Like it or not, fitness is now as much a part of social media as holiday selfies and avocado toast.
Take just a short scroll on your commute to work and you’ll find yourself entrenched in a minefield of workout plans, motivational memes and transformation Tuesdays. Sometimes they’re interesting. Occasionally they’re inspiring. The rest of the time they’re completely moronic.
The problem with fitness social media is that with so many people jumping on the bandwagon, it becomes harder and harder to stand out. So the information gets wackier, the diets get more radical and the workouts get more extreme in a desperate attempt to get your attention.
But the good news is, you don’t have to fall for the myths. It is perfectly possible to navigate the crevasses of fitness social media without falling into an abyss of waist trainers and diet pills. You’ve just got to know what to look out for.
8 lies social media tells you about fitness
It would probably take me all year to point out all the ways social media is economical with the truth. But if you can avoid these 8 flat out lies, you’ll be well on your way to reaching your fitness goals without Facebook or Instagram throwing you off track.
1. No pain, no gain
If you spend any time on Instagram you’ve probably come across that personal trainer who brags about how his ‘legendary’ leg day will leave you unable to walk for a week. Or that fitness model who tells you if you’re not sore in the morning, you’ve got to train even harder! To these guys, fitness is no longer a hobby. It’s a form of torture. Are you even fitness if you’re not curled up in a ball crying in a pool of your own sweat and tears at the end of every workout?
Here’s a mind blowing fact for you. Fitness doesn’t have to hurt. You don’t have to be hobbling around for days to get results. In fact, pushing yourself to the brink and beyond in every single workout is just going to fry your system and send you spiralling backwards.
Exercise is a stressor to the body. When faced with small amounts, we adapt and grow stronger. But too much of it will tank your adrenal glands, shut down your immune system and send your energy levels hurtling into a brick wall.
Push yourself too far too fast, and before you know it you’re laid up on the couch out of action for weeks. Suddenly you’re back to square one and the cycle repeats itself again.
Train hard, but train smart. Avoid going to failure on exercises and live to fight another day. Consistency over months and years delivers results – running yourself into the ground after a few weeks of overtraining does not.
2. The only bad workout is the one that didn't happen
Correction. The only bad workout is the one where you forced yourself to train when your body was crying out for a break.
Rest and recovery are just as important to your health and fitness as the training itself. Don’t be fooled by the ‘no days off’ crowd. Give your body time to recover and try out some new and fulfilling experiences that don’t involve dumbbells or a squat rack.
3. More protein = more muscle
Social media LOVES protein. Probably because big supplement companies love social media, and your favourite social media influencers love being paid by big supplement companies to promote their protein bars, protein shakes, and double chocolate protein muffins. Can you spot a pattern here?
The truth is, you don’t need anywhere near as much protein as social media would have you believe. Your body can only process a limited amount of protein each day – anything else is either converted to glucose or excreted as waste. All the research suggests that you really don’t need anything above 1.4 – 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
So, where do protein shakes come in? If you’re busy and are looking for a healthy source of plant based protein on the go, a high quality protein shake can come in extremely handy. If you’re active, protein shakes can be a great way to help you recover faster after a workout. Or if you just love the taste of them, they’re a delicious addition to bump up the protein content of your favourite smoothie.
But you definitely don’t need to be slamming three of them every day just to get enough protein in your diet.
4. Strong is the new sexy
False. ‘Strong’ is the new buzzword for manipulating women’s body image.
What started off as a movement to empower women has morphed into yet another gross attempt to exploit their insecurities and sell them the ‘perfect’ body type. But guess what? The ‘perfect’ body doesn’t come in a specific shape or size. The perfect body is the one where YOU feel your happiest, healthiest and most confident.
However you dress it up, shaming one body type against another isn’t motivational or inspiring. It’s bullshit. You don’t need to conform to society’s perception of ‘fitness’ to be sexy. You don’t need to have abs or a squat booty to be sexy. Just be fearless, be confident, and be yourself. Now THAT’s the new sexy.
