Fitness rant: Looking good does not make you an expert

Look how fit I am! You should listen to me! And buy my ebook! - Internet fitness experts

Look how fit I am! You should listen to me! And buy my ebook! – Internet fitness experts

By now you may have heard the story behind Jen Selter, the “fitness expert” who landed a column in the New York Post by posting pictures of her shapely butt on Instagram. Thing is, this woman is neither certified to train nor in a position to give fitness advice to the general population, as author and certified personal trainer Jen Sinkler points out in this article for Men’s Health.

“Good intentions abound—she isn’t endangering people, by any means, only propagating myths that have been disproven. She is a fitness inspiration to many. She is not (yet) a fitness expert, however. She has never trained a client, aside from her mother.”

The quote above from Sinkler’s article is something that can be applied to a lot of the well-intentioned fitness fanatics on social media these days.

I feel like the path to becoming an Internet fitness expert goes something like this: You love working out and you look good, so you start posting gym selfies every time you work out. You notice you get more likes and followers when you’re only in a sports bra and shorts (or just shirtless if you’re a guy) in said gym selfie, so you post more of those. Your followership grows even more when you start posing in a sexualized manner and applying all the right filters to make you muscles pop. Soon, you start getting comments from followers asking how they can look like you. They want to know what your macros are, if you do fasted cardio, how much you eat, what exercises they can do to get rid of belly fat, and if you do online coaching. You answer the first few, but soon you realize you don’t have the time to answer them all. I’ll just put out an ebook, you think, and throw something together based on a few hours of Google research for download for a small fee. You continue to post your gym selfies, but you now also post exercise videos, workout tips, what you ate for breakfast and inspirational quotes, because your followers want to know what they can do to look like you. They look to you for advice, so you must deliver. You are their “fitspiration”. Congratulations: you are now an Internet “fitness expert”!

I see this a lot on social media; Instagram in particular. And while I believe the intentions of these fitness experts are good — and that they are providing some form of motivation and inspiration to live a healthier lifestyle, which is also a good thing — the bottom line is they are not experts in their field and should not be treated as such, especially if they don’t have a credible certification or degree. It breaks my heart to see all those unanswered comments on gym selfie photos posted by these “fitness experts” on Facebook and Instagram: please help me I’m overweight… how can I look like you… I just had a baby what do I need to do to lose weight… I need to lose 30 lbs please help… I just want to scoop up all of those commenters and put them in a room with real fitness experts to help them with whatever problem they have.

Even though I’m a CSCS, I will always cite credited, science-based research when it comes to nutrition and fitness. I don’t consider myself a fitness expert, but more of a fitness translator, doing the research and applying it to training so you don’t have to.

And just to be clear, I’m not hating on all you good-looking fitness fanatics on social media or any of my fellow health and wellness ambassadors who truly want to motivate others to live a healthy lifestyle. And I’m also not saying that you need to have a certification to write about health and fitness. But I do think if you are going to give specific exercise tips and health advice that proper science-based research is in order. As Sinkler puts it, “I’m not a hater. I’m a hoper. And I hope what Selter reveals next is a growing passion for fitness education, so that she uses her massive momentum for maximum good.”