months of working out, we look the same…yet if someone suggests getting a trainer, we say, “That’s way too expensive!” Still others jump from fad diet to fad diet.

Be The Expert
Use what you’ve learned on this site about psychology to answer these questions:

1. It’s natural to feel angry if someone tries to correct you. But why are guys who’ve been working out for a long time especially angry if someone tries to help them correct their form? What is going on here?

2. If you were recommending what this trainer SHOULD say to actually change the other guy’s form, what would it be? Script it out in the comments.

Hint: This has nothing to do with the gym. It has everything to do with influencing others’ behavior by understanding their barriers and the context of persuasion.

Do you know your actual earning potential?

Get started with the Earning Potential quiz. Get a custom report based on your unique strengths, and discover how to start making extra money — in as little as an hour.

Start The Quiz

Takes 3 min


  1. Jess

    1. It undermines their sense of “I’ve been doing this for X amount of time, therefore I must know what I’m doing” and that’s probably pretty embarrassing.

    2. “I see you’re doing such and such exercise. I found that I got way better results doing (either) a) a different exercise or b) by changing this one thing about what you’re doing, and I also didn’t hurt myself.”

  2. Susan

    Okay, this is something I actually addressed with both my kids and my husband (mid-50s) when they were taking Tae Kwon Do lessons from a young (20s) guy who had them doing ab exercises with bad old techniques. I did not approach the teacher, but used the following script for my family:

    “I purchased DVDs from a health magazine to help me with some strength building exercises. I chose their DVDs because I had trouble with pain after my workouts–sometimes pain in places I hadn’t even worked. And the doctor warned me that some exercises can affect my high blood pressure–in a bad way.

    It turns out the instructor on the DVD was wonderful:
    1) Teaching form
    2) Teaching alternate methods of achieving the same exercise if you have problem areas (shoulders, hips, whatever).
    3) Explaining WHY correct form prevents any experience of pain and which kind of pain (and high blood pressure danger) comes from doing different incorrect form techniques.
    4) Then actually doing the exercise.”

    Now, because my family is very pain averse, they listened. They thought the changes were strange at first, but immediately noticed that (for ab exercises) they no longer felt back, neck, nor oblique muscle pain.

    So, as many people (especially those of a certain age) are starting to experience some pain and joint stiffness (and quite possibly some high blood pressure), I would ask this gentleman to try some of these “new” forms for a couple of weeks and let me know if they actually worked on his abs. (I would not mention pain, as many folks believe if there is no pain, there is no gain.) Then, go back in two weeks and ask if the exercises seem to be an okay way to proceed. (Appeal to his ego, as the exercise “specialist” with years of experience.) My guess is, after a couple of weeks, his pain level will go down and he might find the “new” techniques more comfortable. If so, hopefully he will adapt them as “his own idea” and stick with them. You might even have him demonstrate to the young instructor this revolutionary new way to do ab exercises. Stroke his ego. Appeal to his vast experience.

    Manipulative? Yes.

    A technique that may work with a man my age? Yes.

    Would this work with a woman? No. (With an older woman, I would discuss my high blood pressure and show her how my doctor has me doing the exercise to prevent health problems. That would probably work immediately, as many women my age are quite health conscious and are likely to make the change even if they don’t have high blood pressure.)

  3. Austin

    1. They’ve committed a lot of time to what they’re doing and no one wants to feel like they’ve been wasting years of their life.

    2. You could start out by saying “Hi, I’ve been researching some methods of doing [this exercise]. Would you mind showing me your technique and explaining how it works?” This way he has the choice to participate if he wants to, and rather than immediately take offence, he may be somewhat flattered that you asked. Then as he continues, you could say, “Hmm, that’s really interesting. From what I’ve found, doing [x] might produce slightly better results for you. Maybe give it a try and see what you think.”

  4. Carl

    1.) Ditto to previous comments about wasting time. I think it’s also a preconceived notion of what kind of person gets help from a personal trainer. “They must be a weak person who doesn’t know what they’re doing.” While forgetting that professional athletes, movie stars and supermodels almost exclusively work out with trainers (making a generalization there…I know).

