197. On Instagram In The Gym

Uncategorized Nov 23, 2021

By: Michael Beiter


A few weeks ago, I was stretching after a workout. A new gym member asked me what my Instagram handle was so that she could follow me. 

"I don't have one," I responded. The new member seemed surprised. 

Technically, I was fibbing. I have an Instagram, but the number of times I have used it counts in the dozens rather than the thousands of those around me. I could not bring myself to start using the app because I could see what it would do to the gym experience and the minds of all gym-goers. 

First, it would fracture workouts into more minor bits to be captured and shared for validation.

Second, feedback that used to come from people in person moved online, where the interpersonal aspects that make live interaction valuable were eliminated. 

Third, it aestheticized everything. Don't get me wrong; almost everyone exercises in part because they want to look better. But filters, editing, and all the stuff you can do on an app like Instagram create an illusion that things look better than they are. 

Since we have had time to acclimate to apps like Instagram and their effects on users, we know they create addictions similar to drugs, sex, food, and other peak experiences. 

The woman who asked to follow me admitted she had drastically reduced her usage once she came to the same conclusions. But not after thousands of posts and hours of use. Fortunately, I had some earlier experience that led me to question the adoption of any new tech that didn't solve some problem. 

I didn't have a problem with my exercise, form, or aesthetics that Instagram could solve, so I never dove in. The only reason I ever signed up was because of a fear of missing out and the app's potential to help me grow a business—both issues I quickly found better solutions for elsewhere. 

A little over a decade ago, I was warming up to deadlift with a group of training partners. It was a Saturday morning and one of the guys lugged in a camera and tripod. 

"What the hell is that video equipment for?" I asked. 

"We are going to film our deadlift sets so we can review our form," he replied. 

"Isn't that one of the reasons we train together? If I screw something up, I will feel it, and one of you will tell me where I made a mistake."

"True, but this will allow us to store footage of our training long term, and it is a valuable feedback tool." 

The session went well, and I would be lying if I said being on camera didn't add another layer of intensity to our workout. 

My guy recorded our deadlifts and spent the next day with his camera hooked up to his computer importing the footage that he went on to edit with software that added transitions, our names, and the weight we lifted—Circa middle school PowerPoint. The editing process took him all day. 

All of this happened just before smartphones took off and the social media apps with them.

Once the apps came out, some of my training partners would film every exercise they did, post photos of themselves and the food they ate, and merrily spend hours per day on all the new apps that came out. This behavior is so commonplace now that I can not walk out of my office onto the gym floor without seeing tripods set up attached to smartphones everywhere. 

I can watch someone film every set of their twenty-five to thirty set workout, take a seat, and upload the video before moving on to do more work. 

This shit is ridiculous. It wouldn't be a problem if people used Instagram solely for form critique. Still, it didn't take long before their workout video or photo was accompanied by a full-on journal entry of what they dreamt about the night before, what they ate for breakfast, and every thought they had during the session. 

I am glad to see no reason to adopt Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, Snapchat, or whatever else is out there. I have one social media account, Facebook, and that's it. It does everything I need it to. 

Instagram over emphasizes aesthetics; Twitter deliberately shortens complex and nuanced topics to one hundred and fifty characters, effectively creating clickbait after clickbait, Tik Tok does nothing another app hasn't already done. Snapchat was designed to send nudes that 'immediately disappear.' 

Once you overcome your fear of missing something by not being on these apps, it is easy to laugh at how people use them. 

Just as I was skeptical about a need to film my deadlifts, I suggest you question the need for any new app with this lens: does it solve a problem? More specifically, does it solve a problem better than current tech like email, phone calls, and text messages currently do? 

The answer hundreds of clients and I have found repeatedly is no. Combined with knowing how damaging these apps are to our psyche, rather than impulsively adopting every new option, you can happily live with the current options you have that have worked for years without rotting your brain and addicting you to a phone. 


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