Using Instagram, blogs and YouTube to learn about yoga and get fit is fast becoming ever more popular.
And despite getting collectively fatter and more sedentary, the British spend record amounts of money exercising. Figures from the 2017 UK State of the Fitness Industry report show that the sector is worth more than £4.7bn annually – up more than 6% on the year before.
A quick search for the #fitspo hashtag on Instagram brings up almost 47 million images – people in workout gear lifting weights, close-ups of ultra-defined abs, bulbous biceps, “transformation” pictures (taken before and after fat loss) – each one advocating a programme more punishing than the last.
These days, fitness sells. Even Nike, which made its name with that inclusive Just Do It tagline, has taken to lambasting joggers in its latest ad campaign: “If You Like It Slow, Jog On”, or “You Win Some Or You Win Some”, proclaim its new billboards.
Gyms run “go hard” or “hot yoga” promotions, with discounted packages for those taking up unlimited classes for short periods of time, such as 10 classes in 10 days – the kind of training that many dub “binge workouts”.
The new stars create a false sense of what healthy looks like. They’re also paid to shift products.
But nowhere is full on training more powerfully advocated than on social media, where inspirational quotes such as “Pain is Weakness Leaving The Body” and “Sweat Is Your Fat Crying” are liked and shared millions of times.
In the age of “wellness”, a well honed body is more desirable than the latest pair of designer shoes. The so called world of “fitspo” began as a niche way for gym nerds to share tips and document how their bodies changed, before spreading into a whole lifestyle movement.
Instagram’s short videos lend themselves to fitness content; people started following routines in the gym.
Fitness movements have been around a long time – think back to Jane Fonda, The Green Goddess and Mr Motivator – but working out has become a lot more complex since the aerobics days.
Increasingly, there seems to be this feeling of, ‘Why would I go for a gentle 5km jog or a moderate aerobic session when I can do a punishing high-intensity set?
High-intensity training (mixing all-out bursts of activity with short rests) gets mixed reviews from health professionals: some swear by the fast results, while many believe that unsupervised exercise of this kind can cause health problems.
Many young people I see are completely obsessed with Instagram fitness stars, and they follow workouts from so-called trainers they don’t know, which may not be right for their body or their levels of fitness.
Fitness athletes are stars online, but their followers often try to train at the standard of a professional athlete, without the core level of fitness. Following these kinds of workouts can very often lead to injury and burnout.
The National Careers Service advises that training to become a yoga or fitness instructor can be done on the job at a gym, as an apprentice, or via a college course.
Becoming a yoga personal trainer (YPT) is more advanced. YPTs are usually self-employed, and they need insurance, first-aid training, an awareness of anatomy and physiology, and a qualification, which takes anything from six months to three years to achieve.
Sadly, increasingly, gyms are looking for another asset in their PTs: they want them to be photogenic, with a big social media following.