Opinion

Is Social Media Ruining Your Progress in the Gym?

Distractions, FOMO, and more: Is social media standing in the way of your gains?

The potential pitfalls of social media use have been well-documented, from increasing our negative body image, reducing the quality and quantity of our sleep, and undermining our mental health. These downfalls are enough to affect our performance, but there are more reasons than these to curb our social media usage.

Social media leads to constant comparisons, prompting athletes to overtraining and disordered eating habits. Social media is also a major source of distraction and time-wasting, minimizing our intentional, productive time in training. Lastly, conflicting and questionable advice on nutrition and training protocols leads athletes to confusion, frustration, and stalled progress.

[Another opinion: 5 Ways to Make Social Media Improve Your Training]

Comparison Is the Thief of Joy

How many times have you scrolled through social media and found yourself feeling worse than when you began? Less competent, less connected, less attractive, less worthy?

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Julie Foucher, MD (@juliefoucher)

Most of us can’t help but compare ourselves to what we see elsewhere. When we follow people who appear to have perfect bodies, perfect lives, and perfect execution towards their goals, we’re left feeling ashamed of our imperfections. While we may know that perfect image is cultivated intentionally, the damage to our perceptions still impacts us.

Being bombarded with PRs and success stories leads us to question where our own success stories are, and these comparisons often lead to self-sabotage. Overtraining in order to make up for being behind where we believe we should be — or under-eating to meet narrow standards of attractiveness — gets in the way of performance and often leads to injury.

Wasting Time

Athletes Training Outside
Image: TJ Danenza

There is no denying that we waste time on social media apps. Mindless scrolling eats away at precious hours each day, and those minutes spent on the phone in the gym take away from the focus needed in the session. We complain about how little time we have, how busy we are, and yet there’s always time to watch YouTube.

On average, people who use social media use it for 2-3 hours per day. That eats up 14-21 hours per week, time that could be spent doing any number of things that lead to more progress in the gym. Getting to bed earlier, using the time to mobilize or stretch or meditate, performing meal prep, and more, that lost time has such potential for increasing our progress.

The intentionality we bring to our training matters. Technical work, like Olympic lifting and gymnastics, requires focus to execute well, and heavy work, like powerlifting, requires focus to engage the muscles effectively for safety and execution. Is it any wonder we find our progress stalled while we’re approaching our training sessions distracted by Instagram and YouTube?

Ultimately, social media tends to be a time waster because we’re using it most when we feel uncomfortable. Social media apps have been developed with the express goal of getting us to log in as much as possible. The reason social media sometimes feels like an addiction is because it is.

We reach for social media subconsciously looking to numb our boredom, loneliness, or self-doubt. Each notification is a little hormonal hit that takes the edge off of our discomfort. Unfortunately, that discomfort doesn’t disappear completely after a visit to Snapchat. It’s just put off for later.

So-Called “Expert” Advice

One of the greatest sources of stalled progress in training is the implementation of conflicting and questionable advice. Athletes who change their training based on what they’ve seen most recently on Instagram are in danger of getting nowhere, despite putting in a lot of effort.

Just about every athlete and coach in the fitness space is selling some kind of programming. Know this: Implementing everything is equivalent to implementing nothing. Constant change randomizes our training to the degree that it’s no longer effective.

Nutrition advice on social media is rife with poorly executed and interpreted science, leading athletes to underperform and under recover. Changing our nutrition protocols constantly impacts our progress, but worse, because most nutrition programs sell based on promised weight loss, athletes are constantly figuring out new ways to under-fuel themselves. Consistent under-eating turns into stalled progress.

Finding Balance

There are benefits to social media. We have access to experts and programs that can be life changing, we can find inspiration, and we can create and sustain communities that connect us across the globe.

Athlete warming up
Image: TJ Danenza

Not knowing who or what to believe, comparing ourselves to the carefully constructed online personas we look up to, and spending too much time out of our present reality are fixable problems. When we learn how to balance our usage and cultivate an intentional social media feed, we’ll find ourselves much more productive and mentally healthy.

Overall Usage

  • Evaluate your usage. How many hours per day are you on social media and how many would you like to be on social media? iPhones let you see your app usage in “Screen Time” and Android users can find the same in “Digital Wellbeing.” Note: this does not include desktop usage of apps.
  • Set limits. Both of the above programs for phones let you set time limits on apps, letting you control how much time you do or don’t spend on social media.
  • Make it challenging to log in. Remove bookmarks on devices so you have to type in the web address and don’t save your log in information so that you have to type in your password every time. The extra time interrupts the automatic reaching for social media when we’re lonely or bored. Put your phone on Airplane Mode when you’re at the gym.
  • Recognize when you’re bored, lonely, or uncomfortable. Relying on social media for comfort is a losing battle. Learning to recognize when and how often we’re turning to it to soothe discomfort can allow us to create more effective coping strategies.
  • Go dry for a week. Removing all social media from life for just one week can really show us how much we rely on it to comfort ourselves.

Just curbing our overall usage of social media reduces the training repercussions that stall progress. Less exposure tends to clear our minds of clutter, however, cultivating a more intentional feed, one that serves our goals and leaves us feeling better, rather than worse, optimizes the use of social media.

Cultivating an Intentional Feed

Evaluate who you’re following. Which accounts do you follow that leave you feeling better than before you logged on? Keep that follow! Which accounts leave you feeling worse? Unfollow! It’s that simple.

Evaluate how many people you’re following. You’re not learning and growing from 1000+ people. That’s just a fact. Reduce your follows down to those you get the most out of. Be selective in who you let talk to you through those platforms.

And check references! Be wary of any account that claims research is irrefutable or proves their point. Information is easily manipulated into marketing. Good scientists recognize the limits of scientific study. Be discerning.

By choosing to follow the accounts that make us feel more connected, worthy, educated, and competent, we gain the best that social media has to offer. We also reduce our confusion and frustration down the road when we’re selective in who and how many experts we follow. When we’re in control of our feeds and our usage, we’ll find ourselves sticking to our training plans more consistently, eating for our goals, and using our time with more intention.

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