The Current State of Fitness Social Media

A few weeks ago, someone Tweeted at me, asking my take on the current state of fitness social media. There is no way to respond to that question in 140 characters, thus I failed to reply. However, since seeing that question, I paid closer attention to what I saw as I scrolled and I think the only word I have to describe it… interesting. I truly think it is great and terrible all at once. There is no way to describe it simply.

I started my Instagram account in early 2011 and I used for what everyone else did at first: filters. At the time, I didn’t even know that Instagram was a photo sharing app. I had a friend who worked at Apple who told me about the app while it was still in the beta phases; it’s pretty neat that I was one of Instagram’s first 1,000 users. As I became more familiar with the app, I started to participate in the “Photo A Day” challenges that were once all the rage for us OG Instafolks. In January of 2012, the photo a day challenge I was participating in called for a picture of breakfast, so I posted a picture of my egg white and veggie omelet with a grapefruit. The next day called for a picture at work. I was a personal trainer at the time, so I posted a picture in my sports bra at the gym. My Instagram went from 200 friends to over 1,000 strangers and I fucking panicked. I wanted to delete my account as I was not a fan of complete strangers “following” my life. Ryan Cox (who many of you know as “RyFace”), who still works for me to this day, advised me to not do that… and here we are.

I had no intention of going into the fitness industry prior to social media. I was a personal trainer in college to pay the bills, but I was in school for criminal justice and psychology. That being said, I also had no intention of being a fitness Instagrammer due to the fact that fitness IG wasn’t a much of thing in 2012. I unintentionally made it a thing thanks to the insane feedback to my fitness related posts.

I took the “Photo A Day Challenge” concept and created a fitness themed one in April 2012. I you have been around for a while, you remember my “BAMFIT” days of posting insane workouts and borderline disordered meals (hey, we were all there before flexible dieting). The “BAMFIT APRIL” photo challenge was reposted thousands upon thousands of times and my IG slowly crept up to 10k. Enter Instagram fitness accounts as people realized there is plenty of content to be posted daily regarding fitness and nutrition. It was bound to happen eventually, and I am not arrogant enough to take full credit for it, but that was a large catalyst in the movement.

Now that you have some back story, I can get on with my point. I feel partially responsible for the mess we see online today. Yes, it’s a mess. But it wasn’t always this way. In 2013 and 2014, shit was actually really cool. We posted workouts, meals, selfies, new equipment, the list goes on. But things started to get boring as more and more people were jumping on board, trying to do the same thing that thousands of other people were doing. Posts got redundant, content stopped being original, everything started to get over saturated.

People had to start getting more creative because workouts and meals weren’t cutting it anymore. As Instagram started to give us new features, it allowed us to put out content in new ways but as the industry saw the value of social media, everything slowly went to shit. Next thing you know, everyone is using a tool once used simply to motivate people, to sell products and services. There are plenty of Instagrammers who try to sell something with every post, whether it is coaching, supplements, or apparel. Furthermore, since “everyone is doing it”, people’s marketing tactics are getting ridiculous and the Instagram trends are beyond eye roll worthy.

Social media trends encourage influencers to sacrifice their authenticity in the pursuit of likes and followers because they see other people gaining traction from ridiculous comparison photos (“good lighting” vs “bad lighting”, “8am” vs “8pm”). They see a popular post and immediately mimic them in hopes for their own popular post, opposed to putting their own authentic angle on it. Here is my least favorite trend of this year: Posed vs Un-posed.

NO SHIT, YOU LOOK BETTER POSED?!?! Here is why I take issue with these types of posts: people are attempting to be transparent and relatable. If you have to TRY to be these things, that is a problem as it should come naturally. If you made a posed vs un-posed post for likes, you missed the entire point. One person made one vulnerable post for the RIGHT reason, then the whole gang saw the success of that post, took an overly unflattering picture of themselves and paired it next to the best picture they could take of themselves, and a small part of the internet died that day. Fitness IG took a good thing, and ruined it by making it redundant and overly extreme.

Extremes are “sexy” in this industry. Preaching balance and moderation isn’t edgy, and because sexy extremes sell, we see people say stupid shit like “the grind never sleeps” and “team no days off”. For the love of God, do not follow these disordered people. The grind needs to sleep and your brain and body needs days off.

When I scroll through my feed, I am no longer motivated. I see discount codes, supplements, and nudity. Sure, all these things are cool; we all like to save money and if anyone says they don’t like boobs and butts, they are lying. BUT, I am not inspired or motivated to be better by these types of posts a majority of the time. I am actually incredibly discouraged by them. They make me lose hope in the future of fitness as it seems everyone has forgotten why we started training in the first. It was not to sell supplements on Instagram and not to Photoshop our perfectly beautiful bodies for likes (which an entirely different issue that I won’t get into here).

People have become dependent upon their bodies to sell products opposed to their brains. I see posts of girls holding supplements from their sponsors in a sports bra or bikini, clearly drawing attention to their bodies to get likes on a post they very well know would receive less likes if it were just a picture of the protein powder or pre-workout. A less sexy post doesn’t make it a bad post. You can make an informative post and express yourself with your words to get your point across. I know how marketing works and I know that “sex sells”, but this logic is beyond flawed. In fact, it is almost like these girls don’t understand that likes truly don’t mean shit and they certainty don’t equate to sales. They use the likes on their photos for leverage with sponsors. I can’t even put it into words how backwards this is.

