After watching fitness videos on YouTube for what seems like forever, I was convinced no other platform could top it for fitness advice. But then Instagram came around, and now it seems like everyone is getting their fitness advice from TikTok. But is that a good idea?
Between YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, it's safe to say that you have more options than ever to find free fitness advice. And while that's not a bad thing at all, it's not so great that less-than-qualified fitness influencers are doling out advice to the general public.
TikTok can be even more of a dangerous place for finding "expert" fitness intel. The videos are very short, which limits even the most qualified expert from giving good, thorough advice. Not to mention that you don't really know who's giving the advice, even if they say they're a qualified trainer.
All advice you find on social media also lacks personalization -- advice tailored to your body's unique needs. Knowing that everyone is different, you have to take all fitness advice online with a grain of salt.
That said, you don't have to swear off watching fitness advice online forever. I called on two fitness experts to share some tips and best practices for finding quality fitness information, whether it's on TikTok, Instagram or any other platform. Keep reading to find out how to find legit fitness advice, and how to tell when the information might be sketchy.
To be fair, this issue doesn't only apply to TikTok -- it can apply to any and all general online fitness content. But it's definitely a problem with TikTok since the fitness advice and trends escalate quickly, the duration of the videos is so short, and many people want to try the trends at home -- and recreate their own social media content documenting it.
"Listening to advice on TikTok could be dangerous because the information is not tailored to the individual who is listening or watching. No one knows your body's limits better than you do," says Andrew Laux, a NASM-certified personal trainer with Fyt. "It is important to understand what your individual limits are and what exercises are good for you or bad for you," says Laux. "People are individuals, and everyone has individual needs when it comes to their fitness. Baseline conditioning, previous and current injuries, medical history, body shape, goals and physical limits all influence how someone may train to achieve their fitness goals," says Laux.
Social media and the web has opened up a ton of opportunities when it comes to making fitness more accessible. On the other hand, social media platforms don't require content creators to have any kind of real credentials to post information. There's also a lack of vetting, so someone could list off the most impressive-sounding credentials that are actually false.
"Do a quick Google search of the influencer, blogger and/or coach and see what credentials they have," says Laux. Ask yourself these questions; "Did they get a degree in exercise science? Are they certified through a major national training certification like the National Academy of Sports Medicine? Did they have a career in the personal training or strength and conditioning world? If after a quick search you see no previous experience or accreditation in the fitness industry, I would be skeptical," says Laux.
Not all trends are created equal in the fitness and wellness world. More often than not, trends are fads that catch fire in terms of popularity, but often have no basis in solid science (remember celery juice?). Just because everyone is talking about something or trying a new trend doesn't mean you should hop on the bandwagon.
"Trends aren't always your friend. Be careful of viral fitness trends that promise too-good-to-be-true results. If you want to achieve your fitness goals and keep them, it takes time and discipline. I really feel that there is no better way to expedite your results without compromising your safety than working with a fitness professional one-on-one. A fitness professional gets into the fitness space to actually help people -- not for likes and views," says Laux.
One problem that Kyle Kurata, CSCS and Point exercise scientist brings up is the fact that many posts on social media are meant to catch attention and entertain you, not necessarily give you solid advice. "The problem with looking for fitness advice on TikTok is that it is designed for short, eye-catching videos. If I am looking for as many likes as possible on a video, I better do some awe-inspiring stuff to draw some attention," says Kurata.
"The reality of this results in complex movement patterns with no reasoning behind them, and no discussion on how to build up to [them]," says Kurata. As cool or as fun as an exercise or workout move may look on Instagram, jumping into something you don't fully understand, know the proper form for, or may not be able to do at your skill level is a dangerous scenario.
"Fitness and exercise videos [on TikTok] have been leaning more toward entertainment than actually helpful resources to build a helpful, safe workout plan or educate individuals on how to properly complete exercises. 60-second clips are just not enough time to create and share an effective workout," says Laux.
There are many different kinds of fitness certifications out there, but Laux and Kurata recommend looking for certified trainer credentials in addition to some other solid background information like a career history as a trainer or even college degrees in related fields like exercise science or kinesiology. Major national certification programs for trainers include NASM, ACE and ACSM -- not that other programs aren't legit, but these are some of the most popular and nationally recognized programs. "To take it further, check for higher education or a CSCS certificate, which requires a comprehensive test and a bachelor's degree in science," says Kurata.
"I would advise to look for individuals who specialize in what you are looking for. If the focus is on mobility and core, a reputable Pilates instructor should be sought out. Or if it's functional strength, make sure the individual has some certifications in things like kettlebells, or FMS (functional movement system). If it's endurance, make sure they have a history and passion in doing things like triathlons or marathons. It's all about experience and education, and a reputable fitness source will have both," says Kurata.
Working with a personal trainer can help you safely and effectively reach your fitness goals. And now you don't have to work with a trainer solely at a gym. Loads of personal trainers are also available for virtual sessions, consultations and more via the internet or apps that let you workout with trainers in real time -- and often, virtual sessions can cost less than in-person.
"If you are really looking to better understand how to build an effective and safe workout plan given your specific needs, nothing is better than working on-on-one with a personal trainer. A personal trainer is going to have the tools and experience to truly help you with your fitness goals. The best thing is that they can actually tailor the workout around your specific needs, wants and goals," says Laux.
One sign that a fitness video may not contain the best advice is if the content creator doles out advice without explaining much about how to do the tip, or why it's important or beneficial.
"The way I vet good versus harmful fitness tips is to see if the person explains the 'why' behind the exercise and 'how' to actually complete the exercises. If someone just shows me a quick 60-second, five-exercise shredder workout video without explaining 'why' I should do this workout and 'how' I complete those exercises, I walk away from it, and I definitely do not share this content with my clients or athletes," says Laux.