Opinion: Fitness "Influencers" May be Doing More Harm Than Good

James Logie

They seem impossible to ignore. And they’re staring you in the face every time you go online.

I’m not talking about adorable cats, but the over-saturated and asinine movement of the “fitness influencer.”

Instagram may be the most guilty, as it is primarily a visual medium, but they still exist everywhere.

We all know social media is nothing more than a quick snapshot of daily life and has nothing to do with our genuine experiences. But in the health and fitness field, this goes beyond just fabricated images. Things have got pretty out of hand and may make you question if your own approach to health and fitness is even correct.

A lot of what you see in the online health and fitness space is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. I’ve worked in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years and have seen how the online fitness marketing world has become the sketchy used car lot of the internet.

Here's why it’s better to ignore 99% of fitness marketing and the majority of fitness “influencers.”

1. Most Influencers Are too Young to Take Seriously

I’m not trying to say younger fitness people don’t have valuable information they can share. I’m saying with fitness, their youth puts them into a unique position that exists for a brief period of time.

I’m sorry, but if you’re under 25, I have trouble taking your fitness advice seriously. When you are 25 and under, you are in a completely different state physically and hormonally.

Metabolism and hormone levels are at the very best stage they will be in your entire life. If you compare a 22-year-old with a 63-year-old; it’s almost like two different species.

The truth is, the 22-year-old fitness “expert” with great genetics can pretty much do anything and get away with it. They definitely train hard, but the workouts they do may be irrelevant. And they can get away with eating whatever they want and still look good.

For them to give advice to the public on why you should follow their workouts to get in the best shape of your life is just not relatable for the average person.

When I was 21, I was the fittest, strongest, and leanest I have ever been. I was 215 pounds of ripped muscle, strong as all hell, and had under 8% body fat. And the majority of my diet was hot dogs and mac n cheese.

I barely knew what a macro was, let alone how to track them.

I was in full-time school, working, never slept, was going out at least 2–3 times a week, and consuming enough beer and pizza to take down a small elephant. Even thinking about trying to do this now gives me a migraine.

When you’re this young, your body is still growing and you can take advantage of those natural testosterone and growth hormone levels.

I’d sell my soul for the metabolism I had when I was 21.

That 20-year-old Instagram fitness influencer can pretty much do whatever they want — and not even workout — and will still look good.

Come back to me when you’re 37 and we can talk.

In our early 20s, we are at our physical peak, and this is just not relatable to most of the public. That 63-year-old can follow the training and diet advice of a 23-year-old to a T, and will never look like them.

Their results will not be your results.

2. They Don’t Look Like That in Real Life

Cindy Crawford once said that she wished she looked like Cindy Crawford. This is because her images were so photoshopped and retouched that she barely recognized herself.

There’s no surprise that the images we see online are heavily edited. This used to exist in the magazine world, but as our new world of celebrity has become Instagram “influencers,” there are more tools than ever to alter one’s appearance.

It’s not just that the images you see online are heavily edited, the lighting and filters can completely transform the way a person looks. And when you learn about posing and angles, you can truly alter your appearance.

This all adds up into unauthentic images that are only achievable for a brief moment. I’d say that for fitness influencers, angles and filters are more important than training.

A few years ago, I got to work at an event that a pretty famous influencer attended. She was the sweetest person ever, but looked nothing like she did online. I wasn’t even sure it was her at first and didn’t even think I was talking to the same person.

I always knew Instagram photos were altered, but I never realized how altered until I met her.

Another time, while at a gym in New York, I bumped into another fitness influencer. I had followed him online for years, and, again; didn’t think I was talking to the same person.

He was much shorter, paler, and not as built as he appeared online. His Instagram photos made him look like a Greek god, but in person, he just looked like an ordinary dude. Really nice guy, though.

What about someone who is in amazing competition shape and on the cover of magazines? This is a different story, but, again, only represents a minimal part of the entire year. Fitness competitors have to dial in their training and nutrition to hit a brief window to look their best and step on stage. This window can sometimes be as short as a day or two.

So when you add that to water depletion, tanning, oiling, and again, great lighting, you don’t get to see what this person actually looks like. A fitness cover model looks amazing, but what you are looking at could be 8–12 weeks of prep.

It’s not that they don’t look great the rest of the year, but what you are seeing is their peak. And remember: when you see people like this on covers — it’s their job to work out. If they don’t look good, they don’t pay their rent.

3. They Use Questionable Words and Phrases

Here’s a secret: getting in shape is hard as hell. It doesn’t happen in a matter of weeks, but over the course of years. It takes discipline, adherence, and consistency.

When you see something that seems too good to be true — it often is. And there are certain words and phrases you’ll see used in the fitness influencer world that are immediate red flags.

They either a) don’t know what they’re talking about, or b) have some idea, but are intentionally misleading you.

Here are several things to look out for:

  • the word tone or toning and that you can tone a specific body part
  • Get “x” results in “x” days
  • The word “fix”
  • Foods you “can’t have” or are “off-limits”
  • The focus on before and after photos with no focus on internal health
  • Heavily promoting supplements
  • Claiming certain products are “dangerous” for you, but they have the ones you should buy instead
  • how you can “target belly fat”

4. Most Influencers Are Just Trying to Sell You Something

From specialty teas and merch to shitty supplements and teeth whitening kits; those fitness influencers are just looking for your money. And making you feel insecure about your own fitness and appearance is the gateway to doing it.

There’s nothing new about this as it’s been happening since the dawn of modern advertising. But now, it’s much more in your face — and in your feed.

If you want to feel “better” about yourself, you better start training like them and sign up for their 6-week program. And the only qualification they have to sell one is how good their abs look.

I looked through profiles of some of the top influencers I could find and there wasn’t a whiff of credentials, education, or anything that shows they’re qualified to sell people training programs.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of amazing professionals online. If you’re buying programs of any sort, I would at least check that they have some background, education, qualifications, and credentials to be safely doing this.

  • Do they have knowledge of human anatomy and basic exercise science?
  • Do they have evidence-based advice for the information they’re sharing?
  • Have they ever worked directly with actual people in a real-life setting?
  • Are they just sharing the workouts they like to do but charging you quite a lot for them?

Also, a great online fitness expert should have a ton of examples of people who have been successful following their training. If they’re telling you to buy their programs so you can look like them: block and move on.

If you see people selling full nutrition programs, I’d definitely want to see that they’re a registered dietician and not trying to upsell you booty bands or bronzing moisturizers.

I’ve noticed that the best online fitness leaders are the ones who worked in the real world beforehand. They’ve been in the trenches in the gyms and fitness clubs, worked with a ton of clients, but then moved their business online.

The difference between a fitness influencer and a fitness professional is truly night and day.

Make it Work For You

If you’re going to follow people online, it may make more sense to follow those who motivate and inspire you — and not make you feel like garbage.

A big problem with modern influencers — especially in fitness — is they can make you question why you don’t have the same experience they do.

If you don’t look the same; train the same; or have the same diet or morning routine; you may think you’re doing everything wrong. Call it the “Kardashification” of society, but these influencers can do nothing more than make you feel inferior.

According to Dr. Marika Tiggemann — a psychology professor from Flinders University in Australia — even a brief look at Instagram can have an immediate negative impact on self-esteem.

If you’ve noticed that happening, it may be time to cut them off and only follow those who you find motivating and inspirational.

Better yet, be the motivation and inspiration in your own life instead of following those who probably don’t have their lives together as much as it seems.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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