The online world is like a digital proxy of the real world. With their anonymity secured behind a keyboard, people have the luxury of creating and promoting an idealized version of themselves – and not always with the best motives.
On the internet, even the most timid among us suddenly grow a pair big enough to impress Conor McGregor. Paradoxically, spending too much time on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter can transform otherwise well-adjusted people into neurotic shells of their former selves.
The fitness genre is particularly emblematic of these perils. We're all proud of our fitness accomplishments (and should be), but many of us are overly-invested with our gym heroics. These pitfalls have real consequences, so here's a comprehensive guide to fun and rewarding online fitness behavior.
Like all tools, the internet can help or hurt your personal cause – it just requires the proper application. Let's dig in.
When and How to Give People Advice
Ah, we're all full of invaluable advice, aren't we? Especially when our anonymity hides the fact that the person we're giving advice to is often more accomplished than we are. Giving lifting or nutrition advice to strangers is much more likely to be an unproductive experience than a positive one, for both giver and receiver. Here are a few tips on shifting the odds of success in your favor:
Identify your motive.
Are you really trying to help that dude who somehow, despite his limited knowledge, is far stronger and more jacked than you are? Or are you initiating a debate for the purpose of proving your superior knowledge and perhaps making yourself feel superior?
If it's for the former, consider contacting that person privately. Start the exchange with a sincere compliment of some sort, and then ask if he/she might be open to a suggestion. If the answer is yes, establish a bit of rapport by explaining that you found this particular tip helpful yourself, so you just wanted to spread the love, so to speak. This will make the recipient much more open to your advice.
If instead you're just engaging in a pissing contest, well, just don't. It'll piss them off and it'll piss you off – it's just lose-lose. If you've got pent-up frustrations in life that lead you to trolling fitness enthusiasts for stress-relief purposes, I'd suggest that you attend to your bad job, sad marriage, or whatever it might be that you're dealing with offline.
In the words of a certain polarizing professor and psychologist: "Before you fix the world, try fixing yourself."
Another common motive for trying to "help" other lifters online is the attempt to sell coaching services. I'll have more to say on this later, but for now let's just say that people really hate spammers, so don't be that guy.
How to Receive Advice From Others
Inevitably, whenever you choose to post a physique pic or a lifting video, you'll get feedback ranging from supportive and positive praise to vile, heartless criticism. Your response to such feedback should be hinged on the intent of the replier.
Your response to positive or helpful comments is easy – simply thank them for their kind words. If, however, someone is obviously trolling you, there are a handful of potentially productive actions you might consider:
- Direct your attention inward. Even if a troll's reply to you is nasty and designed to piss you off, it still might have merit. So step back for a second and see if maybe he has a point. If so, sincerely thank him for the advice and move on.
- Ignore the offending post or reply. Trolls thrive off of attention, so don't give them any.
- Block the troll. Yes, that's a thing. Just block them and you'll never see that person or his posts again. Ever. Problem solved!
- Leave a pithy reply. I don't usually recommend this tack, but I know many of you can't help yourselves, so if you must reply, do it well. A few of my favorites include:
"Ordinarily I'd be happy to explain this to you, but right now I don't have the time or the crayons."
"It's pretty hilarious watching you try to fit your entire vocabulary into one sentence."
"Thanks for sharing. We're all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view."
Again, while I usually recommend against feeding the trolls, if you do choose to do so, at least do your best to be entertaining for the sake of anyone who happens to come across the thread.
How to Avoid Being Offended
There's never a reason to be offended. I've never been offended, not even once. Here's why:
If someone comments that I'm old and have shitty calves, it doesn't exactly make my day, but guess what? He's right! Yes, he's an asshole, but it won't offend me.
Conversely, if someone else tells me that I have no qualifications to express my opinion about fitness-related matters, he's also being an asshole, but in this case he's simply wrong, so again, I'm not offended.
Another point of friction is when people are confronted with compelling evidence against a position, practice, or belief they embrace and promote. Case in point: Many ardent joggers were offended when I suggested in my article, The Jogging Delusion, that jogging is perhaps the most effective non-surgical form of gender-reassignment available to men.
Now of course, I was being a bit of an ass when I wrote that, but anyone who feels that they've definitely benefitted from jogging won't be offended; they'll simply say I'm an ass and that I'm wrong.
The reason that many joggers were offended is because they recognize the truth in what I said, but have so much invested in the activity they're not quite ready to jump ship. It sets up a cognitive dissonance between what they know and what they do. That's what's behind their offense-taking.
How to Rule Social Media!
It's simple (not easy) to be successful online. It involves only three components:
1 – Be Helpful
Often this translates to simply being responsive to replies, questions, and so on. Answer people's questions, whether they're posed to you specifically or to a group's membership. Make your answers concise, actionable, and above all else, polite. Don't make your answers exercises in proving your superiority – just be friendly and helpful.
If you're a coach or a trainer, you'll of course be tempted to "help" in the form of posting your own articles and/or marketing messages, but do so with caution: Such attempts will often, and sometimes rightly, be viewed as spamming.
If you're not sure, ask yourself, "What's my motive here – to help or to sell?" If it's the latter, think twice and even three times before posting.
2 – Be Inspirational
Instead of shit-talking the lesser accomplishments of others, focus on being a source of inspiration yourself. And here's some important perspective for you: No matter who you are or how modest or great your accomplishments are, there will be both people who find you incredibly inspirational and others who find you to be a colossal bore.
Personally, I've heard from lots of guys in their 40s and 50s who are amazed by the fact that I can deadlift 440x10 at age 59 and a bodyweight under 200 pounds. These guys are, in the language of Seth Godin, my "tribe."
On the other end of the spectrum, I know of guys who can literally pull 440x10 with one arm. These guys (understandably) don't find me inspirational. In fact, I'm a member of THEIR tribes. See how it works?
3 – Be Unique
Lots of people in the fitness sphere are really great – they're knowledgeable, fit, and they look awesome. They simply have one problem, but it's a critical problem: They're just like the other 10 million knowledgeable, fit, great-looking fitness "influencers."
If you've ever looked for fitness advice or inspiration online, you've no doubt noticed that it's a crowded marketplace. You've got lots of choices.
Typically, as a consumer, you're looking for someone who stands out somehow. Maybe they look vaguely like you, or are like you in some other way, such as age, height, or bodyweight. Or maybe someone's post was particularly catchy in some way. Maybe it had nice graphics or music, for example. Or, perhaps you find yourself following certain people because they have a great way of explaining things.
Although being unique is critically important, it can be a fatal mistake to be gratuitously unique. Attempts to be unique for uniqueness' sake (such as inventing "new" exercises daily) come across as inauthentic and dishonest. They also imply that you have no real unique qualities aside from the ones you manage to artificially drum up for the sole purpose of getting clicks.
In truth, you already have unique qualities and skills. The key is to identify and highlight them. Here's a tip: If you have no clue what these might be, ask a handful of close friends, relatives, and/or clients for their honest feedback. You're likely to be surprised and enlightened.
Don't try to be all things to all people – it'll never happen. Just be authentic, do your thing as best you can, and slowly but surely, your tribe will find you, no matter how small and obscure your interests and talents may be.
Think about Pavel Tsatsouline when he first introduced kettlebell training to America in the early 90's, or more recently, T Nation contributor Dr. Bret Contreras when he first introduced the hip thrust.
These now widespread training tools were completely unheard of when their pioneers first introduced them, but they both had real value and as such, are both here to stay.