With the holidays imminent, I figured this would be a worthwhile subject to take into the new year.
As inclusive a space we try to make the physical gym become so as not to discourage others, we often miss sight of the fact that the digital fitness space is infinitely larger, and deserves the same reality check to ensure a stable, balanced, and logical mindset is applied.
Because of the internet and social media, we’ve all given ourselves an excuse to build our own celebrity, based on the audience we can accrue on our chosen platforms. Some use this opportunity a bit more responsibly than others, but whatever route we choose to take will have some form of consequence.
In the fitness space, it’s pretty saturated, and tough to set oneself apart. The frequent result is a fitness ‘influencer’ using their workouts (and the physiological results of their workouts) to represent something more than it is.
Since the fluffy stuff is what dominates the popular culture of our industry, it’s what we see the most of on the biggest platforms.
I’ve spoken about my belief that the fitness industry as a whole suffers from something of an imposter syndrome; though well intended in our quest for more information, deeper research, and cutting-edge professional advice, the truth is this: The overwhelming majority of clients will benefit the most from the basic principles of training if they want to improve their health, their strength, their diet, or the symptoms of their chronic pain. We don’t want to admit that, and would rather apply what caters to 5% of the fitness world, on a broader scale for the masses. Add that to the tepid-at-best impression many in the white-collar world may have of the importance of personal training as a scientific industry, and here we stand.
So being a fitness “influencer” births making a dramatic showcase of basic happenings of life, and a showcase of mundane responsibilities.
I’ve said it before: You haven’t figured life out because you’re now more muscular.
Every other aspect of life that fitness can help can easily become sensationalized when left in the hands of the wrong spokespeople to publicize.
You’re Stronger Now. That’s Great.
For all the people who are just starting out, it can create a false emboldening with the fake idea that learning to become skilled at lifting weights will do more than improve health, marginally improve self confidence, and reduce (but probably not completely erase) negative perceptions of body image.
We’re all our own worst critics.
And the fact of the matter is, most posts that showcase our own strength are made, well, to showcase our own strength.
In and of itself, it’s our social media platform, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with posting your highs. You’re a fitness expert who walks the talk. It’s gotta be done. The difference comes when the intent is always self-serving rather than to help encourage. Naysayers may interject by rationalizing that this may serve as its own form of self-care “medicine” for people who struggle with body image – but I maintain that this only speaks more to my point than theirs. Seeking external validation makes for a short term high from a reliably fickle audience, does little to solve an existing problem that spawns from within. Trying to sell others the idea that it does, is irresponsible.
But that’s all less weighty and important than overdramatizing the adversities, suffering, or pain that strength training has “fixed”.
Being in the gym can teach discipline, and can create new habits that are mostly healthy.
A tough workout may feel rewarding to get through, and even help someone realize their potential and mental fortitude. But treating it like a conquest that elevates your moral superiority is where the ball is dropped. This gets worse if it’s an idea that’s coupled with the notion of pushing through pain or ignoring warning signs that your body’s health is at risk.
You’re not more “awesome” or “badass” if you push yourself harder than others do. And you’re not less so if you don’t. Training smart is going to take on a different meaning for the person in question, and the timing also.
Let’s Take this back to the Gym.
Something I’ve noticed after around 20 years of lifting: The people who tend to display the most elitist behavior when it comes to the gym, encouragement, inclusivity, or training methods, are often people who have very recently made gains.
No matter their calendar age, they’ve probably discovered working out with useful methods fairly recently, and their performance or physique has changed in their favour, also fairly recently. They may be yet to attain any setbacks from training, leaving them feeling invincible and only able to find common ground with others in exactly the same place in their journey. Unfortunately this can perpetuate an exclusionary atmosphere in a physical gym. I got bit by the bug myself when I was in my early to mid twenties.
It can also propagate a notion that going hard and heavy is about more than just going hard and heavy. Especially when one look at said lifter’s Instagram doubles down on this.
The good news is, many mature out of this (and so did I).
But, many others don’t.
We never look at the flip side of the coin to examine potential levels of insecurity, obsession, narcissism, or poor self-esteem that may have been responsible for developing some of these traits. Traits that transcend having sound, balanced habits and a good adherence to routine.
If a setback were to befall a person I’ve described here, knocking them out of the gym for a few months, chances are they wouldn’t know how to define themselves and their identity would be lost or severely compromised.
That’s because the person I’ve described here missed the forest for the trees.
One thing that’s true about fitness culture: Everyone is trying to better themselves, in the best way possible. Doing so, however, comes with the right mindset, and feeding that mindset with the right forms of motivation.
It’s great to have physique goals, and to be inspired by others’ strength, body types, fitness, and consistency. It’s also great to make fitness your number 1 hobby.
What’s not great is ignoring the importance of balance and level-headed, rational thinking about all of this.
Fitness won’t make you more important. It’ll make your body a better machine. It can improve your mental health, but it doesn’t need to dominate the time you spend outside the gym. On social media, the way you share your own fitness journey can have an impact on others – for the better or for the worse.
You may not care about that truth, but it’s there to consider. What you do with this information is up to you.