Your eyes flicker open in the morning. You reach over to the bed stand and grab your phone. Within minutes you’re scrolling through Instagram, taking it all in; exercise videos, pictures of friends and family, healthy recipes, celebrities in bathing suits—a mix of great and potentially dangerous.
What you may not realize is this Instagram habit could be hurting your workouts. From dangerous “challenge moves” to #fitspo selfies, Instagram is causing you to:
- Minimize your progress
- Try exercises that are too hard for your skill set
- Second guess your success
- Focus on how you look, not how you feel
- Strive for an idealized body
- Eat unhealthy amounts of healthy foods
When you know what the dangers are, however, and how to avoid them, you can make Instagram a valuable health and fitness tool. Here’s what you need to know before you log back onto your favorite social media app.
Read about my journey with body image struggles in: How I Learned to Love My Body
“Challenge Moves” = Potential Injury
It’s fun trying new exercises, and important for keeping your routine fresh and interesting. Many times, however, fitness professionals like to share advanced exercises that shouldn’t be attempted by beginners.
With less strength, control and knowledge of how to move the body, trying the exercise can lead to injuries, both mild and serious. Take the exercise below for example. Without the core strength to hold your body like a board, it would not only be extremely hard, but could easily cause you to pull a muscle or hurt your wrist as you struggle to hold your body up.
I LOVE this core burning excercise! 🔥 Perfect for toning your obliques and building balance. Start slow, in modified positioning (bottom leg on ground, knee bent, hips still in the air) before moving to the full expression you see here. #coreworkout #corestrength #abs #fitness #fitvid #workout #fitnessgirl #fitnesscoach #plank #sideplank #crunches #obliques
Body Envy = Wrong Reasons to Workout
Instagram is everyone’s favorite place to share the best of a series of 10 selfies. Throw a filter on the one photo that came out exceptionally well, tweak the color settings, and you have a recipe for disaster. While the person posting may feel proud, we as onlookers are getting the wrong impression.
Instead of seeing a photo of someone who’s stoked about their progress, we see something we may not have yet. Instead of thinking, “Wow, look at that person, she looks great,” we think, “Why don’t I look like that? I need to workout more so I can look that too.”
Suddenly you’re not thinking about your own personal goals, you’re thinking about how you can look like the person on your screen. When you’re working out to look like someone else, not to feel strong, confident and amazing in your own skin, workouts become harder, more frustrating and quickly lead to burnout.
The fact is that you’ll never look like that person. Still, with every selfie we see, we yearn deeper for a look that we may never achieve, and may even be unhealthy for our own body.
Non-Physical Changes to Share = “I’ve made no progress!”
This is why #fitspo is so dangerous. Your workouts are probably challenging and great for you and your body’s needs. You’re likely also making progress—perhaps you have more energy, you’re lifting heavier weights each week, and are able to run longer and faster every time you hit the treadmill. Yet when you compare yourself to these selfies, you immediately minimize your own success.
This leads to a slow but steady spiral of negative self talk, changes in your routine (that aren’t necessary or helpful), and potentially dangerous eating habits—all so you can have that idealized (and FAKE) body.
Fad Foods = Unhealthy “healthy” recipes
Yes, foods like chia seeds, flax seeds, nuts, and coconut oil are good for you and high in healthy fats. That doesn’t mean they don’t reflect negatively on your health, fitness and weight loss success, when you have too much of it.
We need healthy fats in our diet, around 50 to 60 grams per day for most people, but be wary of recipes that call for multiple cups of nuts or more than 1 to 2 tablespoons of:
- Nut butter
- Coconut (oil and shredded)
- Seeds (like flax and chia)
All of these ingredients are valuable in a healthy diet, but in moderation—as with everything in life.
How to Make Instagram Helpful
Despite the potential drawbacks, Instagram can be an awesome tool for people who want to stay healthy and fit. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your favorite #fitspiration app.
Follow knowledgeable people: Are the fitness “professionals” you follow actually certified trainers? Most “Instagram fitness stars” are not; they’re people who love fitness and working out. As such, their recommendations may not be safe or based on an educated knowledge of fitness and health.
To check their credentials, see if they have a website—most personal trainers or health and fitness professionals will. On it, they’ll proudly display their certifications and degrees. If you can’t find this, consider whether you should be taking their advice or not.
Check healthy recipes: Many “healthy” recipes on Instagram are high in fat and calories, especially many of the granola and protein ball recipes. Use the MyFitnessPal Recipe calculator to get an accurate picture of the nutrients in the recipe before making it. Then modify as necessary based on your personal dietary needs.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Most health coaches, personal trainers and fitness professionals on Instagram would be more than happy to field questions about exercises and workouts they share. We all have a common goal of helping people get healthy—the right way, without getting hurt—and answering your quick question is just one more way we can make that happen. Leave a comment or send them a message.
Know your limits: People love posting videos doing challenging exercises (I know I do!), but that doesn’t mean you should try it. These trainers and fitness enthusiasts are able to do advanced movements, but you may need to work up to it. If it’s not yet offered, ask the Instagram user for a modification. Instead of going right into the most challenging variation, you can start at the beginning.
Instagram: I Still Love You
I don’t dislike Instagram. In fact, I love sharing fitness tips, ideas and advice for all of my followers, along with finding new exercises and recipe ideas. The key is to know what you’re looking at.
- Is your favorite fitness personality actually a trainer or just someone who likes working out?
- Are you discounting your own success as you scroll through image after image of girls in bikinis and sports bras?
- Is that awesome protein ball recipe filled with high-fat foods?
Be intentional as you scroll through Instagram, un-follow accounts that are making you feel less-than, and don’t take every piece of advice you get. With this in mind, you can make the most of Instagram, finding exercise ideas, workout tips and nutritious recipes.