How Social Media Can Make Lifters Feel like Crap (And Why It’s Okay to Opt Out)

You’re bored at work and can’t focus. You just want Susan to wrap up this meeting so you can go train. You open Instagram on your phone. You see a  perfectly tanned, oiled, and dehydrated physique competitor posing on stage. Scroll. A yoga pants ad, featuring an incredibly slender and photoshopped model. You take a sip of coffee. Susan drones on.

“I’m such a fatass,” it creeps into your mind before you realize it.

You put your phone down and try to focus, but all you can think about now is how gross you feel in your work clothes, they’re too tight suddenly, and not in a She-Hulk way.

You open Instagram again, it’s almost a reflex at this point. You see your favorite Powerlifter rep your dream 1RM for 8 and they’re barely out of breath. “God, I am so weak.” All it took was a few photos and videos, but suddenly you’re down spiraling into some Grade A self destructive thinking.  

It may be time to break up with your Instagram. Or at least take a break.

Social media is awesome. No caveats here, I am 100% on board with how our digital world  is becoming a realm of infinite sharing and connection possibilities. It is inarguably a monstrous driving force in the growth of strength sports. It promotes sharing our achievements and participation in those achievements, and as Dr. Katie Hejtmanek suggests, through social media “a wider community and cultural meaning is constructed and maintained.”

But for some (or many) of us, there are occasional pitfalls, and that is our own human tendency to compare ourselves to others, consciously or subconsciously.

Many studies have been conducted showing how different types of social media intake and participation have very real psychological effects. When you say it out loud, of course comparing our everyday lives to the curated highlights of fitness pros is ridiculous. But if you’re following a LOT of really ripped, “goal physique” bodybuilders, abbed-out CrossFit champs, Strongwomen who can bench your 1 RM deadlift, and not much else, the cute puppy pictures might not balance out the inevitable mental comparisons that can happen. We owe it to ourselves to be aware of how our social media intake affects our view of ourselves and our self-esteem.

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Not your typical Instagram fare

Many find their way into the strength world as a way of building themselves up and creating a positive self-image that is not necessarily tied to their aesthetics or their strength. Many of us have histories of depression, anxiety, and low-self-esteem (often related to our body image, but not necessarily). When we are having a bad week or month, being inundated with images of what we are not may not necessarily be the healthiest thing for us.

That does not mean we have to become monks to protect our delicate egos. It may just mean uninstalling the Instagram app for a week. It could be just unfollowing certain accounts or hiding users whose content isn’t quite doing it for you. That doesn’t make you weak or stupid or vain. It just means you know when you want certain influences and when you don’t.

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Unless I told you, you might not know that I ‘shopped the shit out of this photo: changed lighting, slimmed/softened my face, made eyes bigger, and upped contrast so I look more jacked. If I compared myself to photoshopped me constantly, I might feel pretty bad. So we need to be mindful of subconsciously comparing ourselves to the potentially altered representations of people on ours newsfeed.

Having role models is healthy and motivating. Representation in a sport or hobby of people you relate to can have a positive an incredibly influence in your ability to picture and manifest your own success in that thing. It has been incredibly motivating for me to see powerful MW Strongwomen like Kristal Renaudette (who just won her Middleweight Pro Card at Strongman Corporation Nationals this past weekend, competing as 160 lber) succeed, because as a somewhat lanky lifter, I relate to her and am inspired by her.

But if you have your newsfeed/etc primarily with role model types, you may over saturate yourself with representations of people’s very best days, their biggest accomplishments; many of whom are maybe able to devote much more time to training than you are, or have been doing it much longer. Even if logically we know that they aren’t actually maxing out everyday, our subconscious can run away with unfair comparisons to our own accomplishments.

It’s okay to break up with your Instagram. It’s not going anywhere, and you know where to find it.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Cara Brennan

Cara Brennan

Finishing acting school in 2010 left Cara directionless and depressed, slinging drinks for work while half-heartedly and inconsistently auditioning. She had tons of ambition, but little discipline and no direction. After a psychologically devastating break-up, she decided that, even though she had had almost no athletic development since her early teens, taking control of her body would help her find stability and a way out of her depression. She started working at an NYC gym, and began studying under the training staff. She began like many do: by following Starting Strength’s 5x5 template, and then Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, experimenting constantly while she learned. She developed a deep desire to challenge herself physically, and training helped her manage the mental health issues that had plagued her for years.

She did her first strongman competition in April, 2015, and has competed over twenty times since then, at the regional, national, and world level. She immediately became hooked on the sport (she has also dabbled in highland games, weightlifting and powerlifting, and aggressively stalks the various Dottirs on social media - that’s the same as trying Crossfit, right?).

Strongman helped her reconnect to her artistic side. She found strongman initially through the internet via sources like Starting Strongman and T-Nation, and she wanted to give back and experience the sport in a more cerebral way by writing. Her experience in strongman inspired aspects of her webseries, Asher, which features an athletic, stone-lifting protagonist.

Cara became a personal trainer in 2014, and strongman became not only a vehicle for personal and physical development, but it also transformed her professional life: She has trained with and learned from a wide scope of strength and fitness professionals, including Dr. Pat Davidson, Zydrunas Savickas, Liefia Ingalls, Dan Trink, Travis Mash, and Cara’s coach, Andrew Triana (of The Performance Vibe with Zach and Nicholas Hadge). She currently trains her clients in Manhattan, and they range from twenty-something-year-old strength hobbyists to grandparents and post-surgery/post-rehab trainees.

Cara is very interested in how strength training and competition become means of personal development, and much of her writing explores the more cerebral aspects of training. She believes that a good training environment, a strong goal and an intelligent program can changes lives far beyond just the body’s performance capabilities. You can learn more about her on her Instagram @captainstarbuck and at www.thecarabrennan.com.

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