I’m often asked why I became a personal trainer, probably more than any other question about my profession.
Love of fitness of course is key, but also how much I want to help people understand how to pick apart an industry, which, in my opinion, is still way off the mark when it comes to explaining what fitness should actually be.
If you weren’t already pressuring yourself to look or exercise a certain way, it’s pretty certain that the amount of information, often incorrect or manipulated, shoved down your throat by all manner of different media will have made you question everything about your approach to a healthier life.
My question is: why has something that is meant to improve our health ended up making us more unhappy? What is the fitness industry doing wrong? And how they can they begin making things better?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when fitness upgraded from a trend to a way of life, but it’s fair to say that, along with fashion and food, it has firmly established itself as one of the biggest and most profitable industries of our time. Once it was simply healthy to exercise – now it’s undeniably cool to tell anyone who’ll listen about your pre-5am CrossFit or spin session. As the joke goes ‘Did your workout even happen of you don’t post about it on Instagram’?
It feels increasingly that, despite the industry being littered with famous faces, sponsorship deals and collaborations with fashion houses, many are forgetting that fitness is a health movement – as fitness professionals, we are essentially responsible for people’s lives. It is our responsibility to provide our audience with information that is correct, safe and well researched. But herein lies one of the major issues – some of the biggest and most followed faces are not actually fitness professionals or athletes.
The focus by the media on those who are ‘insta-famous’ means those who are truly inspirational are side-lined. Olympians, weight-lifters, people who have come back from debilitating injury are ignored in favour of those with surgically enhanced features, reality stars who just happen to enjoy the gym or a girl who 12 million followers have deemed to have the ‘perfect’ bum.
Fitness shouldn’t only be about aesthetics, but if the only people we’re ever exposed to are these, it’s hard to see the distinction between exercising for anything other than weight-loss.
There’s no rousing stories, no idea of graft or grind – just women presented to us in a way that almost seem designed to make us feel bad about ourselves.
The biggest selling women’s fitness magazine in the U.K. has been increasingly criticised for not only its lack of inspiring cover stars, but its confusing and borderline aggressive way of writing. Headlines about self-love are positioned bang-next-door to articles telling you how to ‘control your willpower’ – but so rarely do they shed any light on the middle ground.
A recent article in one of the highest circulating broadsheets lauded women in weightlifting, then went on to cite two women, both social media stars, neither famous for much other than their bodies. If all the media does is celebrate these ‘bodies’, younger generations are less likely to view physical fitness as anything other than a means to a ‘perfect’ weight.
Unfortunately we can’t only blame the press for the confusion and misreporting within the fitness industry. Many of the popular names will one minute be encouraging us to be ourselves, compare ourselves to no-one and enjoy our bodies, the next post an image of their abs or, God forbid, their thigh gap, with some pseudo-inspirational text about hard work equalling results.
Before & After pictures prevail in gyms and online; no interview, no matter the context, is complete without at least a sentence or two about the subject’s diet and fitness regime. In my opinion it’s not our willpower that needs controlling – it’s the industry.
So yes, it’s all very well arguing this topic, but what can we actually do about it?
A blogger recently called out a female fitness magazine for their irresponsible reporting and was subsequently banned from their gym and blacklisted from their events – such bullying is hardly encouraging to the rest of us who may wish to speak out. Although it pains me to admit it, I don’t think the industry as a whole will change its tactics anytime soon.
For the moment, strength of mind and soul just isn’t as aspirational as having the perfect body. The answer lies within the individual and my advice, for what it’s worth, is to declutter all the mixed messages and conflicting facts from your mind; forget about what the gym can do for your looks, and focus instead on what it does for your health. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel like your efforts aren’t enough. Make this journey about you, ignore anyone else.
Control your fitness regime, don’t let it control you. Enjoy it.
Think about the other things you like doing in life and make sure that everything is working together in harmony; don’t let your diet, weight or workouts rule supreme. Take everything you read about fitness with a pinch of salt.
Forget about that girl/guy with the body that is most likely unattainable for you and remind of yourself of what YOUR body is capable of. Tell your trainer you want to be strong, not skinny.
Don’t listen to anything or anyone who tells you you need to ‘curb your cravings’. If you have a ‘fitspo’, make it someone you admire rather than someone you envy. Even better – make it YOU.