Ever had your phone die on the way to the gym? Suddenly, your pump-up playlist is a no-go, and you have no choice but to listen to the clanking of barbells and grunts from lifters nearby. Perhaps even worse for some is that you're unable to scroll through Instagram during your rest intervals — gasp!
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Love it or hate it, social media is probably a big part of your day-to-day life. Instagram may even be your number one source of workout motivation. While there are some excellent fitness resources on Instagram, you may also come across some not-so-positive influences.
Just like your home deserves a deep clean every so often, your Instagram feed needs some sprucing every few months, too. When it's time to clear some of the weeds in your fitness feed, follow these five steps to make sure you keep only the highest quality users.
1. Unfollow Inactive Users and Groups
The first (and simplest) step to take in cleaning up your fitness feed is to look for inactive users or groups you may be following, says Chrysalis Wright, professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida.
"Whatever social media platform you are using, take some time to review your friends or who you are following as well as pages or groups you may be following or in," Wright says. "If a group has been inactive for an extended period of time or you notice you have not even visited it in months, leave it. It isn't what you need any more. You can always request to join again in the future. The same applies to pages."
Also, consider unfollowing friends you're no longer in contact with, especially if you've had issues in your relationship. Whether it's an ex-partner or former bestie, it can be distressing to keep up with their daily lives. If they're no longer in your circle, remove them from your following, Wright says.
"If it is someone you know in real life, maybe there is an issue with the relationship you want to address," Wright says. "If you find that you see posts that make you uneasy, same as before, take a break, unfollow or unfriend, and if the posts are too out there feel free to block. Cleaning house is always good."
2. Prioritize Qualified Professionals
You always want to be a little skeptical of the information you consume on social media, especially where your health is concerned. If you're following a user for their fitness advice, make sure they have the right credentials, says Michele Kerulis, a professor at Northwestern University's that specializes in mental health and sports and exercise wellness.
"I recommend following experts in the field who have dedicated their lives to formally studying fitness so you know you are receiving accurate information when you go online," Kerulis says. "Many people have good intentions by sharing their stories online, but please listen to experts and your own licensed team (fitness trainers, doctors) for specific and individualized programs designed to meet your goals."
If you're looking to learn about proper at-home exercise form, for instance, don't trust the word of just any fitness influencer. A six-digit follower count doesn't necessarily mean they're qualified to give heath advice. Instead, look for someone that's a certified personal trainer (CPT) or certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS). Usually, you can find these credentials in their bio or website.
Even with credentials displayed, err on the side of caution. There's no third party that fact-checks Instagram bios for timeliness and accuracy. If you're looking for the most accurate info out there, consult a certified personal trainer at your gym.
3. Beware of Sponsored Content
A lot of full-time Instagram influencers make their living through sponsored content, which entails promoting products or services from a company. In this fitness world, this usually means vitamins and supplements, exercise equipment or athletic wear.
And while your favorite influencer may swear by the protein powder company that's sponsoring him or her, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best option for you. Before you purchase a product, consult a qualified professional or take some time to research the product outside of Instagram, particularly when it comes to supplements.
"I also think it is very important to follow accounts that provide non-biased and unpaid information," Kerulis says. "Accounts that have advertisements might offer a skewed perspective to encourage people to purchase certain products."
If a company or user you follow provides primarily sponsored, biased information, their content may not be beneficial to you. Beware of sponsored content and unfollow as needed.
4. Look for a Wide Range of Content
While social media shouldn't be your sole or primary source of fitness info, look for qualified sources that provide exercise content relevant to you, Kerulis says. If you're a beginner, you don't need to be following users that only post advanced workouts.
Instead, look for trainers that post images or videos that meet you where you are. Influencers that provide diverse content for an array of fitness levels are probably the most reliable and most educated.
"Attempting certain popular exercise movements, routines, stunts or challenges could end up in serious injury," Kerulis says. You'll want to prioritize users that value safety and practicality in the gym, too, to ensure you're training with proper form and gym etiquette.
5. Evaluate Your Feelings
After you've judged whether a user is qualified and provides non-biased, educated content, evaluate your feelings as you scroll through their feed. Do their posts make you feel inspired or intimidated? Does their content make you feel inadequate, ashamed or anything other than positive? If that's the case, you may want to reconsider your follow.
People follow others they believe have the perfect body, shape or fitness routine and set unrealistic goals for themselves based on that user's trends, Kerulis says. As a result, they forget that these professionals have a whole team that helps them achieve their physical appearances and public personas.
"People who have fitness goals oftentimes turn to social media to find inspiration, but that inspiration can quickly turn to comparison, which can lead to negativity," she says. "Comparing your own progress to those online can result in people feeling less-than or like they are not doing enough to reach their goals."
There's a thin line between inspiration and envy, especially where social media is concerned. So, if you're cleaning out your Instagram followers, look inward and be honest about the intentions behind your follow. Bottom line: If you feel worse after looking through someone's account, hit the unfollow button.
If you still feel overwhelmed or disheartened after cleaning out your feed, it may be time for a total detox. Unlike a quick clean-up, a social media detox involves completely eliminating social media from your life for a certain period of time, Kerulis says. Whether you decide to delete your apps for two days or for good, listen to what's best for your mental health and overall wellbeing.
"Social media is not the real world — that is hard for some people to hear," she says. "Grounding yourself in reality and interacting with actual people around you can result in a refreshed sense of togetherness and helps people refocus on their original goals without the distraction of comparing yourself to others online."
When you're ready for a social media detox, choose a period of time and commit to eliminating the apps from your phone. During this time, prioritize real-life activities and interactions that give your day more meaning.
If deleting all your apps sounds daunting, start with one and work your way through all of them, Kerulis say. Then, once your much-needed detox is complete, you can re-download the apps with a fresh perspective. Or you may find you want to keep them off your phone indefinitely.