Fitness on social media

From getting inspiration on workouts and weight loss, to following a nutrition plan—social media is inspiring a generation to get fitter


The sight of beautiful bodies lifting heavy weights can be motivating. Photo:iStockphoto
The sight of beautiful bodies lifting heavy weights can be motivating. Photo:iStockphoto

Let me clarify, eternal optimist though I may be, that I doubt I will ever get a bikini body. I have fat genes, a terrible metabolism, and a penchant for ice cream at midnight. So I simply live in the hope that Rubenesque will one day be as popular as sun-kissed, flat-bellied, long-legged perfection.

But a peek into Kayla Itsines’ Instagram profile offers fresh hope. The pictures of herself that she posts here—sculpted collar-bones, sinewy limbs and perky derrière barely concealed in a bikini or crop tops and minuscule shorts—are accompanied by claims that it is all the result of her trademark Bikini Body Workout coupled with a nutrition plan.

“Fitspiration” from the likes of Itsines is here to stay. Spend an hour trawling through Facebook timelines or lingering among Twitterati and you cannot miss some of these sights—beautiful bodies, weight-loss success stories, workout videos, inspirational speeches. From the anonymous yogi who offers you stunning poses in the nude to fit women extolling body guides and workout videos, such as Anna Victoria, Emily Skye, Jillian Michaels and Amanda Bisk, to celebrities sharing diet tips and exercise routines, social media is changing and expanding the scope of fitness considerably.

It comes with its dangers, of course, so experts advise caution. For the idealization of a certain sort of physique can lead to increased body dissatisfaction, while compulsive over-exercising can lead to injury and eating disorders such as anorexia .

The convenience, however, is commendable. Social media has made Itsines, 25, a graduate of the Australian Institute of Fitness, the fourth richest woman in Australia with an 46 million Australian dollars (around Rs230 crore) fitness empire.

It was in 2014 that she started using Instagram to post before and after pictures of her clients. She also developed Bikini Body Guides—paid PDF documents detailing workout and nutrition plans that promise to get you in the best possible shape—and encouraged their circulation and purchase by urging women who had seen positive results to share their before and after pictures.

As of Monday, Itsines had six million followers on Instagram, 383,000 followers on Twitter, 10,230,998 Likes on Facebook and 154,429 subscribers on YouTube.

“Social media is a great way to get inspired following people’s journeys and to make it your own journey,” says Akshay Verma, co-founder and director of Fitpass, a Delhi-based fitness discovery platform that connects users to workout spaces in their city. It helps that “Fitness is top of the mind now—three years ago, celebrities and cricketers were opening restaurants, but today they launch gyms and fitness videos,” he says.

Some of the best-known fitspirators in India are Yasmin Karachiwala, Junaid Kaliwala and Mustafa Ahmed. Celebrities, too, drive home the fitness message. “Virat Kohli puts up fitness videos and people follow him; Bipasha Basu and Shilpa Shetty are well-known fitness enthusiasts; Parineeti Chopra’s transformation was a widely followed story,” says Verma.

One of the reasons fitness on the world wide web has been gaining popularity is, of course, the sheer convenience—fitness enthusiasts are riding this wave. For instance, Megha Jain, who works in the banking sector, says cost and convenience are the reasons she chooses to use home videos to guide her on workouts. She follows Adrian Bryant, founder of Nowloss.com, a body transformation site—he has 126,987 subscribers on YouTube—because “those videos are like having a personal trainer. I am trying to lose around 30 pounds and I hope that these videos will be helpful,” she says.

Nutritionist and fitness consultant Luke Coutinho says he uses Facebook to drive home his fitness message. “Ninety per cent of the people who consult with me need not have come in the first place,” he says, pointing out that the 40,000-odd people who follow him on Facebook often repost the information and videos he puts out, thereby creating a chain reaction of sorts.

It is also a great place to engage with his audience and build fitness communities. “I hope that by following and sharing the information I put out, I can reduce the line of people waiting to meet me every day,” he says.

Social media is not just an influencer, it is also a great place to drive awareness of new things, says Amaresh Ojha, the co-founder of Gympik.com, an online marketplace for fitness service providers. “A few years ago, not too many people here knew about things like HIIT (high intensity Interval Training), CrossFit, Bokwa,” he says. “Today, however, new trends are spreading much quicker, with popular fitness models, celebrities and brands sharing interesting workout routines and healthy diet choices, many of which are shared and implemented by their followers online,” he says.

The sight of beautiful bodies lifting heavy weights or executing seemingly impossible looking yoga poses with a smile can indeed act as motivation—we do live tremendously sedentary lives and a little more activity is always a good thing. “There are way too many people out there who seek motivation,” says Shwetambari Shetty, co-founder and director of the Bengaluru-based The Tribe Fitness Club. “Also, there is a lot of good content out there—perfect for people who are afraid to actually go to a gym and work out,” she says, adding one must ensure that form and correct technique is adhered to while performing the movement. “As the workout is largely unguided, there is no one to check if you are doing it the right way,” she says. “If you don’t focus on correct technique, you can hurt yourself.”

Physical injury isn’t necessarily the only side effect of fitspiration. The book Truth About Exercise Addiction: Understanding The Dark Side Of Thinspiration, co-authored by Katherine Schreiber and Heather A. Hausenblas, maintains that an extreme focus on fitness is “illustrative of both an exercise addict’s faulty belief system as well as the fitness world’s well-meaning and often misguided focus on pushing bodily limits”.

Zara Khan, assistant editor of Nature inFocus, a nature and wildlife photography website, who follows Arielle Calderon, a young woman who used social media to share her 15-month, around 100-pound weight-loss journey, agrees that social media can be a vicious tool, creating a misleading and dangerous perception of attractiveness and health. “There is a certain standard that you feel you need to live up to—unless you are of that standard you will never be happy,” she says.

“The thing about social media,” she concludes, “is that it works both ways. It can inspire you but also drag you into the abyss of darkness.”

***

Choosing the best programme

■Start by choosing a programme that focuses on basic, functional movements.

■See that the technique and cueing employed by the trainer is perfect and specific.

■Follow people who actively engage and connect with you.

—Shwetambari Shetty, co-founder and director at the Bengaluru-based The Tribe Fitness Club

***

Who to follow

Kayla Itsines: An Australian personal trainer who offers boot-camp-style training and a sensible diet. @kayla_itsines

Jillian Michaels: An American personal trainer known for her somewhat abrasive tongue and short but brutal workouts. @JillianMichaels

Kris Gethin: One of the foremost names in the bodybuilding circuit, he has often been touted as the man behind the bodies of actors such as Hrithik Roshan and John Abraham. @kagedmuscle

Milind Soman: A former model and founder-promoter of Pinkathon, an annual running event for women that raises awareness about breast cancer. @milindrunning

More From Livemint