Get Physical

Instagram + Fitness: Who Can You Trust?

by Annie Behrens

In recent weeks, there have been talks amongst fitness professionals on Instagram about the facade of expertise that’s running rampant in the amid packs of “fitness influencers.” The difference between the two is critical. Fitness professionals are educated in health and physical wellness through different certification outlets like NASM, ACE or ACSM. They also could have studied exercise science, sports medicine, physiology, nutrition or kinesiology. More often than not, you’ll find something like this listed in their Instagram bio.

While fitness professionals can also flourish as influencers, “fitness influencers,” however, are usually promoting aesthetic and vanity on Instagram, in addition to vague advice and unprofessional guides (for purchase) while running the risk of hindering their followers’ progress and potentially giving advice that results in injury.

The risk involved in this practice of following the instructions or buying guides from an uncertified and more often than not, money-driven influencer, is high. As a follower who prefers to lunge correctly, I asked around. I need to know who to trust and how to find trustworthy traits.

Bianca Vesco is an independent personal trainer and a master instructor at NYSC Lab. She’s also known for walking past me one time on 6th Avenue and I am known for being too nervous to introduce myself to her. Bianca is certified NASM CPT, AFAA group fitness, TRX and Kettlebell Basics, and CPR/AED. Vesco told me that she believes “[n]othing beats having an actual, real life, real time personal trainer. If someone who has never worked out before buys a guide and it’s all squats- if this person has terrible squat form and has now been doing them for three months on their own? They have now trained their body into a terrible movement pattern and this guide has probably done more harm than good. However, someone who is on the more expert side of fitness, looking for a handstand guide or a strength program. YES. I have some friends in the industry or write incredible guides, but they are for the advanced. Not someone just getting into fitness.”

Perhaps, so many of us believe that if we show some interest or retain some knowledge on a subject that we’ve just scratched the surface on, we’ve become expert on it. Laziness has grow within us and because information has become so easy to come across or look up, we find choose the top link on our Google search, read the first sentence and consider the matter; dealt with. When searching for advice and expertise, Vesco says, “choose wisely,” unsurprisingly but for good reason, “The general class goer has no idea that most “instructors” are not certified in anything. Especially at mass chain gyms who have their own trainings. Those trainers sit through however many hours they have to log and BOOM they’re instructors. Maybe if they care enough, they will expand and keep learning. But most cases, nope. On the other hand, I also know a ton of instructors who continue to go above and beyond in furthering their education.”

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results – Willie Nelson”; if I saw this quote on instagram, I can think, “hey, thanks Willie” but I can also be affected by and be curious about it but just because I saw it on Instagram from someone I follow, that doesn’t mean I’m skipping therapy that week. I can take that idea and carry it with me and learn how to make it possible in the most beneficial and proper way.

In a political and social climate that is (finally) advocating for the ~outrageous~ notion that words matter, facts matter, pronouns matter, testimony matters, and advice from professionals in their fields matter more than those who put on a guise as professionals and still manage to give advice to a large following, none of this should be taken lightly. “When it comes to trainers, I think there’s two kinds. Trainers who are obsessed with themselves and trainers who are obsessed with other people.”

“Certification and education is key in this business and the liability and safety issues can be huge when not considering this,” writes Michelle Cavazos, “…verify their certifications. Look for results. Those of us with legitimate businesses post the results because we want people to know we are legit. Also, ask their clients if they recommend that person. Most of the time, the client will tell all.” Michelle is a certified personal trainer in Austin Texas and an opponent to influencers selling a quick fix to consumers in regards to fitness and health. By chance, I stumbled upon Michelle’s account after researching an influencer who had promised a quick fix. This lead Michelle to comment (which gave me the reaction to start applauding in my living room), “Making all of us small hardworking online coaches look bad. Can you just stop? Our industry doesn’t need this and the people deserve their money back! Thank u, next.”

There is an influencer who has over 500,000 followers on Instagram. She sold tons of guides, workout programs, and personal coaching sessions. These packages and sessions used to cost up to $300. These programs were also supposed to be personalized to the customer. Of these packages, programs and promises — she delivered none.

She doesn’t seem have any certification in physical fitness or nutrition. But she does have great lighting, probably a subscription to Smile Direct, and her roots don’t show. She is not qualified to be giving any advice or expertise on either nutrition or fitness. All she had was the body, and seemingly, she had the confidence and the personality to build a fanbase and ultimately a group of hopeful people (mostly women) to scam.

Her customers called her out on this and so many of their complaints and concerns were left unacknowledged or any comments they had were deleted. She eventually posted an apology video for which she had included affiliate links in the video’s description. Since she probably won’t be making money from selling any guides, she should make money off her apology.

As of February 19th, 2019, she still sells guides. One for self-guided training, an HIIT E-book, and a recipe book. They all cost less than $50 and all of which lack consultation from someone with actual knowledge on the subjects.

Natalie of Flexx and the City is a fitness and health enthusiast in New York believes that influencers are so popular because “…it’s accessible – but I also think there are many professionals out there who have taken to social media, you just have to weed out the crap.” The trouble is being able to do just that. “People need to do their own research. There is a ton of info out there, some good, some not so good, and some in between. If it’s your body you are talking about (fitness, nutrition or anything health related) make sure you are sure what you are doing is a healthy choice. Not just because you saw some one do it who looks good in a bikini,” Natalie says.

Determining who is an influencer with honest expertise takes a bit of grunt work but thankfully, you won’t break a sweat doing it! If you’re ready to get down and dirty into the fitness world and make it a part of your life, one is encouraged to get curious. Training, finding new workouts, finding the perfect trainer, looking at your progress dead-on is not always glamorous and it won’t always be “perfect” but something that influencers and trainers alike can agree on is that choosing your health will always be worth it.

Feature Image via Vanessa Granda

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