Why you shouldn’t trust social media influencers with your workout
Expert Pilates and founder of Breathe Education, Raphael Bender, shares the red flags you should look for in your workout trainers.
There are lots of benefits to signing up to a Pilates class, from motivation to inspiration, guidance and feedback.
If you’re just starting out and need some guidance on poses, movement and technique, it can be great to follow along with someone who knows what they’re doing – whether in-person or via online lessons.
Even if you’ve got a lot of experience with Pilates, when your everyday routine gets stale, following along with someone else can give you fresh ideas and help you find new inspiration and motivation…
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However, just because an influencer or fellow classmate is charismatic and toned, that doesn’t mean they automatically know the ins and outs of what’s right for your body – especially if you’ve only ever worked out with them through a screen.
Trusting influencers or online instructors who could potentially be feeding you incorrect information can result in you internalising untrue, unhelpful and disempowering beliefs about your body.
So, if you’re unsure of where to start and who to trust, here’s some advice to help you choose your Pilates trainer wisely and avoid two major red flags – whether your trainer is a social media influencer or an in-person teacher.
There is a pervading mythology in the Pilates world that exercise is inherently dangerous, and that you need expert instruction to keep you safe. Many people, including instructors, hold the mistaken belief that doing an exercise ‘wrong’, or using the ‘wrong’ muscles, is likely to result in injury.
You can easily pick an instructor who holds this misconception by their use of the word ‘safe’ or ‘neutral alignment’. For example, if you hear the instruction to ‘keep your spine nice and neutral to stay safe in this exercise’, you know your instructor is coming from a place of fear, based on untrue beliefs about the fragility of the body.
These beliefs are not founded in scientific fact. Multiple large studies have found that alignment and muscle activation are not risk factors for injury in the shoulder, neck, spine, knee, or for generalised hypermobility.
Furthermore yoga, which is similar to Pilates but includes a much bigger emphasis on extreme ranges of motion, is incredibly safe according to this 2019 cross-sectional study of over 6,000 yoga participants,
Even CrossFit, which is centred around explosive movements with heavy weights, is pretty darn safe according to a 2018 research paper.
So, what’s the harm in promoting this simple untruth? Plenty.
Holding the belief that the body is fragile, and easily susceptible to injury can, and commonly does result in a whole host of problems.
Avoidance of feared activities or positions, hypervigilance, catastrophising, negative beliefs about pain, and low self-efficacy all dramatically increase the risk of chronic pain and disability. And all result from the often well-meaning, but incorrect views of practitioners and trainers.
It turns out that having someone cue you about ‘safety’ and telling you of the risks of incorrect alignment, or improper muscle activation is dangerous in itself!
In this case, we have nothing to fear, except fear itself.
So, avoid fear-based trainers, whether on social media or in the Pilates studio. Instead, seek out body positive, fearless trainers who encourage you to explore your movement possibilities and affirm your resilience.
Another prevalent myth is the issue of body shaming. Firstly, it’s important to say that it’s ok to want to change the shape of your body, and it’s also ok to be the shape you are, whatever shape that is.
People exercise for many different reasons, and whatever gets you out of bed and into your leggings is good. But make sure your exercise models encourage you towards a healthy self-esteem.
If your trainer uses language that makes you feel bad about any part of your body, or if simply watching their perfect, long, lean and graceful movements doesn’t help your self-esteem, find a different trainer.
There are plenty of amazing body positive, or body neutral trainers out there who celebrate all body shapes and sizes.
Find a body neutral, or body positive trainer who encourages you to feel great about yourself each and every day. Find one of them, and feed yourself a diet of affirmation and encouragement. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by a community of like-minded people who normalise looking normal. There’s nothing healthier than that.
Raphael Bender is founder of Breathe Education. He has a Masters degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology (Rehabilitation), a Bachelor degree in Exercise and Sports Science, a Diploma of Pilates Movement Therapy and STOTT PILATES full certification. He’s also the host of the Pilates Elephants podcast, along with his co-host Cloe Bunter.