Have you ever turned to social media for exercise inspiration? The hashtag #fitspo (short for “fitspiration” or fitness plus inspiration) is attached to more than 74 million posts on Instagram; videos with the same hashtag have garnered over 1.4 billion views on TikTok.
Are these posts showing what fitness really looks like?
A study published in Journal of Medical Internet Research in March 2017 examined 415 social media posts tagged with #fitspo and found that most of the images promoted a narrow, gendered view of fitness: women were thin and toned, while men were extremely muscular.
But Jacque Crockford, an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified personal trainer based in San Diego and senior product manager at ACE (where he focuses some of the organization’s educational efforts), says if those #fitspo headlines are the only ones see on your social media feeds, dig a little deeper. There are plenty of fitness professionals (including social media fitness influencers) whose bodies don’t look like that, and who are working hard to highlight what being fit actually means. “Health and fitness professionals have the power to continue to shift the tide toward more inclusive, positive ideas about fitness,” she says.
So how can you tell which influencers are getting it right? Accounts that foster a healthy relationship with fitness tend to focus on topics that aren’t necessarily related to size or weight, Crockford says. For example, they could encourage followers to “feel great and sleep better” instead of “lose weight to fit into a bikini”. She recommends following social media accounts that support body confidence, self-care, and positive relationships with food and exercise.
If the report suggests that food or exercise are some kind of punishment, there’s a good chance they’re contributing to stigma and bias around weight and size — which isn’t good for the fitness industry or society as a whole, she adds. Also be wary of accounts that try to sell you a program, piece of equipment, or meal plan that equates getting in shape with losing weight, Crockford says. “Every body is different,” she says. Weight loss is not always the goal and is not necessarily an indicator of fitness.
If you’re looking to add some positive fitness inspiration to your Instagram feed, consider following these nine exercise pros, who prove that fitness can look different for every body.