There are some gifts you just never forget. For Sarah West, director of training at Results Gym on Capitol Hill, the most memorable present will always be what her mom picked out for her 16th birthday: Nutrisystem.
“That didn’t go over well,” says West, who didn’t appreciate the offer as a chubby teen. Now as a toned health professional, she has a plea for other gift givers with good intentions: Don’t wrap up anything diet or fitness-related unless you’ve done your homework.
It could be the perfect thing, she adds. Or it could be a waste of money that has the potential to send a loved one’s ego into a tailspin.
That’s an important lesson to remember even as the category drops some of its stigma-packed baggage. Wearable tech that tracks steps has achieved mainstream popularity. Athletic apparel now doubles as loungewear. Even classes at a boutique gym can come off as a trendy indulgence.
But it’s still important to bestow these kinds of presents the right way, notes Nancy Mitchell, founder of the District-based protocol firm the Etiquette Advocate. Ideally, your intended recipient will have mentioned a specific interest in the product or service in the past. When you deliver the gift, she says, you can remind them of your conversation. “So that’s the point of reference, not that you think they’re fat,” she explains.
Think they might like something along these lines, but they haven’t brought it up? Try floating the idea in a casual way, Mitchell suggests: “Say, ‘I think I’m going to get myself a Fitbit.’ Then see what they say.”
When it comes to clothes, sizing is always a thorny area. Too big or too small might send an unintended message, especially with fitness wear. So if you decide to go that route, Mitchell recommends opting for gift cards from favorite brands. There’s nothing impolite about letting your friends and family pick out cuts and styles that work for them.
You’ll avoid awkward shopping situations that way, too. Lauren Blanda, the general merchandising manager for City Sports, says that whenever she’s worked in stores the week before Christmas — the busiest time for the chain — there are always men hunting for clothes for their wives and girlfriends. The problem? They have no clue what size to get. So they wind up pointing to nearby strangers who look similar.
“That’s when I have to say, ‘Let’s not get other people involved,’ ” explains Blanda, who expects that this season’s top sellers will be tech, including activity trackers, touch-screen-compatible gloves, Bluetooth headphones and GoPro cameras.
Such innovations have made fitness-related gift-giving much more comfortable, says Keith Kaufman, a sports psychologist with offices in Alexandria and the District. “A lot of us just like gadgets,” he says, and as long as the focus of the gift exchange is technology, there’s no reason to think there’s a judgmental subtext.
But be careful about who’s getting these gifts, Kaufman cautions. He’s gung-ho about the emergence of trackers, which allow his patients to self-monitor their physical activity more accurately. But they’re not the best fit for everyone.
“To effectively lose weight, you have to be a little obsessive,” he says. “Sometimes that can cross the line. If a gadget is making you more mindful, that’s beneficial. If it’s creating a sense of anxiety, you need to get distance from it.”
And if it’s not doing anything at all? Don’t push the issue, says West, who notes that some people just don’t want fitness gifts, no matter how awesome they might seem to the giver.
“You can’t force someone to get in shape until they’re ready. Getting healthy and fit is all about internal motivation,” West says. That’s why when clients want to buy training sessions for a spouse, child or friend, she insists that the would-be exerciser call to confirm that he or she is actually interested in it.
West hopes that policy will help other folks avoid situations like her disastrous Nutrisystem birthday. “I’ve forgiven, but not forgotten,” she says.
As for her mom, you’ll never guess what West bought her last Christmas: a fitness tracker.
● When giving someone an activity tracker, don’t dwell on the fact that they’re designed to help wearers lose weight. Instead, geek out over the gee-whiz technology. The new Fitbit Charge ($130), for instance, doesn’t just count steps, stairs climbed and active minutes, but also monitors sleep, works as a watch and displays caller ID when your phone is nearby.
Want to motivate someone to exercise? Instead of a shove, try a nudge — maybe with a product that will make getting outside more appealing. One idea: The Exolite Groove ($120). The ear warmer wizards at Baltimore-based 180s teamed up with the sound specialists from Sony to create an MP3 player ideal for winter adventures. (Or summer swims: The waterproof music player can be worn separately.)
Fitness apparel now has a life outside the gym, so there’s a lot of stuff available that looks good whether you’re on the run or on the couch. Check out Brooks PureProject line, which features this cozy long-sleeved henley ($70-$80) in men’s and women’s styles. But if you don’t know the recipient’s size, do everyone a favor and just buy a gift card.
Try to think of past conversations you’ve had with friends about their specific fitness needs. Has your buddy complained she doesn’t have a good way of transporting her yoga mat to class? That’s an invitation to buy her something like the prettily patterned Orla Kiely by Gaiam Flower Spot Apple Yoga Mat Bag ($27, Target).
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Hallett edits the Fit section of Express.