Need some motivation to get to the gym?
Many people turn to hashtags for fitness inspiration on social media in hopes that they will feel encouraged to exercise. Called fitspo or fitspiration (a portmanteau of the words fitness and inspiration), these shortcuts provide social media users with a steady stream of exercise images and information.
On TikTok, for example, #fitspo has more than two billion views and features videos of people working out or showing off their results by bending over for selfies in locker room mirrors.
Although fitspo aims to motivate, studies have discovered this watching fitspo content does not lead to more or better workouts. Instead, researchers learn that fitspo can make a person I feel defeatedwhich can inhibit their desire to exercise.
Scientists have well established the physical and mental benefits of a regular exercise routine. However many more people are not motivated to jog on the treadmill or join group exercise classes.
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People who watch fitspo on social media say they’re looking for motivation to get off the couch and into the weight room. In a 2019 study in BMC Public Health, almost all participants said they watched fitspiration to motivate themselves to exercise or eat healthy.
The study analyzed 180 participants who answered open-ended questions about their viewing of fitspiration. Several major themes emerged from their responses, including how most said they used fitspo to establish what they considered a “healthy ideal.” About half of the participants said they used “fitspo” to identify people they thought represented their ideal body type. Others said that these images represent how the images prove that body goals can be achieved through hard work and determination.
But the study found that watching fitspo is not a healthy behavior. About 25 percent of participants said they were unhappy with their physique and felt a sense of failure because they didn’t look like the healthy ideal they admired. The study authors noted that only a small number of participants said they understood that the images were likely edited to make the poster appear thinner or more muscular than they were in real life.
A lot of people who post under #fitspo and #fitspiration really portray an ideal body. Content analysis of fitspo posts has found that women tend to represent the lean body ideal and men represent the hyper-muscular ideal.
Some viewers are not bothered by this content, especially those who exercise for health rather than appearance. But researchers have found that people who are motivated to exercise to change their appearance are less likely to see gains in body satisfaction. And if people don’t see the expected results, they’re less likely to be motivated to exercise.
Let’s say a TikTok user, for example, follows a fitness trainer account that posts videos demonstrating exercises inspired by the Abs of Steel video series from the 1990s. In the gym, the user regularly repeats the workout. Over time, the user’s core gets stronger, but they never develop a defined six pack like the trainer. Despite their gains, the user feels frustrated and eventually loses motivation to continue what feels like a losing battle.
However, many users fail to grasp the connection between how they view fitspo content and how they view their own bodies. In a 2019 article in New Media and Society, participants were young men (aged 17-27) who viewed fitspo on Instagram. Participants did not see fitspo as something that made them want to exercise or feel more critical of their own bodies. At the same time, they also said that a muscular body was their ideal, compared themselves to this ideal, and felt less satisfied with themselves.
People who see fitspo on social media and still don’t feel like working out can find motivation by rethinking the benefits of working out. Exercise motivations are usually categorized based on appearance or health.
Appearance-based motivations are rooted in the desire to change or maintain a particular body part. For example, a person who wants abs bases their training on an appearance-related goal. Health-based motivations, in contrast, are usually related to the desire to strengthen the body and live better.
People who exercise for pleasure, stress relief, wellness, or the thrill of competing with others are more likely to work than those focused on appearance. Consciously rethinking why a workout is beneficial and moving beyond appearance-related reasons can be helpful for people who begin to feel unmotivated.
Unmotivated exercisers can also find relief by ignoring fitspo content. Fitspiration watch has been shown to have a negative effect on one’s mood and tends to evoke comparisons. Thus, unfollowing hashtags or fitness influencers can be a healthy and beneficial behavior.