Instagram is a social media mobile app worth $35 billion. The concept behind the app is simple, and therein lies its genius—and value. Simply take a picture or video, utilize Instagram’s fancy shades and effects to spice it up a bit and upload it to your profile. You can even tag the picture/video with various words or subjects so that other people can check out your content as well, which is why companies like major Nike, ESPN, CrossFit & BoxLife Magazine have their own accounts—no doubt you likely follow many of them already. In fact, enter the hashtags “CrossFit” or “olympicweightlifting” and your query will come up with thousands of posts from athletes all over the world, ranging from complete novices to Olympians and elite CrossFitters.
Obviously there’s real value to having such a wealth of fitness-related material sitting in your pocket, easy to access at any point in time. One can pick up useful tips from watching slow-motion Olympic lifts or get super psyched to hit a WOD after checking out pictures from last year’s Open on the CrossFit Games’ profile. But there is another issue that comes with constantly following and sharing such visual information on Instagram: unreasonable comparisons.
Why compare yourself at all?
When you follow certain athletes on Instagram and witness their impressive lifts or gymnastic skills, it can be easy to start unreasonably comparing yourself to them. You see athletes of a certain age, a certain body type or experience “outperform” you, and you start to get frustrated with yourself and your training. The thought, “That’s what I should be able to do!” keeps running in your head. Sure, such an emotion could you lead you to perform harder in your training sessions, but more often than not people will let their ego get the better of them, leading to negative outcomes.
Athletes will start to question their programming. They’ll believe that they must be doing something wrong—or not doing something—hence the reason for their slow progress. Perhaps if they start doing the same type of training that these “Instagram athletes” are doing, they’ll see similar results and get to their level. As such, they may break away from their programming, believing they’ll enjoy more success if they follow in the footsteps of the athletes that they constantly compare themselves to. The problem with this way of thinking is that they’ll start training for the wrong reasons and overlook some glaring facts in the process.
Instagram doesn’t tell the whole story
What you see when you witness a Regional competitor overhead squat 405 lbs (as Elijah Muhammad did last year) is the result of countless years of training, mobility, accessory work, diet, and sacrifice. But you don’t know that—all you have to go by is the final product on Instagram. The reality is that these men and women didn’t walk into a box one day, set up a video and hit five strict muscle-ups in a row before posting it to Instagram for the world to see. They worked to build up a solid base of fitness before ever attempting one muscle-up, let alone five strict ones. The video doesn’t tell the story of trial and error, but it sure as hell exists—just as it does for you and me.
Let’s be clear—by no means are we saying that you need to stop following every CrossFit athlete on Instagram and deactivate your profile post haste. Where’s the fun in that? As we all know, it can be incredibly motivating and educational to browse through the variety of Olympic lifts, gymnastic skills and general metcon nastiness that one can find littered among the profiles of CrossFitters, powerlifters and Olympians alike. However, one must do so with a heavy grain of salt and a good dose of perspective. You need to assess where you stand in relation to the athletes that you follow on the app. Use the Fronings, Fishers and Fouchers of this sport as inspiration and educational guides—there’s no point in trying to compare what you can do to what the elite can do. On the other hand, appreciate the accomplishments of your peers and those athletes who are at your level or slightly above it, but don’t seek to replicate what they’re doing it if it doesn’t fit in with your programming or your goals. All too often people will try to mix up their programming in an effort to find some sort of magic solution, when in reality the difference usually comes down to how you execute the programming you already have.
In conclusion, Instagram (as well as Facebook and YouTube) can be a great source of knowledge and motivation, or, a vehicle of resentment and unrealistic comparisons. It all comes down to your outlook on this sport and your ability to check your ego.