If you've ever politely laughed at a terrible joke or told your brother-in-law that his botched haircut really "brings out his eyes," then you won't be surprised to learn that a new study from Florida State University confirms our aversion to offering up negative feedback. The problem? It can lead people to have undeserved overconfidence in their skill set—which is dangerous when it comes to your workouts. "People who set overly optimistic fitness goals or exercise plans might invite injury," says Joyce Ehrlinger, PhD, the study's lead author and assistant professor of psychology at FSU. (Search: Injury prevention tips) So you'd hope that if your goals are too ambitious—or not ambitious enough—that your workout buddy or your trainer would tell you, right? Not so, says Dr. Ehrlinger. "My research suggests that people aren't comfortable giving negative feedback and, instead, remain polite. As a result we might not receive the negative feedback that we sometimes really need."
Having an inflated opinion of your fitness ability isn't only bound to be hazardous but it's also likely to prevent you from seeing results you want. In order to make those gains in the gym, it might take a little tough love instead of meaningless cheers.
Jeff Halevy, behavioural health and fitness expert and CEO of Halevy Life in New York, shares 4 things your trainer isn't telling you but should:
1. "You're not working—or dieting—very hard at all."
Many clients, especially those who are new to exercising, are made to feel like what they're doing is the greatest accomplishment ever. The point is not to diminish the value of the effort you're putting in, but, you shouldn't feel like you're anywhere near reaching the summit when there is so much more work to do. Otherwise you're just going to feel disheartened, frustrated, and embarrassed when you realize it. Another implication of the false positive feedback is with the diet. If you think you're training harder than you are, you might be more likely to go home and eat like Michael Phelps to refuel, which isn't necessary. (Video: Burn 100 Calories Now)
2. "You're not my strongest or fittest client."
When a client is asking if anyone else is stronger than they are, they're shifting the focus to the wrong place. The focus should be you and your effort. Honestly, my answer is, "Who are you competing against?" When you're working out to get in shape, your competitor is yourself—you shouldn't be chasing after other clients, imagined or real.
3. "It doesn't look like you've lost an ounce."
You need honesty in order to course-correct. If you tell someone that they're doing great, they'll continue to do what they're doing and get no results. We can learn more from our biggest critics than our biggest supporters. That's why I think that a really good trainer is also a good critic. A yes-man will never get you anywhere. But someone who identifies shortcomings and gaps in your game is going to help you bridge those gaps. You want someone who provides positive criticism with practical solutions.
4. "You're not ready to step into the proverbial ring...nor will you ever be."
I think that very often clients are misled. You need to have a fair assessment of your ability, and managing expectations needs to happen upfront. We all have different shapes and we all have natural genetic limitations and skill limitations. Managing expectations is so important because if clients try to take it to a false next level, the trainer is setting them up for failure—and that failure may deter them for a lifetime.