“Fitness Instagram ruined my relationship with exercise – here’s how I rebuilt it”

There’s no doubt that Instagram has its benefits when it comes to fitness motivation. But what happens when it undermines your goals? Social media expert and writer Alyss Bowen explores how Instagram affected her relationship with fitness, and how she fixed it again without deleting social media.  

I can’t quite pinpoint when I felt the shift, but I felt it. One day, my evening Instagram scroll would leave me feeling all kinds of motivated – to the point where I’d lay out my gym clothes at the end of my bed so I could wake up, roll out of bed and get to the gym before work – and the next, that determination had vanished. I couldn’t gather the energy to even think about working out.

The main culprit? Instagram. It’s quite literally my job to spend time on the app as a freelance social media manager. And while I see all its positives (let’s face it, there are a lot), I also notice its flaws when it comes to fitness. There’s an abundance of information on social media platforms about what we should and shouldn’t be doing, and with over 500 million people using Instagram daily, it just takes one search of the #fitness hashtag and you’re bombarded with over 477 million posts to digest. 

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That’s 477 million posts dedicated to workout plans, eating habits, diets, weight training regimes, new fitness trends and so much more. It’s no wonder that when I found myself scrolling regularly, this abundance of ‘information’ felt overwhelming. Instead of feeling eager and ready to go, I felt stuck and unable to shift through the noise to find my own fitness groove.

“Instagram has massively changed the way we work out”, explains online coach and personal trainer Georgia Rogerson from Pure Muscles Gym. “While there are some amazing creators sharing factual information, a lot of it is posted for social clout and based on aesthetics or commission,” she tells Stylist

“For example, ‘booty workouts’ with bands are all over Instagram, but the person posting the content may own the band brand and claim that they built their bum solely through using it, which can be damaging for audiences as it’s probably not true.” So why do we fall for these traps and forget what brings us joy when it comes to working out? 

Could fitness apps be fueling our exercise ennui?

One part of the problem is the sheer volume of apps available at the moment. Digital fitness offerings are more popular than ever among women and that’s been transformativein getting more of us in gyms and weights rooms. Thanks to these apps and programmes, women are lifting heavier, becoming stronger and feeling more empowered to move thanks to the phones in their pockets.

While these apps may be changing lives for the better, we can’t get away from the negative impact that fitness Instagram can have on those of us who may be more impressionable. Social media platforms are content vortexes; they can suck you into an internet whirlpool and deter you from what you enjoy. How many of us have tried a fitness trend after seeing an incredible ‘before’ and ‘after’ image? People like me fall for the bait again and again, desperate to try that app, desperate to try that 12-week transformation programme in the hope that we too can see dramatic changes. 

Lucy Sheridan, a comparison coach, tells Stylist that “being presented with before and after pictures means we’re faced with a gap. The gap between where we are and where we want to be can feel huge, which causes us to compare ourselves to others and wonder if it’s even worth starting to improve our wellbeing. Instagram can demotivate us as it presents us with a choice of anxiety over the lifestyle changes or fitness methodologies available.”

It’s then that Instagram stops feeling motivating. Maria is a former fitness Instagram fan who now feels like she’s constantly being sold to when she turns to Instagram for fitness advice. “Instagram doesn’t feel like a motivating, aspirational space anymore when it comes to fitness. Everyone has an app, but at the end of the day, it’s the same thing, different day or different influencer trying to sell you something or some version of yourself that you ‘have’ to be.”

This was me with weight training. I enjoy weight training as well as cardio, boxing and other forms of fitness. However, after seeing my Instagram fill up with weight lifting pictures and videos, I started to completely ignore every single other exercise that I had once enjoyed and, like the fitness influencers I followed on Instagram to gain ‘inspiration’, began only lifting weights using an app.

This wasn’t the fault of fitness influencers (it’s my responsibility to decide what advice I want to absorb), but through my hazy scrolling, I found myself only lifting weights. As a result, my fitness journey became something that I no longer enjoyed. I felt ‘stuck’ with the one thing that wasn’t bringing me joy. I’d become too focused on the end result rather than enjoying moving my body in a way I once had.  

How to keep Instagram as a source of motivation

Of course, not everyone feels this way, and for some, Instagram can be a real source of motivation. Writer Aimee likes to use Instagram as a vision board to follow people who spur her on. “I love saving workouts, inspirational captions and shameless gym selfies, all of which help me to feel motivated to achieve. That feeling of ‘Well, everyone else is at the gym, why am I not going?’ really helps me to stay consistent and aim to train at a higher level,” she tells Stylist.

So, how does she combat comparing herself? “Who you decide to follow on social media and the energy you allow in your life is a big factor of how you evolve,” she explains. “Follow people who you can relate to, rather than compare yourself to.”

According to the IHRSA’s 2019 global report, gym memberships grew to 174 million members globally in 2018, with over half of new gym members being under 30. Over half of Instagram’s population is made up of Gen Z and Millennials, according to research published by the Statista Research Department, and it’s clear to see that Instagram is propelling people into moving their body in healthy, active ways – which is incredible to see. But how can you get yourself out of a fitness funk if you too are finding it demotivating? 

How to train for yourself, not your social media grid

I finally stopped following anyone who made me feel demotivated, and instead only followed the accounts I knew would spur me on. Lucy Mountain, PT and founder of anti-diet fitness app Nobsapp, is someone that I’ve found to be a positive influence on my online fitness and wellbeing. Yes, she has an app but she doesn’t focus on the before or after – it’s all about moving your body for you, which makes training fun again and her Instagram is full of non-bullshit advice about fitness.

I also stopped downloading apps (even Mountain’s). While apps undoubtedly work for some people, I felt awful if I missed a day of my plan. By deciding my own regime, I’m now less focused on results-based training and more focused on just moving my body. This means I can pick a class because it sounds fun one day, before doing my own thing in the weights section the next.

Sheridan also recommends starting with your reasons for wanting to improve your fitness. “When we are clear and connected on our own motivations, that can fuel us to keep us going, even on the difficult days, and it goes way beyond physical appearances.”

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your fitness is unique to you, and rather than getting caught up in the fitness hype on Instagram, train in a way that makes you happy – not because you see someone else doing it. 

Looking for genuine motivation? Join the Strong Women Training Club today to connect with expert trainers and fitness enthusiasts.

Images: Getty

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