How to Talk to a Fitness Newby

Shane Trotter


Mansfield, Texas, United States

Strength and Conditioning, Kettlebells, Youth Development


How to Talk to a Fitness Newby - Fitness, motivation, new year's resolutions, newbie, novices, novice athletes, culture, new athlete


We argue all day about the benefits of CrossFit versus bodybuilding, distance running versus spin classes, kettlebells versus Olympic lifts, and Pilates versus Zumba. We can and will argue about every fitness trend, and the superiority of an endless array of effective methods. Debate is a healthy and necessary pursuit that can lead to refined thinking and deeper understanding. Plus, we love talking about this stuff. It’s entertaining.



Still, the reality is that most people do not share our passion and zeal. Most people see us as the fitness-deranged, the “health freaks.” Ironically, labeling us as freaks doesn’t stop people from wanting our opinion. Every day, people ask my thoughts on their new boot camp class or the woman who lost 30lb by eating only bananas, or some other fitness fad they want to try. I respond with an attempt to explain the importance of assessment, proper progression, and the need to not just exercise, but move throughout the day. I advise that they need a balanced program with some resistance training, outline what a sustainable approach to nutrition looks like, and more.


That usually lasts about 10 seconds before their eyes glaze over and they begin to regret ever knowing me.


You see, for most people, fitness is not a hobby, or even of much interest. While I believe it is the essential part of each person’s life, and a springboard for their potential in all other endeavors, most find this sort of zeal intimidating. Our current culture typically approaches fitness more as small talk—as the experience that results from occasional spurts of motivation, or a seasonal distraction. Even those who are frustrated with their health and committed to make lifestyle changes tend not to care about the practical implications of their goals.


The Hard But Simple Principles of Health and Fitness

The vast majority of Americans don’t see poor health as a cultural issue that must be addressed, and they have no interest in hearing about how screen time, convenience food, and sedentary occupations have conspired to induce overeating and preclude us from our natural inclinations for movement and physical mastery. They just want personal improvement.


The average fitness dabbler is intimidated by the zealots, the options, and the oversaturation of opinions. They don’t care about WOD times, or why I think kettlebells are awesome. When they ask how to become more fit, they are ambushed with supplements, judgments, and entitlements. They are beset by the myths and manipulations perpetrated by the modern fitness machine and the failures of our standard educational model. Our culture has conditioned everyone to want what is flashy—the program that promises a bikini body in four weeks, or the diet that sucks the fat from your body in just 30 days. They aren’t interested in a lifestyle, they just want results, and they want them now! They want to look better, feel better, and live longer.



The answers to most questions about fitness are simple:




These are the principles of long-term fitness success, and while they are simple, they are difficult to communicate. They are not the concrete answers most people crave and require more than a little self-reflection and honesty to put into motion. There are many routes that follow the principles above, and they all require a steadfast commitment.



Get Off Your Soapbox and Make Friends

This is where you come in. Most fitness newbies need the compassionate, understanding help of more seasoned fitness enthusiasts, like yourself. There is so much noise and no way of knowing who expresses the voice of reason. As much as we want to ambush them with our certainty about the best path, that is not what allows our message to resonate.


In Dale Carnegie’s seminal work, How to Win Friends and Influence People, he outlined the communication strategies that get the results we want from our interactions. Here are a few of the relevant concepts:


  • “One can win the attention and time and cooperation of even the most sought-after people by becoming genuinely interested in them.”
  • Chinese Proverb: “A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.”
  • “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”
  • “Show that you believe the other person’s feelings and beliefs are as important as your own.”
  • “Let the other person save face.”
  • “Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.”
  • “Call attention to peoples mistakes indirectly.”
  • “Praise the slightest improvement, and praise every improvement.”


We might wish that people would take constructive criticism better, but these are the tried and true methods of influence. The trick is learning to apply them.


When people come to you with questions, press pause on the soapbox speech. Ask them what they have been doing, and what they like doing. How are they approaching nutrition to accomplish their goals? Try not to demonize or belittle something they currently are enjoying. More movement, however risky, is far better than the sedentary habits that have likely characterized most of their life. Find common ground, offer to show them a simple method that’s worked, and slowly lead them toward a patient, sane approach.


Everybody Starts Somewhere

Talking to these people may even annoy you. They’ll be full of stubborn, irrational beliefs, like “weightlifting is dangerous,” or “lifting will make me bulky,” or an obsession with counting calories that dominates every aspect of their existence. But condemning people for not seeing the world as you do and demeaning their lack of experience only serves to create a negative association with their effort toward change. Planet Fitness isn’t my favorite gym, but they have built an extremely lucrative model based purely on protecting people from this common belittlement.


There’s a lesson there for all of us. We must be able to communicate with people if we are to help spread the fitness bug our society desperately needs. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help a fitness newbie is to be friendly enough that they want to show up to the gym again.

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