    2.) I think step one is to build a relationship with the person. Strike up a conversation about something completely unrelated to the exercise. Once you’ve built a little rapport, then ask if you can offer a little feedback. Compliment anything they’re doing right (even if the only thing you can compliment is their choice of footwear) is another way to help build rapport. Asking permission to share info lowers resistance.

  5. Dan

    1. It affects their pride. Add that to the fact that people hate change. You’ve basically made them self-conscious about working out (which they either were already and you made them more so, or they weren’t and it was a routine thing… being self-conscious is never fun).

    2. Probably not how you would do it, but I would advise the trainer to be positive and compliment the person first. Puff up their self-esteem. Then, spin it positive by saying, “Hey man, I know of a more effective way to do that. Want me to show you?” Otherwise, you’re just a stranger who came over to criticize.

    Also, don’t forget that this person’s been doing it wrong for a while. Likely, if you correct them, it’ll be harder for them to do. And who wants to do more work? Or realize they’re not as good as they thought they were?

  6. John B

    1. You’re essentially telling them that what they’ve been doing for years is wrong. People don’t like to hear that they’ve been wasting their time doing something incorrectly. In their minds they do what they do because it’s the best way and because it works. Telling them otherwise is a slap in the face.

    2. I would avoid suggesting that what they’ve been doing is wrong. Instead appeal to their pride by suggesting that there is a harder way to do that exercise. I would say something along the lines of, “try doing this exercise, it’s super tough and I guarantee you’ll be feeling it the next day.” If it’s a regular at the gym you can follow up and call them a pussy if they haven’t tried it yet.

  7. Chris S

    The idea of a personal trainer to those who only have health clubs around is hard to swallow when you watch the guys staring at their watches when working with their clients with absolutely no interest in what is going on. I’ve been lifting for 10+ years, but if you give me an accomplished trainer who can lay out not only what to do but why I should do it then I’m more likely to follow their advice. A lot of trainers can never answer the “why” of the exercise as they pick and pull from a list given to them by their health club.

    With my 10+ years of experience I can give you insight into this mindset. Usually the ones who are being corrected have been “walking the walk” for years and those who try to correct them usually look like they haven’t exercised a day in their life.

    I’ve stopped any type of correction because the most important thing I’ve learned is that there is a lagging knowledge curve for exercises and form that trickles down, sometimes overlapping what is seen as good or correct with something that was seen as bad years ago. You’ve got the powerlifters and bodybuilders perfecting things that you’ll see in Men’s Health in 2-3 years. From Men’s Health it trickles into women’s health magazines in 1-2 years and finally a few years later you see it on Dr. Oz or one of those everyman shows.

    I think one of the best techniques may be to ask if they will let you record an exercise they are performing for research you are conducting. Generally curiosity will get the better of someone and if you don’t volunteer the recording they’ll want to see anyway. With the wealth of information available, most people know what exercises should look like but they don’t know what they look like doing them. Being shown how they are performing it may actually alter the way they perform their next set or perform the exercise completely as they remember problems they saw in the video.

    And you don’t even have to say anything!

  8. Drew

    Directly suggesting that someone should change what they are doing can be percieved as an attack. It can invalidate not only what they are doing, but the time and energy spent doing it for the last few years. You are not only “attacking” their form, but the investment they have made in doing it that way.

    If I were to approach this, timing would be key. Wait until somebody that is in great shape and has great form starts to do the same or similar enough excersize. Then make a comment. Don’t even address what they are doing directly so you avoid putting them on the defensive:

    “Wow! Look at that (guy’s girl’s) abs! I started using their method and it has really been working. It cut 10 minutes out of my routine, and I had to tighten my belt one more notch.”

  9. Chris

    1) People above seem to have a good grasp on this. It’s called “Cognitive Dissonance”: people need to find some way of reconciling conflicting information. The longest-standing belief tends to win. In this case, the idea that there’s a better way to do the exercise conflicts (is “dissonant”) with their belief that they are a reasonable person who knows what they’re doing.

