How Do You Separate Social Media’s Positive ‘Influencers’ from the Rest?
Fitness professionals often complain about fitness “influencers” with large social media followings who peddle “T&A—and abs” all over their social media. This almost always leads to the inevitable discussion of how to differentiate a skilled and reputable coach from someone who only wants to separate you from your money? It’s nowhere near as simple as glaring red flags.
What are our real problems here? Some fitness professionals are distracted from the mission of helping people. The everyday person just wants to feel better, feel healthy, lose the weight, and get strong, and that person is being misled or confused into inaction.
Let’s look at the not so cut and dry ways to tell the good information from the bad marketing from the ugly scams.
Some coaches like to malign other coaches who show their abs and a**es in their media. But is this really a red flag? It’s better to just file this under “fitness marketing” and take a deeper look at the other qualities of the brand of individual. And while there are plenty of individuals and companies who photoshop unrealistic images with false promises of results or overly sexualize their media, there are many more qualified and ethical coaches who make their lean, muscular, attractive physiques a core part of their brand.
Verdict: Be skeptical, trust your instincts, but take a deeper look at other signs of integrity and quality.
This question is a topic of endless debate among coaches. The fitness extremists tend to sometimes miss the mark on this one. Being physically fit certainly matters, but it’s not the most important element. For starters just because someone is jacked and ripped doesn’t mean they have the slightest clue how to guide someone else to results. But success leaves clues so being ripped isn’t a disqualifier either.
While appearance or demonstration of proficiency aren’t the same as having the knowledge to coach someone to success, on average the person seeking help is likely to gravitate toward someone who’s walked the walk. Most skilled powerlifting coaches will be strong. Most skilled bodybuilding or bikini coaches will have competed in aesthetic competition. Most fat loss coaches will be fairly lean or have demonstrated personal transformation.
Verdict: How a coach looks is no guarantee they’re qualified but it’s a piece of a more complex puzzle. Dig deeper into their skills and knowledge.
This is another example of trainers worrying too much about what the competition is doing. But does competing in a fitness show qualify someone to coach others? The short answer is no, at least not on its own. What really matters here is skill, knowledge, and a passion to help others.
For all the newly minted competitors who believe this is all the qualification they ever need, there are many competitors dedicated to learning the ins and outs of nutrition and strength training who aspire to be world class coaches.
Verdict: Unless you want to compete, look deeper than a coach’s competitive background. Even then, it’s wise to look for signs of integrity—as well as skill.
The basics work. They always have and always will. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for innovation and novelty in training or branding. However, oftentimes creativity descends into absolute rubbish with more effort to create new (and sometimes dangerous) circus trickery to sell programs and e-books, than to help people get strong and lose fat. Trying to stand out this way is an easy trap coaches can be lured into. However, some brilliant coaches with proven track records have dominated their niches with innovative displays of strength and skill that have practical application.
A recent trend to approach with caution is the branding around reinvention of basic biomechanics principles, especially by individuals without advanced post secondary education. For every Dr. Jordan Shallow and Dr. Pat Davidson, there seem to be dozens of new biomechanics experts invading TikTok.
Verdict: It’s important to do what you enjoy and keep training fun. If you enjoy a coach’s creativity and it’s based upon a solid foundation of fundamentals, give it a shot. Meanwhile keep you spidey-senses alert to media that feels more smoke and mirrors than it does substance.
Some trainers have a bug up their butts about the word “toned.” “Toned isn’t a thing!” they’ll scream to their audience. Except, however, it is and we damn well know what someone means when they meet with us with the goals of not wanting “to get too bulky, I just want to tone up.” This is ultimately about helping people, and if we want to really help, we have to meet them where they are and speak their language. Does this mean everyone who talks about getting ripped or toned has your best interests at heart? Not even close. Fitness industry grifters will use every tactic possible to separate you from your hard earned money, so as with everything else, look deeper into the skill and integrity of the brand and coach.
Verdict: Take a deeper look at people who speak your language, but always look for signs of integrity. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Verdict: Our industry is full of brilliant coaches who’ve built massive followings. It’s also full of influencers with less than stellar track records of skill or integrity. Look deeper.
Verdict: Before and after photos are an excellent resource if the brand or coach is known for integrity.
Verdict: Look for independent verification that a doctor is a qualified expert in their field. Approach mainstream books on nutrition by medical doctors with extreme caution.
There are some true red flags to run from. Ignore people who photoshop images or peddle pseudoscience like suntanning genitals or eating bull testicles. Beyond the most obvious and egregious infractions, it’s caveat emptor(buyer beware). You do need to take full responsibility for doing homework on who you hire. The choice to improve your health and fitness shouldn’t be taken lightly, so be willing to ask people you trust for good resources and referrals. Learn who is respected and trusted in the fitness industry. Patiently follow their media. Ask questions and see how people respond and interact. If you’re met with kindness, empathy, and helpfulness all married to sound practical advice, green light. If you’re met with pushy sales tactics, proceed with caution. Sometimes we have to expose ourselves to more ideas and info, invest in learning enough to make a qualified decision, and trust our intuition. Meanwhile I’ve shared with you several great people I encourage you to follow, who I trust as evidence based and having integrity. Happy hunting.