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

Although I don’t mention it on social media, sports training has been part of my life for many years. Because sports training has become a thing on social media and spreads via models that set new standards for a new generation of enthusiasts, I wanted to take a critical look at it.

When I started, social media didn’t exist or were just the playground of some nerds. My knowledge of sports training was coming from specialized books on biomechanics, human anatomy, and nutrition. I’ve been doing regular sports training for 15 years now. Having no product to sell allows me to share my thoughts freely, unlike most people writing on sports training.

What social media have changed in sports training

In many sports, we follow models and dream in secret to reach their level. Nothing more common, we use them as an inspiration. But, as beginners, what tells us they are setting standards that are reasonable to achieve? Should we relate to the ones we see on social media?

Sports training for the masses started with the golden age of bodybuilding

When we talk about sports training, people usually think of bodybuilding. The main reason being that enthusiasm for sports training began with its popularization at the end of the 70s. If Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to mind to anyone referring to bodybuilding, bodybuilding is more than a century old, with names like Eugen Sandow, Charles Atlas, Steve Reeves, Frank Zane, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, and Phil Heath.

Benjamin J. Falk (1853-1925), Portrait of strongman Eugen Sandow (1867-1925) in 1894. Here Sandow wears the medal he had just won in Italy.
IFBB athlete Phil Heath pictured here during a bodybuildnig contest in the 2010s.

And, from Sandow to Heath, bodies have never ceased to evolve, creating new standards for the perfect physique.

But, as a beginner, the question quickly arises: what physique can we reasonably achieve?

Doping has been around for more than 50 years in sports competitions

Already in the 70s, the golden age of bodybuilding, people were using AAS and other PEDs. Anabolic steroids are an open secret in the world of high-level sport, bodybuilding, and beyond. Laws prohibiting their sale and possession have had the effect of making doping invisible, although omnipresent. Doping is never put forward as an explanation for success, even if it is the key to understanding the performances. And the phenomenon is growing with the Internet.

Now, the cult of hyper-muscular bodies is spreading everywhere

Due to e-commerce and lax legislation in some countries, it is possible to get steroids in just a few clicks. Besides, on YouTube and Instagram, many accounts are showcasing the disproportionate bodies of zealous bodybuilders.

If before, these bodies were seen in Muscle & Fitness, social media have allowed nobodies to show off their muscles. To create a community around their performances. A community of amateurs, sometimes very young. The minimum legal age on most social platforms being 13 years old.

Jeff Seid, famous bodybuilder and social media influencer. At 24 years old, Jeff Seid has amassed over 1 million YouTube subscribers and 3.9 million Instagram followers. The bodybuilder has created a fitness empire and even has his own fitness clothing line.

Encouraged by millions of followers, some accounts promote totally unbridled sports training. Without necessarily admitting taking doping products, often to sell food supplements, training programs, sometimes completely scammy.

Thanks to algorithms, their contents become highly viral, making it impossible to miss. Especially 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, that made billions from superhero movies in the 2010s. Remember the countless 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.

For a critical look at performance

If on my side, I look at this craze for spectacular physics with some distance, it is for several reasons.

When it comes to sports training, there is only one standard: our own self

First, we don’t all have the same genetic predispositions.

Among athletes, we are not equals. Realizing this early enough allows us to overcome our weaknesses with the right approach. In bodybuilding, lots of things affect the results we can achieve, as well as our hormone levels or our metabolism. Between two people, equal muscle stimulation doesn’t mean equal results.

Sports training is by necessity specific to each individual.

Once we get rid of the commonplaces, we realize that effective training takes into account our specificities.
We all have different goals, but also different muscle insertions, different arm and leg lengths, different percentages of lean mass. We never know how each one trains, and in any case, it is best not to copy each other.

Cheating is a widespread phenomena, but we don’t have to play this game.

This race for performance, no matter the cost, previously only existed in competitive sports and the entertainment industry. Coupled with the storytelling on social media, it brings into our lives the same obsessions than at the highest level. Using the same recipes (photoshopped pictures, doping, aesthetic surgery) it is easy to create the illusion of a perfect physique. It doesn’t make any sense, of course. We don’t have to make people believe that we are always on top to earn their respect. Consistency, although an underestimated value, produces much more interesting effects in this regard.

Lastly, our health is the most precious gift. Sports training is its best ally, as long as it’s not pushed too far.

One can only be alarmed by the fact that more and more beginners and amateurs are taking PEDs. In a society that devotes more and more attention to performance, health is becoming less a concern. It shouldn’t be a surprise when business culture meets with the sports world. But we should feel concerned when it shapes our leisure time as well as our personal lives.

A word in conclusion

“A sound mind in a sound body”. A phrase that for many sports enthusiasts should serve as a mantra. When we decide our goals and how we train, it is tempting to challenge our limits. But, it is more important to acknowledge them and have some respect for them.

Only after some time, we realize that to progress, we should focus on ourselves and listen to our body. We are all unique, and the only model that should always matter to us is ourselves.

There are so many areas of our lives where we compete with each other. Amateur sport should stay out of it. We should not be overwhelmed with communications that promote an unsustainable physique.

As a sports enthusiast, our greatest pleasure is not to rise above others but to do what we love. The longest we can. That’s the best. And that’s all I wish for you.

By Max Schleiffer

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