Is Social Media Killing the Fitness Professional?
Let me preface this article by telling you that I love social media. I spend more hours than I should every day on Instagram, I probably talk to more people through Facebook every day than I talk to in person, and Pinterest is one of my favorite ways to get new ideas. I'm pretty savy when it comes to using the different forms of social media, and I couldn't imagine a society without them anymore.
However, what I have to say about social media and the fitness professional will show you how I feel we've crossed the line and created a world of fitness that is not what we want it to be by using social media in ways it wasn't originally intended to be used.
Killing the Star...
In 1980 with the rise of MTV and the notion of playing music videos was still novel, the Buggles declared that Video Killed the Radio Star. In that time people thought they were crazy to imply that this new form of music media would be the demise of music as we knew it. However, 36 years later there is no denying that MTV changed the music industry (and later the reality television world!).
Today I challenge you to question: Is social media is killing the fitness professional?
The Social Media Fit Pro...
When I say the fitness professional, I mean the real legit people who have dedicated 1000’s of hours to learning exercise science, to studying how the body moves, to understanding how to create classes that allow all participants to be successful. I am not talking about the “fit pros” who were once former athletes or simply lost a ton of weight, or worse yet, just look great in a bikini so think they can “motivate and inspire” others to be fit, but have no formal education. Let’s reserve those for a later discussion.
Then there are our social media fit pro’s. The worst of which have come from Instagram, where anyone can become “fitness famous” by simply having a good body and posting what I refer to as the “naked fitness selfie”. You know the ones, taken while wearing the smallest amounts of clothes and in some way being around fitness equipment or in some way looking like they are working out.
They gather 1000's of followers with their provocative images and "inspirational quotes", yet never really say anything. In June 2016 Harper's Online went as far as letting us know the 25 Inspiring Fitness Girls to Follow on Instagram. This list is diverse in who it includes, but one thing runs constant through their themes...most of the images show off their bodies as a form of "motivation".
However, aside from looking good on camera, what do these Instagram fitness stars have to offer the consumer?
Some may argue that they know a ton because they spend all their free time in the gym and they have amazing bodies, so they must know something….right?! Well maybe, but really these selfies just show they’ve mastered the art of taking pictures on their cell phone and know how to push THEIR bodies to create change. What do they know about the world of exercise science?
Let's check out some common assumptions:
“They must know the muscles of the body.”
They could probably name the major muscle groups used in any traditional bodybuilder program split, but that doesn’t mean they have any understanding of anatomy, biomechanics, or physiology. Could they tell you the purpose behind their program design?
“Okay, maybe not exercise science, but maybe we can give them credit for their inspirational quote images.”
Sorry, not really….sure, they can throw some motivational quotes on top of a picture and say they are motivating others with these. But so could any 5-year-old on a computer these days.
This image for example, posted on a fitness professionals website as their recent #MotivationMonday post, shows little more than a hot lady in her bra and underwear with a bit of text overlay. Others on their page show women's butt's clad only in a thong with text overlay about the importance of squating. While I have no issue looking at a scantly clad women, what does this have to do with fitness? Consider what these "fit pros" are actually trying to sell with this "motivation" - fitness, sex, or porn!?
“Oh, they must know tons about how to eat right.”
Nutrition is a very tricky topic, and all because it works well for one person does NOT mean it will work well for someone else. As discussed in my article I'm an Exercise Scientist NOT Nutrition Scientist, having a firm understanding of nutrition science and how food interacts is so unique for each individual that it requires years of post-graduate education in Nutrition Science to become a licensed Registered Dietitian. Be weary of someone who calls themselves a nutritionist and then just wants to push supplements at you…they probably don’t have a true background in nutrition science.
“But Summer, they have to know something. Don’t hate so much"
Okay, so maybe they know the names of the muscle groups. AWESOME! We are at least to the basic level of science understanding to maybe call yourself a fit pro. But you know what, I can count to ten in French and sing a pretty awesome song to you about a bird in my horrible French accent….this little tiny base of French knowledge by NO MEANS makes me an expert in the language. It doesn’t even make me proficient enough to carry on a conversation with someone who knows French. How is that much different from our Instagram fit pro’s who know just the basics? Do they know just enough to be dangerous???
