Problems in the online fitness industry and how to fight them as a fitness professional

By Emily Kaye on August 26th, 2021

The global fitness sector has been steadily increasing in recent years, and it was worth an estimated whopping $96 billion [£68 billion] in 2019. Like any big industry, the explosion in the market has led to the potential for problems to emerge, with some negative issues entering the field. As a fitness professional, you are lucky enough to have made your passion into a career. However, this comes with a responsibility to avoid and fight against these issues. Here are a few major concerns and some tips for combatting them in your own work.

Dubious product promotions

In 2018, Kim Kardashian was heavily criticised for promoting appetite suppressant lollipops to her 111 million Instagram followers (her followers have doubled since then). Critiques focused on the body-shaming element of those posts, with accusations that the influencer was further supporting the notion that eating is shameful, and that women should aspire to be skinny even at the expense of their bodily needs. The lollipops Kim K promoted did not contain the usual amalgam of laxatives, but a product called Satiereal, which is touted by the manufacturers to decrease food intake. However, there is no sound scientific evidence to support this claim.

Kardashian is not the only influencer pushing diet solutions to their followers. Actress and activist, Jameela Jamil, has been vocal on social media against fitness accounts dabbling in what she described as ‘toxic products’, both in a physical and emotional sense, without enough regulation.

What can fitness professionals do?

The main thing, especially if you are trying to promote your personal fitness brand on social media, would be to avoid promoting medical or pseudo-medical products. Unless you’re a trained doctor, there’s no need to push supplements, especially not for monetary benefit. Putting your name alongside such products not only creates confusion among an impressionable audience, it also undermines your credibility and integrity.

This does not mean you can’t partner with brands and take part in paid promotions — it’s all about being conscious about what it is you’re selling and the impact it can have on individuals who see you as an expert. Do your research and encourage your audience to do the same. Make sure you’re not discussing or advocating for anything that wasn’t properly tested, and give the appropriate caveats regarding your level of expertise. Also, actively speak out against dodgy supplements and diet pills, while endorsing a healthier lifestyle rather than quick fixes that can ultimately be unhealthy.

‘Fake natty’ (secret use of PEDs)

If you don’t know what it is, ‘fake natty’ is simply an abbreviation of ‘fake natural’. This phrase is particularly common in the bodybuilding community, referring to fitness influencers who pretend to get to their results naturally, but instead use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) such as anabolic steroids and testosterone.

Although there may be many reasons to hide the use of PEDs, misleading an audience like that may have grave consequences. For example, it could cause body dysmorphia, especially amongst young people who compare themselves to these fitness giants. More and more influencers are being called out for misleading their fans, and sooner or later, the deceit will catch up with them.

What can fitness professionals do?

Although performance-enhancing drugs can do serious harm to the body and cause major health issues, it is up to you if you choose to indulge in them. There’s no judging here. However, what is unforgivable is lying about it in front of a large, impressionable audience. If you pretend your killer body is simply down to diet and exercise, this could have serious consequences for your followers in terms of what they think is achievable for them naturally. The solution is to be open and honest so you’re not misleading or hurting anyone else in the process.

Lack of professional training

The biggest danger in this day and age is exaggeration. No nuance, no thought, just hyperbolic statements. ‘Keto is the ONLY diet that works’, ‘You can never be healthy if you eat meat’, ‘If you eat after 6pm you’ll get fat’. All of these statements have one thing in common — they’re simply wrong.

The truth is, like almost everything else in life, multi-faceted and complex. Different people are suited to different diets. Others hold other belief systems. Some bodies work in certain ways, and some work slightly differently. It’s only natural. However, we’re seeing more and more fitness influencers making these claims without any basis in reality, let alone professional training.

What can fitness professionals do?

Be fair and reasonable. If you’re not a nutritionist, make it clear that your diet is for you and that it might not work for everyone else. Definitely don’t give nutritional advice to a faceless audience without any caution or hesitation. If you’re not a qualified fitness instructor, don’t share tips about workouts that may harm your viewers’ bodies. Focus on what you know, make your certifications clear, and always give a disclaimer when you’re sharing an anecdote rather than professional advice. Above all else, remember that even if you know your body best, you don’t know everyone else’s.

The curse of Photoshop

We all know that magazines airbrush photos of models, yet it still creates unrealistic expectations and unattainable standards of beauty that only exist thanks to Photoshop. This 1990s curse has evolved with the introduction of much cheaper, more commonplace software available on smartphones. Nowadays, with one click of their finger, anyone can remove cellulite, fat, spots, beauty marks, double chins, or any other unflattering elements to present a perfect image that is totally fake. We hate to bring up the Kardashians again, but just look at this series of airbrushing faux-pas they’ve posted to see how prevalent this problem is.

What can fitness professionals do?

We all prefer flattering angles and that’s okay, but the most obvious solution is not to airbrush your photos, videos or stories at all. Yes, you heard us right — not at all. A little filter here and there to make the photo more vivid or match your profile’s colour scheme is one thing, but to actively slim yourself down or bulk yourself up, remove marks, or attack imperfections is increasingly unacceptable. If you really can’t go without it, make sure you’re honest with your audience, clearly telling them your content is airbrushed. Disclaimers are key to transparency.

As a responsible fitness professional, you know the significance of caring for your audience and the people you train. That’s why it’s important to have the best insurance so you’re protecting yourself and them no matter what happens. With Salon Gold’s fitness instructor insurance, you can rest assured that you’re covered for everything a health professional might come up against. Get a free quote today.

Emily Kaye

Emily is a UX Designer at Salon Gold. She has years of professional experience working in different areas of design and is a skilled photographer.

All articles by Emily Kaye

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