I would like to preface this open letter by saying that I have the utmost respect for many fitness influencers who put themselves out there, try to help people get healthier, and who dedicate their time to the communities they create online. This is in no way an attack on anyone and is simply the point of view of a concerned individual.
Dear Fitness Influencers,
Thank you for dedicating your time to improving others’ health and wellbeing. Although some of you only do so for monetary gain and to showcase your own bodies, that is okay and you have every right to do so. The issue I would like to raise is the irresponsibility with which some of you give advice to your followers. This advice ranges from promoting certain supplements to selling your own workout programs.
While these actions can be very innocent, they can lead to questionable decisions on the part of an unknowing public. For perspective, when a client approaches a trainer for a program and nutrition advice, the first thing the trainer does is ask a series of questions to get to know the client’s health history, if they have any injuries, their daily routine, etc. These questions allow the trainer to choose the most appropriate workout regimen and diet advice to fit the unique needs of their client. Unfortunately, in the one-way relationship you have with your “clients” behind the veil of social media, the information-gathering step is missing, and the result is a one-size-fits-all approach to fitness and wellbeing that actually benefits no one but the seller.
The issue is not only the lack of benefit, but the potential risks of injury or health issues that can arise from following such generalized advice. As an example, someone who has high blood pressure may decide to work on their fitness to improve their condition. They find a fitness influencer with a large following on social media and think that following their advice would be a good first step.
If the influencer decides that it is time to push their followers to get into high intensity interval training (HIIT), and claims it is the holy grail of workouts for health and weight loss, then our friend with high blood pressure is in serious trouble if they follow it. HIIT can have adverse effects on someone with high blood pressure and is contraindicated. Instead, they should start with lower intensity intervals while being monitored by a professional to make sure they are being safe. But how can they know if you do not tell them?
Some of you will push your own workouts to your audience while using your body image as the goal to reach, but this is problematic for two reasons.
First, you do not recognize that your audience is made of disparate body shapes and fitness levels that cannot safely match what you are doing.
Second, the image that is being sold is usually not attainable with the tools that you provide and requires more hard work than is advertised. In trying to reach this social-media-perfect image, individuals can push themselves way further than is reasonable.
How is that the influencer’s fault, though? Well, it is because you are selling an image that is unattainable under normal circumstances, but you claim that it is. This leads to shifting the blame onto the audience for not working hard enough, but if they do, they can end up injured.
The same logic can be applied to nutrition advice, which has to be tailored to a person’s needs. No two people are exactly the same. Apart from physical capabilities and needs, every person has a different routine and daily strains that require a specific approach. Forcing general dieting advice can lead to dire health repercussions for a trusting public.
To address these risks, and provide safer advice, I have compiled a short list of suggestions to add to your posts:
- Include the level of a workout (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and scaling options
- Mention potential adverse effects of a workout
- Point out to the audience that a specific exercise needs to be approached with caution, or not at all, by individuals with certain health issues
- If performing an exercise that requires a trainer’s assistance, mention it, and do not encourage the audience to do it on their own
- Do your research before giving advice on anything.
This may get lost due to the nature of social media, but influencing people, especially with fitness and health advice, is a great responsibility. You are asking them to trust you with their health and wellbeing, and they reward you for it, but you must honour that trust first and foremost.