    2) In order for this to be successful, you need to present it in a way where the two ideas agree with each other, instead of conflicting. Several people above have come up with good ideas for this already… something along the lines of “Hey, nice form! You look like someone like me who really cares about this stuff, so I’ll let you in on a cool secret I found out about recently. So, I heard about this new technique someone discovered. I’ve been trying it for the past few weeks, and it’s gotten me ripped faster than anything I’ve ever tried before! It’s very similar to what you’re doing, with just one small change. [Show new technique]”

  10. Agota

    1. I think everyone else answered this question already.

    2. I see it from a bit different perspective: what’s the point to try to change the behavior of someone who clearly isn’t open minded (and humble) enough to learn?

    I know the question was about actually changing the behavior, but really, why bother trying to explain stuff to people who think that they’re superior to you and know better?

    In this scenario the trainer isn’t held responsible for the results that people get in the gym, so it’s not worthy for him to bother and waste energy on someone who’s very hard to teach, when he could focus that energy on people who are actually wiling to learn, like a nerdy guy or a middle aged woman who know nothing about fitness (..and have a “beginners mind..).

    Yes, you do have to know psychology of behavioral change well if you’re working as a trainer, but if people think that they know everything already, there’s no point in teaching them, unless you have a clear personal responsibility to do so (..which is unlikely, because that would mean that they pay you to teach them personally or come into your class, which change the whole dynamics..).

  11. Frank T.

    1) They are being reactive to a change of their knowledge, basically cognitive dissonance with the twist that they would have acknowledge that they might have been damaging themselves before. Also it would cast doubt on their own form.

    2) I wouldn’t tell him to change anything. No coaching without asking, no training without asking. These guys are lost causes. You can either spend your time arguing with them or you can spend the time acquiring other people who will willingly listen. You can recruit the other guys once they are throwing their backs out, hurt their backs with roundback deadlifts and sprain their ankles because they are “Running to develop their legs” which is a means to laugh at them. I have given fitness advice for money and for free for over 10 years now. And believe me, you can use foot in the door technique and everything Cialdini and Social Psychology have to give you, it is NOT worth your time. Focus on the points in life where you can be a life changer, focus on the people asking for help. There are enough people and millions of idiot trainers out there who have no clue about training in the first place. Help the people who want it. They also pay way more money per hour.

    • Agota


      I see those of us who actually have an experience of coaching people agree on this topic.. 😀

  12. Ricardo

    I see people have lengthy and thorough scripts above so I will make mine short. The trainer should mention not the ‘how’ but rather the ‘why’. Instead of talking about how the person is doing the exercise wrong, the trainer should explain why the muscle is trained. “Building this muscle will allow you to do X, Y, and Z with more/less effort.” Then the trainer should talk about the ‘how’ and explain the correct method of exercise.

    If I have a clear understanding of why something is done or needs to be done (using X mathematical equation, using Y concrete tons, developing Z program, etc.), then I will have a better understanding of how it is done or will be done.

  13. Brent

    Probably all the testosterone coursing through these men. It makes them arrogant.

  14. peachfront

    Is it a trick question? I have no clue what to say to someone doing a workout exercise wrong, probably because I have no clue why I would care that someone was doing their workout exercise wrong. My mom would probably say that the trainer “SHOULD” mind his own business. I’m inclined to think she’s right.

    • Dani

      This is my favorite answer EVER.

  15. Jackie

    I never knew how to use some of the machines properly at the gym until I watched others dominate them. You may not get through to them with words, but a guy they want to look like doing a move in a way they haven’t tried resonates. So mosey on over to the area of the gym he’s at, work out with proper form where he can get a good view. If he digs your build and wants it, he’ll mimic you.

  16. Dominik

    1. Cognitive Dissonance + reactance

    2. Lead them to change their own conclusions. Recommend a high quality source + highlighten the potential gains for them. Focus on the potential benefits and show some hard data (someone that is even stronger/whatever they care about + doing it right).
    “Hey, I found XXX (e.g. Starting Strength) and thought you might like/benefit from it.” But the best course is just ignoring them. Let them come to you.

  17. Jeff

    Limbic brain hijack. The approach is a perceived by the more creature level brain as a threat to status. The 24 year old comment is especially consistent with this feeling.

