Social Media and Fitness Professionals: an Informed Rant

Social media has completely transformed the way information is spread and how people relate to one another- some change for the better, some change for the worse. In relation to fitness in particular, there has been a similar polar opposite trend.

To start with the positive, social media has helped create a sense of community in the fitness world that can be very inspiring and motivating. Let’s face it- we all want to be a part of something- this makes us feel good. Exercise also has the power to make us feel good. As a result of this ‘doubly positive’ feeling, exercise adherence can improve as people look forward to catching that buzz that exercise as a social experience can acutely create.

The sharing of what one completed while at the gym is also a popular practice these days- and I think here is where some of the grey area between positive and negative starts to creep in. On a positive note, this is great for trainers and business owner as it is essentially free marketing. Word of mouth really is the best way to get new customers, and social media allows one’s clients to spread the word through group photos and action shots to hundreds of their friends with the click of a button.

On the negative side, however, with many individuals it becomes more about the sharing and less about the exercising- the ‘check-in’ is more important than the exercise itself. Remember that old saying that if a tree falls in the forest and no one it there to hear it, does it make a sound? These days, the question can be modified to if a workout occurs and a selfie was not taken to document it, did it really happen? Now this is not a total negative as it can assist in providing accountability and in positive feedback and encouragement from others.

But from there it is not a far leap to what I see as a potentially very negative consequence of social media involvement with fitness- the advent of the ‘Instagram Model.’ This is a general term describing a so-called (and usually self-described) expert who uses various social media platforms to share pictures of him or herself to market their training services. Although not explicitly stated, the message is ‘if you want to look like me, train like me.’

The major problems here are as follows:

  1. Typically, the only qualification indicated or listed is that the person is in great shape. Education? No. Certification? Rarely. Experience? Usually these people are in their early 20’s (which is one of the main reasons he/she looks so good).
  2. Sure, the person trains hard and has clearly had success- but how would that translate to another person? Would the average middle-aged person seeking fitness advice respond to the given type of training is a similar fashion?
  3. Not even legitimate experts can agree on the best nutrition advice, so to expect one of these so-called experts to give sound nutritional advice- especially the average middle-aged individual referenced above- is treacherous at best.
  4. Perhaps most disturbingly, the advent of these social media celebrities is having a negative effect on the body image and self-esteem of hundreds of thousands of regular people who honestly have little hope of ever looking like these people. For a 35-year-old mother of two with a full-time job to be made to believe that she can look like a 21-year-old with no real responsibility and multiple hours per day to spend in the gym is not only unfair and dishonest, but also extremely damaging.

In conclusion, as with most things in life, it is wise to investigate the background of someone before hiring that person for services. The old adage ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’ applies here- the fact that a ‘fitness professional’ looks amazing does not necessarily mean he or she is qualified to give exercise and/or nutrition advice to other people.

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