What’s bad about a fitness obsessed culture? “Nothing”, a friend scoffed. “They always want to make anything an issue.” Granted, when obesity is rising in the West and reports suggests many people aren’t doing adequate exercise, talking about the problem with Instagram fitness may feel farfetched.
I began as an Instagram fitness account. Sharing my progress with nuggets of self-love and lifestyle wisdom, I came across inspiring men and women who taught me the truth on staying in shape. It wasn’t, as celebrities often persist, something genetic or easy – a work out a few times a week. Over the years, I continue to see people posting their wellness journeys and achieving goals. And I have the upmost respect and admiration for them.
But within the community, lies pressure, quick routes to money and harmful claims. “Strong not skinny” – an idea one type of aesthetic equals fitness success, and those not yet with the desired 6 pack and grandiose behinds, in need of working harder… more progression.
The problem with Instagram fitness
When I came across Julian’s IG feed, I quickly realised he wasn’t a guy telling people to not give up. He was telling people how – using research-based advice to give clear guidance. A kinesiologist (the study of body movement), Julian studied psychology and bio-chemistry at university and is trained in mind wellness coaching. Consider Julian a fancy coach/personal trainer, who believes in a holistic approach to guiding individuals to their best selves. It’s evident he likes being part of Instagram fitness sphere, yet as someone who helps others, it frustrates him to see some people spreading dangerous guidance.
With around 14 years of experience (7 years in a clinical setting and 8 of them running his own business), Julian helps various people on a range of issues: injury, imbalance, rehabilitation & prevention, nutrition, weight loss, muscle gain, functional strength, athletic & mindset coaching, and overall well-being.
Through this interview, Julian discusses fitness addiction, Instagram derived injuries, the small waist large butt trend reality and the most damaging advice he’s found online.
Me: As a Kinesiologist, have you noticed a difference in patient injuries over the past ten years? Can you contribute any of these changes to Instagram?
Julian: A lot of the injuries and imbalances I have seen are what we call the 21st century body phenomenon. They are caused by being seated most of the day, at work or at home, and also by over use of cell phones. Some of the injuries and imbalances include: low back pain, sciatica, piriformis syndrome (psuedo sciatica) shoulder impingement, hip muscle imbalances and pain, improper posture, gait discrepancy, “text” neck, tendonitis and tendonosis problems, and Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. I can definitely say that I’ve seen an increase in incidence of injuries and imbalances since social media has become part of modern lifestyle.
The current fitness influencer trend involves honing a small waist and large butt. Is this a healthy aesthetic to aim for?
Honestly, I don’t think any aesthetic is healthy to aim for without first doing the proper mental work to love the body you already have and are in. This aesthetic is considered “ideal” by society, but in many ways, it is not feasible for certain individual genetics or structure types. Trying to achieve this endeavor can lead to people going as far as starving themselves, over dieting, using “waist trainers”, or overworking certain muscles and not properly working muscles to keep from causing imbalances which will lead to injuries. This being said, it’s good to have a goal physique, but making sure you do so healthily by working all of the muscles associated properly with function and eating properly. Also, doing the necessary mental work to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and for total well-being.
Do you think some people have an addiction to being lean?
I believe anyone can be addicted to anything. The striving for a lean and fit body is usually perceived as a sign of a healthy lifestyle and personal success. Family, friends and people on social media may accept and encourage this leanness. But one may go through excessive and obsessive patterns to stay lean or get lean, which may result in physical injury or illness as well as negative mental consequences.
A lot of people online now give fitness advice without being a professional. How can a person tell who to trust?
This is a huge problem. There is no one to keep anyone accountable online. Besides straight up asking for proof of qualifications or a professional proof portfolio, I suggest taking the advice you see with a grain of salt. It is just advice of what worked for them as an individual, just as what will work for you will be individual. People like to portray or think there is a one size fits all approach to wellness when it’s one size fits one.
If someone is trying to sell you on short cuts, a cookie cutter workout plan, fad work outs, some kind of restrictive diet or convince you there are “bad foods”, they most likely aren’t a qualified professional.
A professional will likely contribute experience, evidence and substance that can help support and guide someone on their wellness journey, and lead with the idea that it takes patience, consistency and hard work. They’ll also give support just because they want to be a part of your success.
The best advice that I can give is to use inner intuition, be diligent as your own self advocate and do your own research and experiment with yourself, to become more knowledgeable in navigating the over saturation of advice. If you need further help, seek a professional.
What’s the most damaging advice you have seen posted by some members of the fitness community?
Honestly, there is so much to weed through. I see damaging both mentally and physically, be it bad nutritional information like radical restrictive diets that can cause people to be under nourished, not recover properly and cause mood and hormonal fluctuations.
I’ve seen people put up steroid protocol advice – that is just irresponsible by the sheer amount they suggest to use which can have so many negative physical and mental health effects if someone was to follow it.
