Social media does not always tell the real story

I just read an article in the Independent regarding a survey that Nuffield Health performed. They report that a third of 18-35-year olds lacked the confidence to join a gym and that social media contributed to this self-consciousness. So, is social media insightful and helpful for those wanting to join a gym? or does it produce a layer of expectation that a certain physical appearance is necessary? I began thinking about this and the experiences of when, in my past life, I was a fitness manager.

When I worked in the health and fitness industry, I would see people of all different shapes and sizes coming into the gym or to classes. Some would come with full make-up and not produce a bead of sweat – putting me who is very much a sweaty Betty to shame. Others would come in wearing super modern kit compared to maybe an old pair of shorts and once-white t-shirt. Some users would appear with huge baggy T-shirts, whilst others would be wearing a thong over skimpy shorts – yes in the late 90s that was a thing.

BUT the important consideration, regardless of appearance, is that each person has their own reasons for going to a gym. Whilst it is very easy to judge, I was fortunate enough to interact with many of our members and very often I would get to know their story. I learnt very quickly that appearances are very deceptive.

Surprisingly to many, when talking to a few of the ‘skinny’ girls, I would learn that she was wanting to lose weight because when she looked in the mirror, she saw a fat body. This is the very real pain of living with an eating disorder (for males and females). These particular users had to be managed very carefully as their energy expenditure far exceeded their calorific intake leading to potential fainting fits and subsequent injury. Additionally, I would learn that other members, ate, vomited and exercised (not necessarily in that order) – a vicious cycle of distress.

I would talk to friends and colleagues outside of work, they wanted to lose weight before joining the gym – yes, this is very common and many will associate with this concept that you need to lose weight before joining a gym. Of course, the truth be told, the gym will accelerate this progress and provide so many more benefits at the same time. The most difficult step, is that very first step into the gym.

Often sessions would be cancelled, this may be because on a particular day the gym user did not feel comfortable in their own skin, whilst others would spend much time doing their hair and make-up before a session. I would hear comments about people wearing make up to the gym, what is the point?  well there any many people that do this to improve their confidence – or as I think of it, put their public mask on.

Of course, then we have the body builders – yes, they should celebrate their bodies but they are mighty intimidating for the users that are not confident with weights. The cacophony of grunts and snorts as they push themselves to max! This is an important component of training for some, I know a guy that is a power lifter and in order to succeed in his competitions, he doesn’t care how much anyone else is lifting, he is breaking his own body limits today! Weight lifting generally is an essential component of general health and fitness but not everyone needs to max out on the weights, it depends on personal preference. So, to the person that wants to have a go but has been putting it off, approach a gym member and ask them to show you the correct technique. Just pick a few exercises to start with and then add a few more as your confidence builds.

I personally have been the user that got off the treadmill feeling hopeless and went home because I felt so slow next to the user next to me. I completely get it, but I also know that the sprinter was probably focusing on his breathing, desperate to complete this scheduled and gruelling training run – the 4th of the week. I reflect on how I let my own assumptions that I was a rubbish runner, make me throw the towel in that day!  Walk, jog, run – it is OK just move and get that heart pumping.

Some users would just come in, get their head down and power through a session so they could get home again, whilst others came in for the social element and a good catch up alongside a workout. All in all there are very many reasons for people to gym – including but not limited to: goal-specific training, general health and wellbeing, weight loss/maintenance/gain, mental health management (definitely me!), injury rehabilitation, recovery from a heart attack or management of other health conditions such as diabetes, to pass a military fitness test, improve flexibility, socialising, to stick two fingers up at the ex – always loved to work with those users – and of course, just for fun. Whatever the reason, embrace it and go for it because trust me – with time your self-confidence will improve!

So, personally I believe that if someone is feeling confident enough to put up a post on social media – applaud them and help them celebrate their achievement. Like the post, tell them how great they are doing, ask them about their routine. Their post is by no means a reflection of you so, how you let their post make you feel about yourself is your own responsibility. If it makes you feel bad, do something positive and regain control of your confidence. You may not be that amazing person in the picture – but you are you AND you are amazing too!

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