Fitness Instagram can be a place of powerful inspiration. It can also be a soul-sucking morass full of impossibly fit people doing things you could never dream of and selling products that you suddenly need to have. Here’s how to use it so you feel better, not worse, after checking your feed.
Follow people who are just ahead of you on your fitness journey
Just because the world’s most beautiful and accomplished people are on Instagram does not mean you have to follow them. What we see can skew our perceptions of reality; I know I’m not the only person who feels worse about my body after scrolling past images of people whose bodies, lighting, and/or Photoshop skills are leagues beyond mine.
Unless you truly enjoy those aspirational accounts, unfollow them. Instead, look for the kinds of accounts that make you excited about your own fitness. Those might include:
People who are working toward the same goals as you (but haven’t achieved them yet)
People with a similar body type to yours
People who work out at your gym, or in a similar environment (for example, if you have a home gym, look for people who use the same types of equipment)
People who are a little bit better than you at a skill you’re working on
People who get creative about trying new things, if they are things you realistically might like to try
People who compete in a sport that you are training for
These folks can be real-life friends, celebrities, or anyone in between. In short, you’re not seeking out people whose goals are miles away from yours, but people who show you how your own goals are within reach.
And don’t forget you can follow hashtags, too. The more specific the better: I’ve been working on a little-known lift called the bent press, so I follow the #bentpress tag and I get to see dozens of other people who try that lift, too. Some have great technique and can lift way more than me. Others are struggling to learn it and I can sympathise.
Watch the process, not just the highlight reels
A subtle difference between aspirational and inspirational Insta accounts is whether or not they show the process of training and getting better.
Some accounts only show the highlights of their training: the yoga pose that required years of flexibility work, the parkour move they failed hundreds of times before they first succeeded, the deadlift that could only be that jaw-dropping number of pounds because that lifter has been training consistently since they were a teenager.
Highlights attract followers for Instagram, but I find the process is far more fascinating to watch. Sometimes people who are more famous or professional will be more careful about curating their accounts, so you get more highlights and less process.
But people who don’t have a staff or a social media strategy may be more likely to just post whatever is going on in their training right now – so make sure to look beyond the big names.
If you’ve been ignoring Instagram stories, do yourself a favour and take a look. Stories are the posts that don’t appear in a person’s regular feed; instead, you get to them by tapping that person’s profile picture when it has a coloured circle around it. (Yes, it’s a weird design choice, I don’t pretend to explain.)
Stories disappear after 24 hours, so people tend to post what they’re doing right now, rather than the regular feed where they put things that will be on their profile more or less permanently. In other words, they’re great for showing the process of training.
Everybody uses their highlights differently, but I love seeing people post a few clips of whatever they did in the gym today, or even of what they do when they’re not at the gym.
Post, don’t just scroll
It’s up to you how active you want to be on Instagram, but there are advantages to jumping in and engaging with other people. Instead of just scrolling other people’s stuff, consider what your process looks like, and what your highlight reel could contain.
I have friends who tag each other in stories as a reminder to work out, or a friendly challenge to try a new move (that reminds me, I owe somebody some monkey bar crunches). React or reply to somebody’s story, and that starts a direct message conversation between the two of you. I’ve both gotten and given some great feedback that way.
Don’t feel like you have to try everything
Especially if you get adventurous about what you follow, you may soon end up with more ideas for workouts than you could possibly have time to try. But remember, you’re on your own fitness journey—whatever that means for you, and ultimately you’ll be happiest when you stick with your own plan.
Just like you wouldn’t expect the powerlifters on your feed to try every move from a yoga guru or vice versa, you won’t be able to progress if you’re trying so many new things that you never get a chance to get good at any of them. So if you’re tempted to try everything, stop and think: What do I enjoy doing? What goals would I like to work up to?
Then use your answers to those questions to decide what to put into your routine. Sure, there might be an occasional silly challenge (I say this as a person who recently set a personal record in the doughnut squat) but most of us are happiest when we choose short and long-term goals, and embrace the process that will get us there.