“Bro, do you even lift?” “No pain, no gain.” “Sex, weights and protein shakes.” These are just a few of the many popular exercise phrases found on social media and even sold on fitness apparel. There are numerous Facebook pages and Instagram accounts dedicated to fitness memes, selfies, supplements, sportswear and fitness icons. These trends have promoted a different perspective and approach towards working out but are these new ways really healthy?
Mark Steele, a professional fitness trainer and founder of the Toronto based Steele Force Training Inc., says these trends are characteristics of the age we live in. “TV shows become increasingly more shocking, more revealing, and more sensational. I think fitness trends increase their intensity over time as well, all for the sake of gaining attention.”
“Social media is a big part of why there is a demand for personal trainers. Promoting your success is a good way of showing people that you can achieve what you think is impossible.”On season 15 of The Biggest Loser, Rachel Fredrickson’s dramatic weight loss stirred up controversy dropping from 260 pounds to 105 pounds. The coaches faces said it all on the February 2014 finale. The controversy was aired on mainstream outlets such as Good Morning America and ABC News where reporters spoke with professional trainers who said the drastic weight loss may have been extreme. With shows like The Biggest Loser and movies like 2013’s Pain and Gain, audiences are encouraged to believe that rushing into a heavy, advanced workout is the best and quickest way to attain results. This is where the road to improving your body may actually lead into harming your body.
Famous Instagram fitness icons and trainers such as Jen Selter and Devin Physique motivate followers with meal preps, mini workout tutorials and fitness photos. Then there are accounts like Muscle Prodigy and Boss Girls who posts pictures of “regular” fit people, supplements, memes and videos of individuals lifting heavy weight. “Social media is a big part of why there is a demand for personal trainers. It’s everywhere…smartphone apps, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or Instagram. The list goes on…” says GoodLife Fitness trainer, Ashley McDowal. “Fitness selfies and fitness images are more like visual encouragement. Promoting your success is a good way of showing people that you can achieve what you think is impossible.” These postings should be used as motivation but it is important to know your limits. This is especially true concerning weight training . Being cautious with your exercises is crucial according to McDowall.
The mindset that “puking is a rite of passage” is appearing in the fitness industry and is a very dangerous concept, says Bradley Corcoran, professor and program coordinator of Fitness and Health Promotion at Humber College. “Overtraining and injuries because of exercise technique issues are becoming more apparent, some of which have very serious, even life-threatening effects.”
A walk-in clinic in Brampton sees a number of patients with physical pain due to exercise. Dr. Amin, a full-time sports medicine doctor says the most common injuries are hip flexor strain, shoulders and lower back pain. These injuries are common in the gym from improper form, overtraining or pushing heavy weight before warming up your muscles. These injuries can be serious and lead anywhere between weeks to months of physiotherapy.
Steele explains a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which is the breakdown of muscle tissue that actually causes muscle fibre to release into the bloodstream, potentially causing kidney damage. “This condition is brought on by working out at intensity much higher than someone is used to, without the proper improvement in physical conditioning. To that extent, it can be dangerous.”
In a less extreme case, Corcoran says the most common physical injury is lower back pain. This can come from a wide variety of sources; improper exercise technique, muscle tightness or weakness, poor posture, excessive periods of time spent in a seated position or improper training programs. It can also occur when lifting too heavy before training your body to prepare, sometimes in an attempt to speed up desired results, according to Steele.
What about the month long challenges? For example, the “30 day squat challenge” where women have posted their before-and-after pictures with dramatic results. But exercises like these stress the same muscle groups too frequent, possibly overtraining them as Corcoran states: “With these challenges, there is an overload principle that our body responds to. If the total volume is too low, our body will not adapt. If the volume is too frequent, our body cannot recover.”
These fitness trends might not be what they appear to be after all, but what about supplements? Athletes and trainers endorse them and celebrities take them, but can they truly be trusted? Muscle Pharm Supplements is a brand from Arnold Schwarzenegger who is notoriously known for his steroid use back in his body building competition days. But do these products actually work? Most supplements work but could some just be a placebo?
Protein is a common supplement that is important when weight training as it reduces soreness and helps you put on muscle. However, there is a difference between certain products when it comes to gender. “Mass gainer and creatine is something mostly men use. Women mostly go towards creatine free products. BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acid) are something that men and women both use.” says McDowall. Some products are gender-targeted because of the hormonal difference between males and females.
These fitness social media trends are not just a healthy lifestyle promotion, but rather consumerism, where brands advertise supplements and fitness clothing. Like any other product or advertisements promising results, we buy into it because we want the lifestyle.These social media accounts, much like companies, neglect to show the negative aspects of the “train insane” lifestyle such as physical injuries, dangerous side effects and/or the safety procedures that should be followed to train properly.