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Sports: Why 99% of us don’t find the right models

Sports training has been part of my life for years. Since the recent surge of sports influencers on social media, I felt interested in looking at it.

What social media have changed in sports

When I started sports training, social media didn’t exist. My interest came by reading books on bio-mechanics, human anatomy, and nutrition at my parents’ home. I’ve been doing regular sports training for 15 years now, but something seems to have recently changed.

To understand how social media has influenced our perceptions and our quest for a better physique, let’s take a look into the past.

Decades ago, sports training was taken seriously by a few

When we talk about sports training, people usually think of bodybuilding. The main reason is that fitness and sports training began with bodybuilding’s popularization in the 70s. And it’s funny to know that if Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to anyone’s mind referring to bodybuilding, many people already vowed their lives to weight lifting more than 70 years prior, like Eugen Sandow or Charles Atlas. From Sandow to Phil Heath, bodies have never stopped evolving, creating standards for the perfect physique.

But, could today’s bodybuilding physiques reasonably be achieved? In the 70s, the golden age of bodybuilding, people were already using PEDs. Anabolic steroids were an open secret in bodybuilding and beyond. Laws prohibiting their sale and possession made their use invisible. And doping is still, to this day, fundamental to explain the performances we have witnessed since.

Hyper-muscular bodies have colonized our imaginaries

On YouTube and Instagram, many showcase the bodies of zealous bodybuilders. If before, these bodies were only seen in Muscle & Fitness, social media has allowed nobodies to show off their muscles in front of a large, sometimes very young audience.

Encouraged by millions of followers, many promote totally unbridled sports training. Without admitting their use of doping products, they sell food supplements or programs, sometimes entirely fake.

Thanks to algorithms, their content becomes viral, making it impossible to miss for someone interested in sports training or nutrition. But it would be unfair to attribute the phenomenon to fitness and bodybuilding influencers alone.

There was also a strong push coming from the entertainment industry. Notably, Hollywood, which made billions from superhero movies in the 2010s. Don’t you remember those actors’ transformations over a few months of training and a diet made of “chicken, rice, and broccoli”?

The once-marginalized over-muscled body became in less than a decade a new norm in the minds of young sports enthusiasts. And any critical content is not likely to curb the influence of these models on the millions of gym newcomers.

Taking a critical look at the performance discourse

I often look at the current craze with a distant eye. Because, when it comes to sports training, the only standard should be our own selves.

Among sports enthusiasts, beyond talent, we’re not made equals. So many things affect what we can achieve, such as our hormone levels or metabolism. Beyond goals, we have different muscle insertions, arm or leg lengths.

Being aware of this helps us to overcome our weaknesses and accept the limits we will meet at one point by adapting our training to our physical and physiological characteristics.

The race for performance at any cost existed in sports and entertainment. Social media brought it into our lives, pushing many of us to use the same recipes to build an enhanced version of ourselves, from photo filters to aesthetic surgery or drugs.

One can only be alarmed that more and more sports enthusiasts are taking PEDs. In a society putting so much emphasis on performance, it is not surprising that business culture permeates lifestyles. But we should be very concerned that it shapes our personal lives.

The journey matters more than the goal

When sport enters our lives, it is tempting to challenge ourselves. But for this not to become alienating, we must start from ourselves. Not from others who conform to the norm. Because norms have always been more limiting than emancipating.

There are so many aspects of our lives where we compete that amateur sport should be shielded from the incentives and role models that encourage excessive practices. Nor should we be flooded with communications promoting an unsustainable physique in the media we consume daily.

As sports enthusiasts, our greatest pleasure is to do a sport for the love of it. From my experience, those who understand that are often the few who find the perfect balance between sport and life.

By Max Schleiffer

Digital entrepreneur from Europe. I have grown a marketing consultancy over the decade. Now, I explore new ways of working in the digital age.