5. You have to lift weights
Whisper it quietly, but fitness doesn’t just revolve around squats and deadlifts. If you don’t like lifting weights, guess what? You don’t have to. There are plenty of other ways to stay fit and healthy without picking up a barbell.
The whole point of fitness is to find something you enjoy, so you can stick at it long term. If pumping iron doesn’t do it for you, what does? Take up a sport, join a dance class, hike up hills and swim in oceans until you find something that you love. You can even (shock horror) just go for a good old fashioned run. Which leads me nicely on to my next point…
6. Cardio is a no go
If you’re gonna make moronic memes, the least you can do is run a spellcheck before you put it on the ‘gram.
Sadly for the fitness industry, it is this level of intelligence that has contributed to the extreme cardiophobia that now rages like wildfire on social media. According to the newly appointed fitness police, anything more than a brisk walk to the bench press is a one way ticket to muscle cannibalism.
But with all this focus on the mirror muscles, it’s easy to forget about your most important muscle of all. Your heart. Y’know, that pulsing conglomerate of cells that is literally keeping you alive from beat to beat? It doesn’t ask for much, but get it pumping a couple of times a week and you’ll do wonders for your entire body – without sacrificing any of those important gains.
And yes, I’ve called out cardio in the past too. Just like any form of exercise, too much cardio will cause unnecessary stress to the body and could have negative health consequences. But the poison is in the dose. Both marathon runners and elite bodybuilders understand that they are compromising their health in the pursuit of their sport. But that doesn’t make cardio (or weights) the devil. For the vast majority of us, a little bit of both will go a long way to make sure we are a healthy and well rounded athlete.
7. If it fits your macros
You knew it was coming, right?
The ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (IIFYM) crowd are one of the most voracious on social media. You can spot them a mile off. When they’re not proudly chowing down on pop tarts and Krispy Kreme Donuts, you’ll often find them making fun of anyone who has the audacity to eat a fruit or vegetable.
According to the ‘IIFYMers,’ food is not really food but simple mathematics. And as long as you eat the right amount of protein, carbs and fats (a.k.a macros) each day, it doesn’t matter whether they come from lentils and broccoli or pizza and pop tarts. As long as it ‘fits your macros’ it’s fair game.
The biggest problem with this approach is that it disregards all of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, enzymes and all the other components of food that are essential for our health. The food we eat is much more than just mathematics; it is the building blocks of our cells and the fuel for the trillions of complex processes that your body has to perform on a daily basis. If you’re not providing your body with all the nutrients it needs to truly thrive, then you can expect to pay for it later down the line.
Sure, you can get shredded following IIFYM. But at what cost to your health? Eating nothing but junk food just because you can make it fit your macros might be fun, but it also puts you on a collision course to chronic inflammation and countless metabolic diseases.
Being healthy on the inside is even more important than looking good on the outside. But luckily enough, you can do both. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, complex carbs and healthy fats. Treat yourself every now and then. And watch the magic happen.
8. Carbs are the devil
Last but by no means least, I'm calling out social media's incessant war on carbs. Unless you have a genuine medical reason for doing so, there is no reason to cut carbohydrates from your diet: and here's why.
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient. 'Macro' meaning essential for good health. If you want happier hormones, deeper sleep, a better mood and sustained energy levels - you're gonna want to eat some carbs. Fruits, vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grains and legumes are all healthy carb sources that are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Don't neglect them from your diet just because that trainer on Facebook told you to do so.
The war on carbs has also provided yet another opportunity for the profit hungry supplement companies to swoop in and feed off our insecurities. Enter perhaps the most irresponsible of all...
Yes, that is a real advert. No, there is no mechanism in your body that is capable of 'blocking' the carbs you eat from being absorbed. Please do not fall for the hype. The only time you should feel 'guilty' when eating carbs is if you stole them from your next door neighbour's potato patch.
Thanks for reading! I'll catch you on the next one.