    The appropriate approach is a) build rapport subsequently gaining trust and once trust is established b) presenting new information in a non threatening way. Perhaps suggesting what some other dude was doing that you found interesting –> more of an interesting discovery versus you knowing the answer. This doesn’t create a creature level threat and presents the ideas in a way where they maintain autonomy over their choices.

  18. Nick

    1) If a guy is clearly more muscular than you, and you believe his form is improper, it may just be the case that he knows more than you do. I’ve been lifting seriously for 8 years and in the first few years, I used to look at guys who were bigger than me using weird form. I’d think that they’re idiots and I should correct them. The reality is that they’re just using form that is unfamiliar to you, but has been honed through years of experience and success.

    This of course doesn’t apply to everyone, some people really are just terrible in the gym.

    2) The trainer should keep his mouth shut. Just because you believe that you know better than someone else, doesn’t mean you should go around preaching your knowledge. The only time I ever make suggestions is if I believe someone is at risk of injury (ex. poor deadlift form) or if someone specifically asks. Other than that, lifting is such an introspective activity – people need to figure it out on their own through effort and trial/error. If they want help, they ask. If they don’t ask, it’s safer to assume they don’t care about your opinion.

  19. Amy

    Haha! As a trainer, I know EXACTLY where that other trainer is coming from. I used to go up to people and try to correct them as well. Being a smiley, little Asian girl, I didn’t get yelled at, but I don’t feel like they really listened to me either.

    For your first question, I think a lot of people don’t want to be questioned or corrected because they don’t want to face the fact that they’ve either wasted their time doing things incorrectly or acknowledge that this person knows more than them. Also, working out already puts us in a vulnerable state: here we are trying to improve our forms and our lives in front of everyone. Hearing that we’re doing it subpar is a shot to the ego.

    I would recommend this guy gets to know these people first. That’s how I started gaining clientele. The people that go to the gym usually visit a few times a week. After building a relationship with the person, they would start opening up (which you can tell watching body language) and even asking for tips. People tend to feel better about getting advice when they solicit it themselves, or when they hear it from a trusted friend. Both came about naturally after I got to know the members.

  20. Brian

    I was at the cafeteria the other day and saw this young kid who was buying his 6 dollar latte all wrong. I caught eyes with a coworker, who shook his head. We both smiled.

    So we started talking and I asked him if he ever corrects people that overspend on luxuries they could make themselves for much cheaper. He tells me,

    “Yeah, I actually used to go up to people and say, ‘Can I show you a cheaper way to do that?’ But these dudes got REALLY mad…especially the ones from I Will Teach You To Be Rich. And especially guys who had been buying lattes for a long time.”

    I started cracking up. He said, “One guy looked me up and down and said, how old are you? 84? My great grandfather has a SUIT younger than you.”

  21. Xenocles

    There’s a Zen parable about a very experienced student who approaches a master to learn under him. The master prepares tea for both of them, and student begins talking about how much he already knows. In the meantime the master starts pouring tea into the student’s cup. He fills it past overflowing, and when the student notices he jumps up and yells “What are you doing? The cup is full; you can’t get any more tea in there!”
    To which the master replies: “Just like your mind.”

    You can’t teach those who think they have nothing to learn. Attempting to do so wastes the time of two people and is likely to make them both angry, too.

  22. Chris

    1. The psychology at play is a combination of loss-aversion and sunk costs. The time and effort put into past training was a cost of time and effort. It is the same psychology of continuing to hold stocks that have tanked in the hopes that they will rebound and the loss won’t be “locked in”.

    2. I would try to sell the new form as a new product. Don’t focus on the poor form of the sit up. Say something to the effect of, “Hey, I just learned this new technique for doing sit ups. It has been doing wonders for me. Would you like me to show you?”

  23. Ed

    +1 to what Nick @#18 said. Not everyone works out the same way, nor should they. I would add that people have different goals at the gym, which means they’re going to be on different programs. You may think someone’s lifting too fast (i.e. jerking the weight up), but maybe they’re doing a workout oriented towards building explosive power (i.e. strength + speed). Or you may think someone is lifting too slow and/or can’t get the weight up, but they’re really doing a workout that builds stamina. Bottom line, you may have good intentions when you try to correct someone, but don’t assume that your way is the always “right” way for everyone.