The plethora of fad work outs, i.e.: butt work out videos, ab videos, h.I.I.t (High intensity interval training) of people doing crazy movements and bending their bodies in asinine ways, or lifting the heaviest weights possible and all out mentality with training high intensity and heavy every day, frankly, the work outs besides some of the H.I.I.T. Training, are a total waste of time and can cause imbalances and injury, mood and hormonal fluctuations.
What needs to be realised: these types of workouts are for content purposes; these people also do other things to look the way they do, and these people usually are genetically gifted, don’t always look like that, take x amount of pictures or videos with great lighting and angles etc., to get the best shot. Of course, not to take away from the hard work they have done to get there.
Can spending time on social media & technology affect hormones?
The evidence in the scientific research indicates that a myriad of different hormones is being affected by over use of social media and other technology. The over use of them has been shown to rewire our brain to similar ways of an addict. So, with anything proceed with caution, have an intention behind your use, and in moderation.
Should people look at fitness influencers as inspiration?
If the inspiration from them is healthy and positive, I don’t see why not. It’s very important not to compare oneself to another or make these negative social comparisons, as it can be detrimental to our well-being. I encourage people to follow accounts of those who truly help empower, support and inspire people towards action, and have a solid blend of:
- Encouraging and supporting others.
- Knowledge in their field.
- Evidence based advice.
- Contributing to a better understanding of a topic.
- Providing practical, actionable advice and strategies.
- Promoting messages of positive body image, mindset and self-acceptance
Can you name a social media fitness trend you would like to see change?
The trend of disingenuity. The journey is filled with ups and downs – failures should be celebrated, captured and shown, just as much or more so than all the “perfect” shots and videos. I find that is a huge disconnect; if someone was just starting on their wellness or fitness journey, they would be able to better connect and probably have better confidence in themselves if they see someone who is at a high level of fitness go through similar things. Because we do; just the other day I dropped my steel macebell on my foot. I actually wish I was taping it so I could give everyone a laugh.
For people aiming to achieve abs, would you recommend training days for abs specifically?
I don’t recommend having specific training days just for abs, as we can’t spot reduce fat, and since they get worked on during most other exercises, we don’t have to do countless reps and sets for them either. They should be worked for function and just like any other muscle, a few times a week with one or two exercises a time with 3 sets of each as an example. What it takes to actually uncover our abs, in essence is finding a nutritional approach that can be sustained and to go into a healthy caloric deficit, and adjust this over time, along with exercise, proper hydration and sleep.
What are your top tips for preventing injury and taking care of your body?
- Make sure you are drinking enough water a day, a lot of people under drink water and miss out on its health benefits. If you go on Google and search “water calculator”, there will be one that will show your individual needs, according to your sex, age, height, and how active you are.
- Nutrition plays a key role: find sustainable ways to eat healthy that works for you, so you get all the key nutrients to help your body’s needs. I would also suggest getting an allergy or food intolerance test, because certain foods can be causing problems that can take away from our health.
- Get proper sleep (7-9 hours).
- Meditate – not only does this help with stress, anxiety and mindfulness, but it also helps us readjust our focus and promotes emotional health and well-being.
- Warm up properly before working out i.e. dynamic warm up, to activate muscles for a workout.
- Cool Down and stretch after a workout to help flexibility. You may not want to stretch before a work out, as it has shown in research to actually decrease muscle strength during your workout when you do so, but it is important to work on flexibility to help our bodies, especially in older age.
- Make sure you are wearing proper shoes for your activity.
- Start gradually, learn technique and perform quality, controlled movements, remember to stimulate and not annihilate your body and play the long game – it will take years of patience, consistency and hard work.
- Exercise with the intention of total body strength and function. It will keep imbalances and injury away and help with longevity as opposed to just working out for aesthetics.
How to improve Instagram fitness
As someone who occasionally likes to share their fitness journey – taking an interest in what’s happening in the wellness industry, blogging my detox experience and making healthy plant-based meals, I do have to consider how my words can influence others. Which means knowing when to include disclaimers: noting openly that I’m not a professional. And holding mindfulness that my practice and understanding won’t always reflect – what I think is inspiring may demotivate some. I love that people keep track of their fitness and support one another in body goals. It’s just remembering to hold awareness – fitness can impact lives in various ways.
We should treat Instagram fitness for what it is – inspiration through the means of storytelling, quotes, meal and exercise ideas. For some, their body is merely a business resource and not something to learn from. Personal trainers and fitness experts work incredibly hard to gain their qualifications – many of them use IG to help find clients. If you want to achieve a fitness goal (perhaps a look you’ve seen online), it’s worth doing research and financially supporting a trainer who can create a custom plan for you. As oppose to trying to copy the exact diet and regime of an influencer online.
What’s your experience of Instagram fitness? Have you seen anything that you found negative? I recommend you follow Julian on Instagram @the_musclewhisperer, where his knowledge is accompanied by stunning mountain views of British Columbia.