Once upon a time, getting a sponsorship was a very special thing. It was something to be proud of as they were earned by integrity, merit, and athleticism. Now they are literally handed out to every single person with a decent sized following with no vetting process. Having a large Instagram following does not make someone a good person nor a good athlete. Having a large following does not entitle you to sponsorships if you haven’t done shit to earn said sponsorships.

As someone who owns a business that sponsors athletes, I take great pride in our process and I am beyond proud to sponsor the people I do. Contrary to what a lot of the other big brands have done, we don’t choose athletes based on a social media following. We choose athletes based on their personality, their reputation, and their work ethic. A sponsorship from DNDL is earned the old fashion way, not through likes and followers. Another interesting characteristic about my athletes, is that they are all small business owners or career oriented individuals. Their careers come before their training. I have no interest in sponsoring someone who doesn’t work their ass off outside of the gym as well. The DNDL motto is “EAT LIFT LIVE” and not “EAT LIFT LIFT” for a reason. I see value and inspiration in real people with normal lives who still make the time to train and compete. These are the relatable people I seek out to inspire you. Not “social media stars” who get paid to post on Instagram or make their entire living from social media… there is nothing relatable about that lifestyle.

Which brings me another issue… Fitness Instagrammers thinking they are a damn celebrity just because they had a line at the Arnold. If you are a fitness influencer at a fit expo, there will obviously be people wanting to meet you. But do you get asked for your autograph at the grocery store? Nah. No one knows who you are off the internet. If you are only well known on Fitness Instagram, you are not a celebrity. You are popular. Very few fitness Instagrammers fall into the “celebrity status” (I do think the blue check mark holds a small amount of value).

I have a moderately large following in the social media fitness scene, but that is the extent of my “stardom”. Outside of the internet, I am just a person who lives a life similar to everyone else’s. Are my businesses successful due to social media? Yes, they are, and I am very grateful for Instagram as it is largely responsible for all that I have built. But as someone who was one of the first in fitness Instagram, my following sure has grown slowly. I don’t post for the sake of posting. I don’t post discount codes often because that isn’t a priority for what I am trying to offer people. I don’t post for attention or to boost my following. I post a very transparent depiction of what is happening in my life in hopes to inspire and motivate others. I am in no way better than anyone and I have no agenda. It is a shame that more people in my field don’t share this same mindset.

Everyone wants to seem better than their peers… aka their “competition”, since that is the reality of the “professional” fitness world.

In fact, so many fitness Instagrammers are so desperate for validity and popularity against the “competition”, they create stupid, edgy titles in hopes to sound unique. People literally make up labels to make them seem different from thousands of others just like them. Or, people tack their achievements onto their names to make themselves seem accomplished and knowledgeable instead of just letting their actions speak for themselves. People using titles and accomplishments to gain followers and their trust, to turn a profit is a slippery slope. We should be using experience, honesty, and evidence to support our claims.

There is no control with social media; no governing body ensuring that bad info is weeded out. People can quite literally say whatever the hell they want, and if they have a large enough following, people will take their word for the truth. Popularity doesn’t mean someone knows what they are talking about, as likes and followers don’t validate a person’s word. And they definitely don’t make someone a good person.

Long story short, Instagram has almost ruined fitness. Almost. Fortunately, there are a lot of people putting out incredible shit. The women I am mentioning at the end if this article, are raising their voices, challenging the status quo, starting businesses, breaking world records, and teaching others how to be strong. These women are more than their bodies. These women have strong bodies and strong minds.

I encourage you to seek out people who fill your brain and screen with positivity and good information. There are plenty of genuine people who aren’t interested in your money and simply want to share cool content with you. Their content actually had something to offer. When you follow someone, look at their posts and captions and decided if they are posting to help improve others or posting for head pats. Are their posts genuine? Do they offer relatable insight? Are they trying to sell you something? Are the asking you to like/comment? Are they telling you to tag a friend? Get to the bottom of their motive and don’t fall into traps.

The women I am about to mention put their heads down to do the work, speak up when there is something to say, never mislead you, and don’t use IG solely to improve their bank accounts. They strive to educate and empower. They don’t burden you with their problems, but are transparent about their struggle. The offer SOLUTIONS and don’t add to the problems. They have walked the walk with competing, coaching, training, eating, and life. Their captions are loaded with healthy insight, they keep it fun, and their intentions are good ones.

Jill Coleman, Emily Abbott, Adee Cazayoux, Neghar Fonooni, Jen Sinkler, Stefi Cohen, Lauren Bondi, MegSquats, Q Welch, Karina Baymiller, Ella Kociuba, Bec Chambers, Riki Long, Charity Whitt, Allison Scudds, Alex LaChance, Mattie Rogers, Evan Childs, Emily Duncan, Dana Linn Baily, Ashley Beaver, Simply Manders, Leah West Casciano, Chlo Jonsson, Jen Bretty, Bonnie Schroeder, Sarah Lifts