  24. Ed

    To answer the question posed by Ramit, I would ask the person why they’re doing the exercise the way they’re doing it**. If there’s a reason for what they’re doing (i.e. they’re doing squats with the bar in front of them because it forces them to keep proper form), then hey, I just learned something. But if they actually *don’t* know what to do, they might be more open to suggestions on how to improve their technique.

    ** e.g. Hi. Can I ask you something? I noticed you’re doing squats with the bar in front. Is there a reason you do it that way? Have you tried doing it [some other way]? Yes, I will get myself out of your face. And although it may be anatomically impossible, I will try my best to do what *you* suggested.

  25. steve

    1. The psychology behind the anger: It’s unsolicited advice. Nobody wants to be told what to do, especially by some gym-rat-rando, and even moreso after a hard day of people pleasing at the office. That’s why they’re mad. This older guy, who’s out of shape, is out of shape because he’s neglected himself. If he wanted to know how to do it right, he would have learned by now. (This is coming from an in-shape 43 year old gym regular).

    2. If I were recommending what this trainer SHOULD say to actually change the other guy’s form, what would it be? Let’s walk through the reasoning behind what he wants.
    Here’s the subtextual goal: (imagining as if I’m a trainer) to have a total stranger listen to my expert knowledge on weight training. Why would a total stranger want to listen to me? Because I’m an authority. How would a total stranger learn that I’m an authority? I could establish rapport, and gain his trust. The goal here is to sell him on the idea that a total stranger could have some insight that will improve his workout. The sale I’m trying to make is my expert advice, the price is free. The behavior: politely suggest!

    “Hi, my name is ——, you know, sorry to bother you but, I’m a personal trainer, and while I was waiting for you to finish-up here [at the ab work out bench], I noticed your technique with a simple adjustment, could benefit greatly. I’d be willing to give you a few pointers to help you out, if you’d like, and you’ll probably notice immediate results just by making a slight change. If I wasn’t a personal trainer, I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning it, but I just hate missing opportunities to help out a fellow gym member achieve his training goals.”

    • Dani

      That! Unsolicited advice.

      When you give somebody unsolicited advice, it comes off as telling them “U R DOIN IT RONG” – out of nowhere, with no pre-existing relationship? Being right doesn’t excuse being rude. For that matter, being rude means people won’t listen to you when you’re right. We’re territorial, us humans. Most of us spend enough time having to defend our territories without having total strangers come up and critique stuff. (This is also a big part of why it’s so difficult to successfully step in when parents are being dicks to their kids in public.)

      It leads into the second question: you need some kind of buy-in, some kind of trust accumulated, even if it’s just a minute’s worth, before people are going to be willing to listen to your advice.

      Psychologically, otherwise you are bouncing a trust check here. You’re trying to withdraw from an account that you haven’t put anything into.

      This question has two of Ramit’s invisible barriers all over it: “They should be listening to me, I know better than them,” and “If they don’t listen to me, they’re being stupid.”

      THEY don’t know that you actually know what you’re talking about; before you even get to the point of motivating them to change their ways, you have to give them a reason to listen to what you, personally, have to say about it. Like Ramit does in his finance work.

      Although as an earlier commenter basically said, first I’d have to have a reason to even go through all the trouble of motivating them and showing them that I know what I’m doing in the first place!

  26. Anthony Williams

    1. People really don’t like being corrected. Especially if (a) it’s by someone they don’t know, and (b) they’ve been doing the thing-being-corrected for a long time. If they accept that the person is right then it’s embarrassing, and frustrating, and they might feel silly or cross with themselves. There’s resentment that this person they didn’t know felt able to criticise them. There’s also the self-consciousness that this other person has been watching them work out, which can be uncomfortable. Put all this together, and it can make someone angry.

    2. Direct confrontation won’t work. You need to talk to them without confrontation. You could open with something like “you’re doing a different technique to the one I was taught. Is it effective?” Depending on what they say then you can lead into a discussion about different techniques, and find an opening to suggest the “better” technique.

