Today it may seem easier than ever to find motivation to get in shape. Instagram offers inspiration right at our fingertips; just search for #fitnessmotivation or #fitspiration, and you'll find millions of images and videos that may inspire you to race to the gym. But there's a certain level of caution you should take when following a personal trainer or fitness model on Instagram, or anywhere online for that matter. Consider these six reasons for following with caution:
Anyone can set up an Instagram account. While this may seem fairly obvious, it's important. Being in great shape and setting up an Instagram account do not qualify you to educate anyone on how to get in shape, lose weight, etc. In many instances, these social media influencers may not have any formal education in fitness. Don't be fooled by the number of followers they have; that in no way qualifies them to dispense the information they're sending to the world.
Many of the exercises on Instagram are explosive and overly complicated. Watching someone perform a plank with correct form isn't all that eye-catching. However, if you saw a ripped trainer doing an alternating jumping lunge with a back flip (somehow), that would certainly keep your attention. While this may look cool, it can give the false impression that this is the type of exercise required to get in shape. If a relatively average person tried some of these more explosive and difficult movements, it would most likely result in injury.
Instagram posts offer little to no explanation, just video. The beauty of Instagram is that the pictures or videos do all the talking, so there is usually very little, if any, explanation of how to properly and safely perform an exercise. Although it may seem simple to just watch a video and copy the moves, it's not as easy as it sounds. Most people don't have enough body awareness to realize they aren't doing what they think they are doing. This can mean doing an exercise incorrectly, and increasing the risk of injury.
Instagram exercises rarely, if ever, account for movement limitations. The type of eye-catching movements and exercises shown on Instagram almost never account for injury. Can you imagine doing a jump squat with bad knees? Most people have some sort of movement limitation that prevents them from performing explosive exercises.
The Instagram "trainer" has no idea who you are. One of the reasons Instagram influencers can't account for your personal condition is that they don't know who you are on a personal level. An exercise prescription should be very personalized. You simply cannot expect someone who doesn't know anything about you to show you a program that will help you meet your specific needs and goals.
It's their job to look good. While seeing people with perfect bodies may seem inspiring, it can also create a sense of low self-esteem. You may only have an hour (at best) to keep in shape a day, while the people running the Instagram account are working out as if it's their job (literally). Try following accounts that appeal to different body types so you don't have a false sense of failure if you don't look as good as a professional model.
We hope that this didn't inspire you to delete Instagram or stop following fitness accounts. Let them inspire you, let them motivate you; but keep in mind that although the videos and images may seem cool, they might not be tailor-made for you.
Brian Maher, B.S., C.S.C.S., is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a Philadelphia-based studio offering personal training, physical therapy, and nutrition counseling.