How Instagram may have destroyed the fitness industry beyond repair.

‘Don’t waste time on a trainer who simplifies workouts for Instagram to make it seem more “achievable” or more attractive to gain followers…your workouts should be intense’

‘Do you want a demo of each move? Comment “YES” and if I get enough interest I’ll do it’

‘Low Impact HIIT’ *Proceeds to jump

‘Do it for the after selfie’

‘So easy to be good all day but as soon as you’ve got a remote in your hand, self-control flies out the window’

‘A simple recommendation would be to “never lift the same weight that you did in your previous session”’

The above are all quotes from well-known fitness Instagram accounts. The Instagram accounts that are coaching thousands – potentially millions of people on an everyday basis. These may not sound extreme, which is exactly the problem. They are extreme. They are dangerous. I’m here to breakdown why.

Firstly, I want to mention that social media is not the devil here. Instagram can be a positive space for professionals to share advice with the public and gain business. It’s the way that Instagram is being used which is the problem. Let’s discuss. The majority of these statements come from ‘fitness professionals’. So why when I checked on their online site (where they sell advice to paying customers) was there no information regarding which qualifications they had? This broad term could be tarnishing the industry to a devastating level.

The information being given is a good place to start on this topic. The good and bad advice gets warped in together and makes for a mass of confused people, unsure of what to do and which way their journey should go in. The obvious choice – listen to the most popular, shredded person who has an amass of results pictures strewn across their profile. This is where things start to get unsafe. The professionals using science, knowledge and experience to lead their training get ushered to the side and myths and misinformation starts to appear as truths. Challenging bad advice with no scientific standing from someone with no qualifications should be easy, but when the advice has already been seen and taken by millions of people…almost impossible.

Let’s take one of the above quotes ‘Don’t waste time on a trainer who simplifies workouts for Instagram to make it seem more “achievable” or more attractive to gain followers…your workouts should be intense’. I had to take a break from writing for a couple of minutes when I read this again to save myself from hurling my laptop at some unwitting civilian. Science has told us that there is a place for both high and low intensity workouts. High intensity workouts on a regular basis could induce overtraining, with symptoms such as CNS fatigue (causing lack of coordination with the potential to cause injuries), muscle soreness, changes in emotional state, poor sleep quality to name a few. Low intensity training therefore does have a vital place in fitness and should be taken seriously. Athletes take rest. Athletes do low intensity. Athletes do active recovery. Why anyone would prescribe intense only workouts to the general public when athletes don’t even train this way is preposterous and harmful. Not only to the industry, but to the public too. Let’s then go back to the ‘simplified workouts’ statements. I want to relay a timeless statement that puts this opinion firmly in its place. ‘Don’t walk before you run’. If I’m teaching a squat jump, I have to teach someone the mechanics of a safe squat first, and then get them used to working with impact. My advice – don’t waste your time on a trainer who can’t give you a reason why simple is effective. Some of the best programmes I’ve seen for both the public and professional athletes have been simple ones…there’s a reason for that.

As you can see, these quotes are devaluing the fitness industry. Professionals with great advice struggle to make themselves heard over the booming sound of new, shiny free workouts which have the potential to injure. I understand. Why would you pay more money for a service when you’re getting a body plan for £5 per month? Longevity is the answer. Listening and working with the right professional for a year who has studied meticulously about the science behind the work they are giving you, will have you training smarter for years, with or without them. Yes, with or WITHOUT them. The problem then becomes who is the right professional, therefore the cycle begins again, and the industry suffers.

Finally, I want to mention the horrors of diet culture and unrealistic beauty standards. Lots of these Instagram accounts have progress photos with 8 week shreds and #bodypositive captions. Yes, progress photos may be appropriate for aesthetic based goals but let’s evaluate a more things here: are they happy, how does their body feel, do they have a good relationship with food/exercise? Do you think their trainer could tell you the answer to those questions? This could be someone who has gone from sedentary to working out 6 times per week, a dangerously low calorie diet and started to develop an injury – but that’s ok because they lost half a stone! Taking in the above quotes on a daily basis plays directly into diet culture – accelerating the effects of bad relationships with food and exercise. Imagine how many members of the public are reading that every day. Terrifying.

To summarize, I want to reinforce that not every PT/coach/fitness trainer who has a social media account is doing shoddy work. There is some great, free advice online backed up by studies and experience. I’m doing this because I care so passionately about my industry. I care that people aren’t getting correct and safe advice. I care that the public’s physical and mental health may be directly affected. I care about what fitness means to us and every generation after.

What I want the public to do is ask more questions. Research more. Search for qualifications. Ask continually – why am I doing this, what is this improving, why is this right for me. If your coach, whether online or in person, can’t tell you the answer OR won’t go willing searching for answers, it’s time to cut them loose.

Dear fitness influencers, if this post offended you, I’m talking to you. I’m asking you to be better for the wellness of the public. Be offended. Be accountable. Learn and grow. It’s time to be better for the industry you claim to love.

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