Sports training has been a part of my lifestyle for years. But since the arrival of a wave of sports influencers on social media, I wanted to have a look at it.
What social media have changed in sports
When I started sports training, social media did not exist. I became interested in it when I came across books about biomechanics, human anatomy, and nutrition. I have been training regularly for 15 years now. But something seems to have changed recently: more (very) young men and women (understand, 16-20 years old) are going to the gym than when I started. And I would be willing to bet that this has a tiny bit to do with how social media shapes our perceptions of the male and female body. But first, let’s take a brief 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 the popularization of bodybuilding in the 70s. And it is funny to know that if Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to all mind referring to bodybuilding, many people already vowed their lives to weightlifting more than 70 years prior, like Eugen Sandow or Charles Atlas. From Sandow to Phil Heath, bodies have never stopped evolving, creating new standards for a big and imposing physique.
However, can modern-day bodybuilders’ physiques be reasonably achieved? In the 70s, the golden age of bodybuilding, people were already using PEDs (1). 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, which makes it unavoidable for anyone interested in sports training or nutrition. Worse, the notoriety they may enjoy often serves as an authority argument to establish their legitimacy. 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 made billions from superhero movies in the 2010s. 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 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 are not made equals. So many things affect what we can achieve, such as hormone levels or metabolism. Beyond goals, we have different muscle insertions, arms, 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 (2) 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 placing so much emphasis on performance, it is not a wonder that the “achievement” 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 it not to become alienating, we must start “from ourselves”! Not from those who project an unattainable ideal.
There are so many aspects of our lives where we are in competition (studies, then the world of work) that amateur sports should be protected from incentives and 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 sport for the love of it. In my experience, those who understand this are the few who find the perfect balance between sport and life.
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