Ignorance at the Gym

You see it all the time, and I mean all the time. Yet another gym-goer doing something they shouldn’t be.

It’s not that they are too dumb or incapable of learning proper technique to prevent injuries, but that they’re ignorant – They just haven’t learned it yet, or more importantly, no one has told them.

Today I ran into a man who has probably been going at it for many years. He was in his mid 30’s, about 6’2″ 240lbs of muscle. His physique was a true testament to all his hard work and dedication. Yeah, he works out, bro. Unfortunately, as far as his squat is concerned, he’s probably not going to be working out his legs too much longer.

I set up shop at the squat rack, and turn to my left to see this man, knees wrapped, weight belt on, grimacing in pain squatting 400+ for reps. Good for him! We exchange some small talk here and there, mostly him complaining about how his knees hurt and he can’t lift as much as he used to, and then I see it – His right knee is buckling in pretty hard as he works through the squat motion. He’s finishing the reps, but at a pretty high risk of knee injury.

Typically, when I’m at the gym, I always look around and compare my form to that of others. Overall, it can occasionally keep you in check, or at the very least influence you to question your own form. Out of humility, I’m always slightly questioning some things I do, just to make sure I’m doing them correctly. If I’m not sure, I’ll look it up and compare various answers with my base knowledge and logic to determine the most reasonable way of doing something. It definitely pays off to be humble!

I asked this man if my form looked alright, to which he gave me some basic advice, although some of which was slightly incorrect. Either way, I used this as a way to inch my way into giving him some advice of my own in hopes I could save his knee, which would inevitably be blown out if he continued down this path. I asked him which knee was bothering him, knowing fully well which one it would be, and he replied “my right knee is just killing me”, and went on to once again explain he can’t lift as much as he used to. I began to explain how I used to slightly buckle my knee in, and have since fixed that problem by thinking about pushing my knees out during the motion. Here’s an example:


Now, with that being said, some people are against forcefully pushing the knees out, and it’s important to understand that there is more than one way, although similar in nature, to perform this movement (This is more a cue than it is to be taken literally. It has more to do with stabilizing the hip by external rotation, aka “knees out”); However, most can agree, especially those qualified to give advice regarding proper biomechanical movement, letting the knees collapse inward to a valgus position is not a good idea.

Watch this great interview with Kelly Starrett if you want to know more information on the knees, and more importantly the hips, during the squat motion.

In the End

After explaining this concept to him, specifically pointing out my previous fault and how I corrected it, he simply looked at me, nodded, and began explaining he was doing it because his knee hurt and he wanted to finish the rep.

What? Did you hear a word I just said?

I wanted so badly to explain in-depth to him that the very reason his knee was hurting to begin with was because of this valgus fault during the squat. At the very least, it was a simple biomechanical error that needed to be corrected so he could perform movements, such as the squat, efficiently and safely. Failure to correct such a movement flaw would result in the very problem he was having, and greatly increase his chances of injury in the future. In fact, by correctly this movement flaw he would probably be able to safely add even more weight in the near future. Pain free!

Maybe this man went home after the gym and did his research, learning about proper squat technique in order to prevent future pain and thousands of dollars in medical bills.

Maybe his stubbornness got in the way, mixing poorly with his ignorance on the subject, landing him a knee replacement in the near future.

Although I’m certainly not beating myself up about it, I still wonder if there was anything else I could have done to convince him to fix the root of his problem without coming off as patronizing. The center of that problem appears to be ignorance; One could go a step further and say the real problem is his stubbornness or maybe even a hint of narcissism. I suppose at the center of it all is his unwillingness to learn about the problem that is staring him right in the face.

Keep an open mind everyone! Anytime a problem arises in your life it is always worth investigating a bit further. You never know what you might find.

The body is amazingly adaptable, but make sure you listen to it.


2 thoughts on “Ignorance at the Gym

  1. A lot of times, the issue I have at the gym is people looking at my small frame (5’7″ 173 lbs) and not taking anything I say seriously because “they are bigger and stronger than me). I have seen people doing said exercise wrong, I show them how to do it, they do it properly, then they go back to doing it wrong again. I never give advice when I am working out at the gym unless I am asked. I mean once, I was doing Close Grip bench and someone came up to me and said “you know that puts more emphasis on your triceps?” my response “I am well aware of that.” A lot of times people rather take advice from someone who “looks like they know what they’re doing” and in reality knows very little. Versus someone who is “not so aesthetically pleasing or bigger” and knows what they are talking about.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more! I wanted to get into some of that, but I figured I’ll save it for another time. I’d even go as far as to say that most of the advice I’ve been given at the gym over the years is either completely wrong, or only slightly correct at best. Luckily there are many resources online, but even those need to be carefully sifted through.

      Your comment about the close grip bench press is hilarious. I’ve gotten that exact same question before! After ~6 years in the gym, some years better than others, I’ve grown to learn quite a bit through a combination of trial and error and research. We can only hope that others do the same for their own sake. I studied exercise sport science in college as well, but frankly I learned ten times more on my own. I’ve gone from 5’9″ 115lbs all the way up to 180lbs with 8%bf at my “best”. People probably respect you more than you think, though! Once you throw around more weight than they do, they catch on real quick! 🙂

      Good luck! Set the example!

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