The last five years or so have been an absolute explosion of virtual interconnectivity, thanks to the invention of social media.  Never in history have people been able to interact globally in the size and speed at which they can through the various social media networks.  It seems that everything we do nowadays is in some way connected or influenced by Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.  Fitness is no exception to this new paradigm.  But, is this a positive or a negative?  As an avid user of social media, primarily for fitness related reasons, I believe the answer is that social media can have a positive or negative impact on one’s fitness; depending on how it is used. 

 

The Good

Social media allows us to interact and connect to millions of people and a vast library of information and support.  This can be an amazing resource for someone just starting out on a fitness journey.  The ability to be able to ask questions of others or join a group for support can make the tedious difference between success and failure in fitness.  I have been touched and inspired by the hundreds of stories I have read and the people I have interacted with since I started my own journey.  A big part of my journey now is to help other people get started on theirs, and social media opens doors that otherwise never would have existed.  For that, social media is an amazing tool.

 

The Bad

What happens when a person goes beyond using social media for support and information, and, rather, starts to use it for a sense of purpose?  What I consider the bad side of social media is what I will call the “beast mode syndrome.”  We have all seen it, people posting soul crushing workouts, videos of them broken in a pool of sweat, or some insane fitness stunt they just attempted. In most instances, these people have developed the dreaded “beast mode syndrome.”  The syndrome is defined as an inexplicable need to “prove” oneself to hundreds of virtual “friends” through workouts and lifts that they think show them in “beast mode.”  In reality, these people are not only not working toward being fitter humans, but are putting themselves at great risk for physical and emotional damage.  Because social media gives us an audience we otherwise wouldn’t have, some of us feel the need to perform for the crowd or use physical prowess to try to impress the masses.  This often leads to overtraining, preventable injuries, and failure to meet ones goals.  In this situation, the tool has become the vehicle for destructive behavior.  This is the bad side of social media.

 

The Ugly

Because social media is an interactive forum that is nearly anonymous, social media can be used to say things that you wouldn’t say to someone face to face.  I have seen countless posts making crude or objectionable comments about a person’s body; degrading or criticizing someone; or engaging in pointless bickering and finger pointing.  This behavior is not germane to social media, but it is exacerbated by the anonymity of a computer screen and the vast reach that a person’s voice has through social media.  This is the ugly side of human behavior, amplified across the stream of the internet.

So, how then do we use social media for the good and not the bad or the ugly?  I think the answers are relatively simple, but they do require a little bit of self-reflection and thought.  With respect to the bad, before you decide to take on a physical challenge or push yourself beyond your limits, ask yourself “how is this helping me reach my goals?”  If the answer is that it’s not, think a little bit harder and see if the reason you are about to push to unhealthy levels is so that you have an epic “beast mode” post later.  If this is your source of motivation it is time for you to reevaluate your goals and priorities.  Allow social media to support you, but don’t let it be your motivation.  Motivation should come from within, not from people that do not truly know you or know your story.  And, let’s be honest, most of the time no one is really that impressed that you ran 5 miles on a sprained ankle; we all think you are pretty silly actually. 

Preventing the ugly side is even easier and harkens back to lessons we learned as kids.  Before you post something ask yourself: “Would I say the same thing to that person’s face?” “Would I be ok with someone saying the same thing to my mom or sister?” or “Would I want someone to say the same thing to me?”  If the answer to any of these questions is no, then here is what you do…carefully reach up and hit the delete button! 

Social media can be exceptionally beneficial in the world of fitness as long as we don’t abuse it.  Social media is a tool and a resource.  It is not a source of sole motivation or a forum to put others down.  So, before you press “share” think about exactly what it is you are sharing and why!

 

Justin Anderson