    • Kristin

      This is closest to what I was thinking…open with a question and make it a give and take conversation, asking for tips, then advice on what you are showing them…and/or after striking up conversation then invite to the next section of the workout legs/cardio etc.

  27. Stefan

    I’ve been a personal trainer for about 5 years now. I don’t normally correct people’s form specifically for the reason that was described in the article. However, if you were compelled to help the guy out, this is how I do it:

    Me: You’re working pretty hard dude! *Force my way onto the machine* You ever try to do it this way? (I then go on to explain the proper biomechanics of the body while I’m demonstrating the exercise and throw in a smart-name of a muscle such as ‘seratus anterior.’)

    Guy doing everything wrong (usually says): Thanks man, I’ll try that.
    or he says nothing, rudely waves you off and then proceeds to try what you said anyway as soon as he thinks you’re not looking.

  28. skabetti

    It isn’t my business to correct someone. What am I, a crusader-vigilante-do-gooder? I’m no expert, even if I know a better way to do something. If people resent me for interfering, they SHOULD.

  29. Strom

    I like it when the puffy looking 140 lb personal trainer glances over at the bro doing curls in the squat rack and they share a knowing look of disdain at the d-bag doing his bosu ball front raises totally wrong. If a guy is willing to spend most of a whole weekend getting certified as a trainer, you pretty much owe him your undivided attention any time he wants to give you unsolicited advice. That’s just common sense.

  30. John

    Give the instructions to someone else nearby where the first guy can overhear. Overrides his defensiveness.

  31. K00kyKelly

    The only way I have been successful in situations like this is to start with: Hey are you experiencing X problem?

    In the bad form example – Hey man do you get this weird side pain [points to self] the morning after a workout?
    Guy: Yeah, so? (If you mention a super specific problem people will get excited and instantly interested. They want this problem to go away.)
    Trainer: I’ve noticed with a lot of my clients that if they modify to [demonstrate move] they don’t have that issue anymore.

    This approach requires that you have enough of an understanding to know what the bad form will do to them. If it doesn’t have negative effects other than lack of effectiveness you probably don’t have much to work with.

    Side note: It would be an interesting experiment if a gym started a policy where members were given the option to wear a “optimize my workout” bracelet. Trainers could only approach people with bracelets. Would people respond differently?

    • Dani

      Of course they would, because they would already have given you the buy-in.

  32. Lucy Ra

    1. It’s natural to feel angry if someone tries to correct you. But why are guys who’ve been working out for a long time especially angry if someone tries to help them correct their form? What is going on here?

    People’s brain is programmed to like the familiar. That’s why we stick to the same old same – it’s a safe zone, a survival instinct. When you want to change your behavior you really got to consciously put effort to change your act. Not easy.

    Of course these men are angry – they are not achieving the results they want years into it but things like getting away from same and familiar, pride, ego, or embarrassment to admit to mistakes get in the way of listening for advice and changing the behavior.

    2. If you were recommending what this trainer SHOULD say to actually change the other guy’s form, what would it be? Script it out in the comments.

    I recommend that he doesn’t say anything.
    Yes, let me explain:
    I teach yoga at least once a week. Form is a big deal in my beginner class and I spend a lot of time on it. Most students listen and correct, some do not. Normally our students want to look/perform like us (teachers) so that’s enough motivation for them to do what we say and take every suggestion. At least that’s what I did when I was a student. And you bet I didn’t look as good as I do now.
    The best way I found to influence ppl is to just do my thing and if they like what they see, they will ask for advice. And, boy, do they.

    The angry guys at the gym? They are actually not angry enough to change. It takes some serious anger at yourself to drop what you are doing and do something new and uncomfortable. They are not there yet. No matter how you approach. From my experience.

  33. Annika

    As a personal trainer with a natural approach to exercise and nutrition, I’ve had heaps of experience trying to confront people that are doing it “all wrong”

    So in answer to 1:
    Doing an exercise ‘wrong’ is sunk costs, they’re reluctant to let go of their way of doing it because they’ve been doing it for years. Then they also feel attacked. Telling them they’re ‘doing it wrong’ is received by the brain as ‘you’re wrong’, which gets interpreted as ‘you’re ignorant, stupid, a failure’. Noone likes getting told they don’t know what they’re doing, especially by someone they don’t know. So they get angry.

