Paging Dr. Internet, we need a diagnosis. In this series, Mashable examines the online world’s influence on our health and prescribes new ways forward.
Like anything in life, whether it be starting a new hobby or learning how to tie a tie, I turn to YouTube. Exercising was no different. As a novice in the fitness world, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. When I first searched fitness videos, I kept coming across videos like, “How to Get a Flat Stomach in Seven Days,” “Lose Arm Fat in Five Days,” and “Get Abs With This 10 Minute Routine.” I grew frustrated, thinking to myself, “Is it really that easy to get a perfect body this quickly?”
It wasn’t until I started doing the suggested exercises that I realized how intensive they were, how tiring they were, and frankly, how difficult they were, despite being targeted at beginners. Over time, I eventually found videos that actually gave me building blocks to develop my own routine. But I kept thinking in the back of my head how harmful, and frankly, annoying, those clickbaity exercise videos were when I began working out. And it’s not just YouTube videos. There are plenty of apps on the App Store and Play Store promising similar quick fixes.
When trying to follow these instructions to get fit quickly but not seeing the expected results, I felt as if I wasn’t doing something right. I felt as if there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t get perfectly toned arms in a few days. But people shouldn’t compare themselves to others with perfectly toned bodies who promise that one video will change their physiques, fitness trainers told me. Videos like the ones I encountered perpetuate false notions about fitness that can leave you spiraling. It’s about time we talk about the mental health implications of clickbaity exercises online.
Despite the downsides, fitness influencers continue to post these kinds of videos because they get clicks, and clicks mean more influence, more money, and more sponsorships. Daniel Richter, personal trainer, powerlifting coach, and exercise instructor says, “YouTubers, and many other content producers, go this route because it works. The algorithm on both YouTube and other social media uses a click-through ratio as a ranking factor: If people click your video when they search for a topic, it moves up in rankings. If people don’t click, you’re gone. Using eye-catching images, emotional trigger words, and other clickbait practices are tactics to win the first battle in the war for your attention.”
“If people don’t click, you’re gone.”
Fitness instructors looking to hook customers who want to look just like them aren’t new. Eugene Sandow, also known as the king of bodybuilding from the 1890s, is considered to be an early fitness influencer, even if the term didn’t have the same meaning back then. His chiseled physique made people go gaga, and he opened a gym in London, wrote books, and ran a mail-order business