Health & Wellness

What to do and what not to do when giving fitness gifts, for the holidays or any other time of year

Okay, let’s be honest: Giving gifts is almost always hard. It’s hard to find something that the person you love will love, whether it’s for a birthday, the holidays, or just because. This is especially true when you try not to add more stuff to someone’s life or buy them something they already have or just don’t want. Even though there’s no product, item, or shiny thing that can match the deep feelings you have for someone you care about, that doesn’t mean those of us who speak this love language won’t keep trying!

But, as a Health Editor, I feel like I’m always asked this question: Is it rude, weird, or uncomfortable to give someone a gift that has something to do with health or fitness? I really can’t blame them! We all saw the ad for Peloton Wife. We all know how strange it feels when a friend, family member, or acquaintance asks us about what we eat and how often we work out (or lack thereof). So we know the difference between “Aw, that’s so nice of you. Thank you!” and “Oh, thank you. “I never would have chosen this for myself” can be a very thin line to walk.

Now, just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about your friend who is always working out. If you know someone with a loud, proud, and obvious fitness hobby (the gym rat! the person who runs every day! ), you can give them a gift that goes with it (though, being tactful and mindful of how you do that is also part of the game). But you probably won’t offend your gear-head friend if you get them some stylish reflective clothing for their next bike trip or a subscription to a cool app they’ve been meaning to try. You don’t have to worry about these people.

Today, we’re going to talk more about the other people on your list, the ones who might have a normal to meh relationship with the gym. These are the people who might have said, “Oh, that sounds cool,” when you told them about an ABBA-themed Peloton class or smiled politely when you told them about your favorite fitness tracker. The regulars.

We suggest being a little more careful and tactful with gifts that touch on fitness and wellness, because you don’t want to imply that you think they should change their lifestyle choices in a way that is, at best, intrusive and unwelcome and, at worst, insensitive or hurtful. (Basically, you don’t want to make it strange!)
So, here’s what you should and shouldn’t do when giving these gifts:

ClassPass is still a cool and flexible way for people to try out different kinds of fitness classes. This makes it easy for someone who has shown interest to start their own journey without feeling weird.

Do: Give people options that are low-lift, flexible, and easy to opt out of.
Sometimes it’s better to think small. Think back to when you first got into wellness or fitness. You probably didn’t go out and buy all the expensive gear or turn your guest room into a weight room right away. So maybe don’t give your loved one workout classes that can’t be canceled (especially during this pandemic season) or gym memberships or stuff that will make their home messy. Instead, you might want to think about how you can encourage the exciting phase of exploring (again, assuming they want to explore it) or how you can help them on the journey they are already on.

I often think that workout recovery items are a good middle ground because they can be used for both athletic and everyday aches and pains. I think that everyone with a body will love and appreciate a good foam roller at some point. Even more so if they belong to the “bad back” hive!

Don’t: Give them something because you think that’s what they need.
This one makes you think a little bit about yourself (as a treat). Family members sometimes have ideas about how our loved ones should live their lives or, even worse, how they should “improve” their bodies, based on an old definition of improvement. This is a risk that comes with being someone who cares about other people in their own unique ways. Still, it doesn’t hurt to think about whether a gift is trying to say something without the work of maybe talking to that person, and even then, we should think about whether it is our place to say those things at all.

All in all, if you think the gift could be interpreted as “I think you should change something about yourself,” it might be rude or even harmful, and it might not be the right move.

A good, honest talk with yourself is suggested.

Think about what they have shown an interest in.
So, if your friend has asked about your Fitbit or Smartwatch and seemed interested, you might be able to give them one without seeming weird. If they seem interested in weightlifting, boxing, or running, you might be able to help them get started with something cool (like a beginner-friendly app, a thoughtful book, a beginner’s DVD, or a low-cost subscription).

Suggestion: Since I started lifting, I loved Laura Khoudari’s book Lifting Heavy Things. Thinking about reading about a cool activity (or athlete) is a way to add to someone’s interests without forcing anything on them.

Don’t: Try to make them care about what you care about.
This is for fans of [insert name of high-end fitness brand here]. We love that [activity/fitness obsession] is so important to you. I’m sure your friend is thrilled that you’re happy, strong, and content. That doesn’t mean that they’ll like what you like. So, if you talk about your last sweat session and get polite nods, you should read the room and not try to force it. I can promise you that you won’t win over a potential workout partner that way.

Do: Remember that everyone has a different health story and different needs.
Many of us have a complicated relationship with the wellness/fitness industry because of diet culture and the more harmful parts of fitness culture that make people feel bad about their bodies and abilities all day, every day. So, this could mean that the nutrition book that saved your life or got you excited might upset or trigger someone you care about who has had trouble with disordered eating or exercise. It could mean that your favorite fitness tracker reminds someone of bad habits or attitudes they are trying to change. If you know that what works and feels great for you might not be the same for someone you care about, you won’t make as many mistakes in this space.

Give them something that helps them learn to love their bodies or take care of themselves instead.

Don’t: Surprise them with something that takes up a crazy amount of space.
I’m going to call Peloton wife again. If you haven’t gotten clear confirmation from someone that that stationary bike (or treadmill, weight bench, etc.) will fit into their living space and won’t be a hassle, don’t buy it. The price tag could give them a lot of stress and make them feel like they have to use the thing, even if that’s not what they want to do. Or it will be sent back quickly. Or you’ll get a weird phone call. No matter what, you should never be that guy who gives a big gift to someone without asking.

If they want gear but are like “Yikes! There are some cool space-saving options out there, like this treadmill that fits under a desk (again, make sure they want a treadmill) or stackable weights (I love my adjustable kettlebell).

Do: Just ask!
We all like to surprise the people we care about, but sometimes it’s better to be sure than to have a surprise. Check with your loved one or a mutual friend to make sure that your gift will be received in the spirit in which it was given. Again, if you’re giving a gift based on what you think is best for them, make sure to vibe-check the spirit in which you’re giving it. And, if you ask me, knowing that your fitness gift will bring excitement and fun instead of weird feelings of body shame will do a lot to calm your nerves and make your gift-giving event a lot more fun.

A sneaky group chat or a nice phone call are two ideas.