    2. How to change his habits. There are many different options here, many of which have also been suggested. But the underlying trick is to take the attention away from the personal attack and focus on the technique itself – be it by building a relationship or talking about how it’s helped you and your friends. Anything that avoids provoking the negative ‘You don’t know what your doing and have been doing it wrong all this time” feeling.

  34. Nidz

    1. I don’t know, but if I was to rationalize it, I’d think it’s because one does not want to feel stupid/wrong/etc.

    2. A great way to appeal to somebody’s herd mentality to get them to do something the right way is to say, “Hey, that’s an interesting way of doing the exercise. Did you know 95% (or some other high percentage) of people work the same muscles by doing the exercise this way…?” and then proceed to demonstrate. Research has shown that if everybody is doing it, the mind seems to adjust its norm and seeks out membership. There’s surely subtleties, but this could work.

  35. Jay

    I loved the comment what are you 24 I have a suit older than you lol. Typical dumb comment from an older guy but I agree people are hilarious they think they are Zeus at the gym but can’t even lift their own body weight on a bench press which is very

    If you can’t do this no offense whoever reads this comment but you need to workout a bit harder. People just need to get way more motivated and stick to a routine that works for them if you do not have one, find one!

  36. Frank

    Not sure if I was supposed to read other peoples’ responses first, but I didn’t. So maybe this is repetitive. Meh.
    1.) Not sure if cognitive dissonance is the term to use for this… (but I’m taught “naming is not explaining”)… so I’d say if it *is* true that ab-workout-guy has been doing it wrong, being open to the better method implies he’s been doing it wrong his whole life. The idea of cognitive dissonance says that when our actions and thoughts don’t line up (are dissonant), instead of fixing it by changing our actions/decisions (and admitting we’re wrong), we’d rather change our thoughts and lie to ourselves. Thus, instead of going “oh, that way *is* better… I’ll do it like that from now on! Thanks, stranger!”, ab-workout-guy goes “HEY, I haven’t been doing this wrong. The only way that can be true is if YOU’RE wrong. Don’t come in here and piss on my life-long pursuit of a six-pack.”
    2.) As a benevolent stranger, my goal would be to make ab-workout-guy aware of the other method and its benefits and let him make the decision. My goal is not to persuade him to my methods. Thus, I’d try to present the more effective option with minimum offense. The conversation would go something like this…
    Me: Good day, sir!
    Him: Greetings!
    Me: Hm, I’ve never seen anyone do that exercise like that. That’s interesting.
    [At this point, if he’s receptive, he might ask how I do it. If he thinks he’s the shit, he might explain why it’s the most awesome method ever. Let’s assume that.]
    Him: Yes, my uncle from Austria taught me. It stimulates the abstronium muscles by inducing negative ions for maximum contraction. Then if I add a *third* Shake Weight, I get *twice* the results.
    Me: Oh, wow. My trainer taught me to do crunches a little differently. He said to just to do X and Y. I had trouble with it at first, but it turns out I had trouble with A and B, so my trainer reminded me to really focus on C and D because it helps E and F. Since then I’ve seen a lot better results. [Lift shirt and flex abs] *HNGGGNG!!* But I’ve never tried it your way, so I might try that today. Thanks for the idea! No response needed.
    My goal would be to get my method out there and at the same time try to make it clear that I’m not necessarily saying it’s better, but it worked for me for so-and-so reasons. I might say I’ll try your method too to further emphasize that I believe your method may be valid, but I won’t really say it’s better (because that would be a lie), but maybe hint that I believe what’s better is determined by testing.

  37. Jaime

    2) either: dont bother, focus on people who at least ask or want to change (IWTYTBR website stated ethos).


    run a one-off (FREE) abs workshop, tell the guy either, you want a few people in there who look like they know what they are doing, or, you want someone experienced in there to let you know if you are pushing people too hard to quickly. tell him you want his feedback after the class on the exercises demonstrated during this class and whether he thinks its a good idea for the gym to keep running them.

    alternatively, try not coming off as a salesly douche like most gym trainers. as well as resisting change that undermines him the guy doing the exercises probably just thinks please go away because he is afraid of being sold a program to correct it. He may even know its not a great way to do it but being doing it that way because he likes how it feels or because he is injured etc.