Lets do a # search
Yup, a simple search for #exercisescience on Instagram doesn’t bring up fitness articles, university programs, or legit kinesiology topics, instead you get to see muscular dudes flexing, supplement companies promoting their pre/post workout crap, and even at one point a girls passport picture.
WTF! This isn’t what exercise science is. Yet, that is how social media has portrayed it. It has allowed people to completely ignore the fact that exercise SCIENCE is based in just that, SCIENCE. Topics such as anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, psychology, program design, etc. are ignored for dudes flexing in mirrors.
What are they saying??
What are these individuals who sell their bodies all over social media REALLY saying about the fitness industry? Are consumers really motivated by their selfies, quotes, and food porn images?
I would say fine, for some people they may be super motivated by looking at another naked women and thinking “I want to look like her”. But could we also agree that for many looking at these images just further perpetuates body image issues that many women are challenged with. Are they really inspired, or are these fitness selfies causing people to further go down the rabbit hole of what is considered “right” by society?
Sure, MTV's Jersey Shore star Snookie let us know in her 2015 memoir that "Strong is the New Sexy" but isn't that just creating another form of obsession for those with body image disorders? Could this lead people to spending endless hours in the gym working out in order to create that perfect "strong and sexy" body? It can be suggested that for those with eating and body image disorders that this 100% plays into those, and the Instagram fit pros just further perpetuate the notion that fitness is all about how you look, not about how you perform.
Instead of simply posting images of how they look in their tiny little clothes, why aren't we looking at them actually completing a difficult fitness venture?
So what about the legit fit pros?
Now that anyone can become a fitness professional overnight, it has made those of us who have dedicated our lives to learning and knowing the most we can about movement and the human body, seem less important. It's time to break that! Let's make the fit pro a legit profession again and stop letting social media dictate who and what we are.
My Stand against the social media fit pro
I made a very conscious decision early on in my career to not use my body as a means to sell my brains. I’m an educated fitness professional who can back up how I look with how I talk. I’ve never purposefully taken a picture of myself with just a sports bra on (racing pictures don’t count, because then the top gets ditched out of necessity), I don’t post pictures of my workout sessions, and I don’t want to show you what I eat on a daily basis. However, I’ve been called motivational and inspirational by many over the years.
About six months ago I couldn’t take my Instagram feed anymore. I was so sick of seeing both legit fit pros and social media fit pros constantly using their bodies to sell their services that I said “enough”. It was making me sad to see the industry I was so proud and honored to be a part of 15 years ago, was resorting to a low level of soft porn (and mind you, I could care less if you want to watch porn….I just don’t want it sold as fitness). So I decided to cut the cord.
I no longer follow fitness professionals on Instagram. Instead my feed is filled with things that make me happy – mountains, dogs, vintage and abandoned places, ballerinas, beautiful photography and an adorable raccoon named Pumpkin!
What's Your Stand?
I’m not saying you have to go as drastic as I did, I’m just saying you should start paying more attention to who it is you are following and what you are posting. Are you using social media to promote yourself in the niche and with the brand awareness of how you want to be remembered?
Ask yourself: what are you doing to change the way our industry is perceived? Are you willing to stand out, or are you just following the status quo?
Instead of posting that picture of your class members doing a really horrible plank, why aren’t you out on the floor helping them fix it? By becoming so pre-consumed with social media and taking pictures/video’s we forget that at the job is to be right there in real time with that person to help them improve.
If you check out the GXunited Instagram page, you will notice that many of our pictures don’t follow a traditional fitness companies overall look and feel. We include pictures that are artistic and often have nothing to do with fitness. We want to motivate by what we say and how we say it instead of always just selling out. Some people may not like us, but we hope that by doing this people can see it’s not always best to follow the norm.
- Be different.
- Stand Out.
- Create Change.
The only way to elevate our field is to bring the science back. Stop selling your body, and inspire change through legit training methods and practices.
It’s easy to fit the flow and follow the norm, but its those willing to stand out and be called out that won’t allow social media to kill the fit pro!
Feel free to share your take, as I would love to hear counter arguments against my take on the social media fit pro.