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I had just finished my least favourite exercise at the gym tonight when a woman got my attention to say that the exercise wasn’t a good one to be done alone, and was worried I could hurt my back. The reason I dislike this particular exercise ran along those lines already, but I did it because that’s the workout we did when I was doing it as part of winter training with a workout buddy.

Of course, I’m always willing to improve myself and my workout (otherwise I wouldn’t be at the gym in the first place), so I asked this woman what I should do to fix the problem. First she said, “You should try using this machine instead,” pointing to a second piece of the same equipment. Huh? I asked for clarification, and she mentioned some other ways of using the same equipment but work totally different muscle groups. Now this woman had credentials of sorts, so I was inclined to take her advice, but even I know that arms and legs are different muscles.

The conversation was going nowhere fast. I started getting a defensive vibe from her, which made me think I was making her think I didn’t believe her or wasn’t interested. So, we quickly dropped it and went our separate ways. It kept bugging me though. I’m more than happy to switch this exercise for another, but what was she talking about? What exactly had her criticism been? What could I do to avoid the problem? What was going on?

I caught up with her later to ask a few questions and see what advice she might have, trying very hard to seem open to the conversation and willing to fix what she saw as something bad in my routine. I don’t think she took it well. I was trying to strike up a friendly conversation—something I rarely do with strangers!—and even had conversation to make, but she still came off as highly defensive, as if I was attacking her opinion. She was actually a bit of a bitch about it.

I had a philosophy professor who used to say that in order to say something is wrong, you have to be able both to point out what exactly is wrong and how to fix it. I never really agreed that you needed the second part, but it certainly would have been nice in this case. Now I’m left at the mercy of the internet, googling for new exercises to replace what I’ll be too self-conscious to do again, instead of getting… well, advice from a random stranger. I guess I’m no worse off.

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