  38. David Hamilton | Everlution

    Very engaging topic Ramit. I like the thought challenge here!

    1) I think it is because people are already oversensitive about their bodies, especially at the gym. They don’t know any better, and either are frustrated with their lack of results, or think it’s good enough for them. Either way it’s an ego think, and someone that comes along and challenges what they belief, in a direct and non-persuasive manner makes all the defenses go up.

    2) I somehow have a feeling you might be talking about Cialdini’s principle of influence, since you’re a psychology buff. The trainer should engage them by saying hi, smiling etc and build trust and rapport, indirectly – starting with “Liking”. Starting the conversation in an open and friendly manner, but NOT talking about training right away. Also, this may not happen in the first interaction. But if so, he might even find something to complement the guy on, and move into saying something like “hey have you ever tried this, it’s a different way to do the exercise, and I’ve found it gets great results” WITHOUT directly challenging the guy or making him wrong.

  39. Prathap

    1) I believe it is result of knowing and doing/understanding. The guy in the gym might have read numerous books, watched DVDs, hit numerous years in gym, etc and have lot of knowledge about that workout. Though he is doing it all wrong, for him he is doing it right and it is supported by his own expert knowledge. so, when you tell him wrong, you are actually questioning his expertise in that subject and he is naturally pissed off

    2) The approach to change would be to question his expertise like a student eager to learn. This will help him save his face and help him to unlearn and learn it the correct way.

  40. Dustin | Fit Marriage

    1) It’s a classic ego thing – no one wants to be corrected at something they’ve been doing the “right way” for a while. And in the gym, you feel particularly vulnerable and defensive because it’s public and you’re doing some physical.

    2) I think the key is to start on their level. Something like, “Hey man, I’m a big fan of crunches. The sucky thing is I hurt myself last year doing them, and it kept me out of the gym for a while. I had a trainer show me how to do them a little differently, and it’s been blasting my abs. Mind if I show you?”

    So you’re not attacking their current approach, but you are relating something that helped you when you were not getting the results you wanted.


  41. Be the Expert: How would you persuade this guy to change his workout habit? | Blogs Web

    […] June 27, 2012 · 44 comments […]

  42. Susan

    Okay, having just read Tim Ferris “The 4 Hour Body,” I’d copy the few pages about building abs (not the part about crunches not working), and ask the gentleman in question if he’d help me do the exercises correctly. (I’d only do this after mastering the exercises myself for a few weeks.) If he agrees to, I’d explain how they are supposed to tone my abs very quickly and I was anxious to try them since crunches didn’t seem to work for me. Afterwards (assuming he agreed to help me), I’d ask if he’d like a copy and hand him the copy I was carrying. He might be intrigued enough (if it worked on an old lady like me) to try them. It might not change his doing crunches incorrectly, but it might help him actually build abs. If he wouldn’t help me, I’d ask the trainer to help me do them right next to the guy doing stuff wrong. Then I’d check out my abs (already toned) and ask the trainer (loudly), “Wow, isn’t 3 weeks a long time to get like this? It’s taking forever!” Then I’d “accidentally” leave the exercise pages behind on the floor, next to the guy.

  43. Dana Twight

    To paraphrase Lance Armstrong, it’s not about the exercise. Ramit’s question asked how to change someone’s workout routine. Most of these replies didn’t involve asking the gentleman involved any questions, unless the stranger had offered some unsolicited information first. I would suggest building rapport in some way that didn’t involve technique; then *asking the person why they were at the gym* in the first place. What are they trying to accomplish? While the comments about being non-threatening are accurate, I don’t seem them as being as relevant here. What have their goals been? Are they successful? One can then gauge how to respond-possibly with empathy about your own goals, routines and offering some information the machine or technique. If you don’t know where they are coming from, what you know won’t matter a whit. At the gym I go to, we see everyone as someone with a goal, something that they are seeking. If you can get them to reveal the goal, you will be much more successful in redirecting some of that effort.