Article Request Series: How has Instagram Changed Strength Training, Body Image Expectations, and Motivation?

Welcome to your front row seat to the world’s most impressive strength feats, abs shredded beyond belief, narrow waists, augmented breasts, and the world’s fittest and most attractive people at your finger tips, all you have to do is pull out your phone and scroll.

Instagram has become the unofficial home of fitness on the internet, it seems that every amateur powerlifter (guilty), aspiring bodybuilder or bikini competitor has a page and is publicly documenting their progress. On top of all these amateur and aspiring athletes, we have instant access to the world’s top lifters posting their training and competitions, and the world’s most attractive nearly-naked fitness models posting motivational photos with quasi-inspirational quotes. I would argue that no single platform has changed the landscape of fitness more than Instagram. Some of these changes have been positive, some have been negative, and for the most part, Instagram’s role in the fitness industry is still being written.

Instagram’s Positive Influence

People are starting

So has all this exposure actually inspired anyone to take up fitness and get after their goals? I’d say a resounding yes. I still remember when one of the lifters I was training told me the meet he wanted to enter sold out in 6 minutes… wait what? I missed a couple years in the powerlifting world due to a bad injury, and just 3-4 years earlier meets didn’t sell out, you signed up a couple weeks before the meet because you kept on forgetting to go online and actually fill out the form. Now there’s an explosion of new lifters looking to get their chance on the platform to test themselves, and there are even a few people in the general public who know what powerlifting is.

How about the bodybuilding shows? Right now the sport at the grassroots level is being financially kept afloat by the explosion of Insta-inspired bikini competitors and men’s physique category, outnumbering the bodybuilding, figure, and physique classes by at least 2:1 combined! The explosion of popularity in the strength and physique sports has been nothing short of phenomenal. Never before has it been more possible or in-vogue to start your fitness journey, document the entire thing, and attempt to inspire others to do the same.

Bigger goals and dreams

I know personally that Instagram has shown me that my initial goals were actually too low, and opened my eyes to what kind of strength feats are possible even at my current weight class. I can see what the top in my sport are doing, and expect better of myself. Seeing what world class lifters are doing has inspired me to chase higher goals myself, and even if I don’t hit them, I’ll have ended up further ahead trying to achieve them had I not changed my perspective in the first place

A chance to interact with the elite

I’ve actually had conversations with world’s top lifters and most successful strength coaches. Alice Matos pointed people towards an article I had written and offered some advice for my female clients, Paige Hathaway (pictured with the boxing gloves in the main picture) responded to my questions about her supplement line. I’ve learned from top physical therapists like John Rusin who has taken the time to point me towards further learning resources and answered questions about a shoulder injury, and I could list countless others, and all of this happened via Instagram. The best information and the best people in the world have never been so accessible, and you’d be surprised how many of them will take time out of their day to help you.

The Dark Side of Instagram

It’s not real

Most people know that the photos of Anllela Sagra (pictured left) and Devin Physique (pictured right) are heavily photoshopped, use professional lighting and photographers, airbrushing, hell they even shrink the skin with ice and apply other crazy industry tricks all to get the best photo possible. Even with all those tips and tricks, they’re still going throw away 80-90% of the photos they took, using only the best angles that portray a completely unrealistic image of what the model actually looks like. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “stop trying to look like the girl on the magazine, the girl on the magazine doesn’t even look like the girl on the magazine” it couldn’t be more true; however, that doesn’t seem to stop us from comparing ourselves to these caricatures of our favourite fitness models.

It can obscure your view of your own progress

I should be celebrating, so should Cam, and so should Marina, but we’re not, we’re all struggling with confidence issues directly related to our relationship with social media, specifically stuff we’ve seen on Instagram; Let me explain. Marina signed up for her first powerlifting meet in January, she’s been training hard and she’s made incredible progress, putting on 30+ pounds on her squat bench and deadlift in a matter of a couple short months, and despite her relatively short training cycle, she’s going to be competitive in her weight class at her upcoming meet in January. By all measures she’s making incredible progress, but like many others, she follows some of the best lifters on Instagram, and every time they post a video of their new PR, she just feels further behind. Cam recently added 100lbs to his bench press in record time, hitting the 4 plate mark for the first time in his life, which is something that not many people ever do, regardless of bodyweight; however, with the world at your fingertips, it’s one thumb stroke away to see someone doing 4 plates or more with ease, and it can seem like this is the norm and allow it to cheapen your own accomplishment. We tend to lose perspective of our own significant achievements with this skewed perspective that 4 plate benchers just grow on trees. I had a similar experience after missing a 635lb deadlift, and there was Jesse Norris, a weight class underneath me, pulling it for an easy 8 reps. The reality is not everyone who starts their fitness journey can end up in the world’s elite, the best are the best for a reason, but that shouldn’t stop you from celebrating your accomplishments along the way.

Mistreatment and misinformation

“you can’t even see the difference in those photos, you’re still fat! haha” – ready for these kind of interactions? That was a real comment taken from a transformation picture that trainer had posted online of one of her clients. People can be ruthless when they’re sitting behind the safety of their phone screen, and if you make your profile public, be prepared for some abuse. I personally can’t stand to read the comments on popular Instagram posts anymore, perhaps I’d like to ignorantly keep some faith in humanity. Making a change to your lifestyle or chasing a grandiose performance goal is already incredibly intimidating, the last thing anyone needs is some asshole keyboard warrior talking shit to make themselves feel better about whatever short coming of their own they’re overcompensating for.

Although Instagram is going to give you the chance to interact with some of the world’s best, for every knowledgeable person, there’s at least 20 others aggressively marketing the most ridiculous of quick fixes and lacklustre fitness products and supplements, so beware and have a strong bullshit filter on at all times.

So has Instagram had a net positive or negative effect on fitness as a whole? I’m not sure, but as an individual you can use it as motivational tool, and a chance to interact with like minded people. If you feel the negative side effects starting to creep in, feel free to check out, unfollow, go private, and take a moment to reflect on just how far you’ve come.

 

 

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