Extreme fitness advice on YouTube is doing more harm than good

December 8, 2022 — by Saachi Jain
Photo by Leyna Chan
Fitness on YouTube skyrocketed during the pandemic as a safe and accessible way to stay fit. 
Promised exercise results and unnecessary diets on YouTube mislead viewers, prompting them to set unrealistic fitness goals for themselves.

Throughout lockdown, young teenagers stuck at home could no longer maintain their health through outdoor exercise to the same extent as pre-pandemic times. Instead, online methods of maintaining activity via fitness influencers and YouTubers became prevalent among adolescents. Though a wealth of fitness knowledge is available on YouTube, fitness YouTubers are often unlicensed, self-proclaimed “experts” whose promises of weight loss via natural methods are far from reality. 

The truth is, many of these influencers use steroids and other methods of physical enhancement to project a false image of their bodies online. Studies have shown that women, and more specifically teenagers, are almost twice as likely to suffer from body dysmorphia than men, a statistic exacerbated by unrealistic standards on social media and YouTubers who make the outrageous claim they can transform your body in two weeks.

Chloe Ting, a Singapore-based fitness YouTuber, went viral in 2020 due to her enticing “Two-Week Shred Challenge,” which promised major body transformations in lightning speed. Ting’s subscriber count skyrocketed in April and May of that year, gaining an average of four million followers per month. Some of her content has reached hundreds of millions of views with people doing her workouts daily or more in an effort to lose weight or gain muscle. Ting’s videos often advertise the “perfect body,” one that has led countless young girls to treat her word as fact.

Many of these YouTubers advocate targeted exercises to encourage spot reduction, the belief that you can burn fat in isolated body parts, which has been clinically proven false. As opposed to working individual muscle groups, fat distribution on the body is determined by genetics and will increase and decrease based on these fixed proportions through diet and exercise. However, YouTubers like Ting advertise spot reduction to achieve the “perfect legs” through their videos in order to appeal to a larger subset of the population who crave health and aesthetics without actually wanting to put in effort.

Any fitness plan, whether a gym routine or a workout video, takes at least two to three months to show significant results, so many YouTubers prey upon the lack of discipline in the general population by promising unrealistic results in one to two weeks. 

Several high-profile male fitness icons like The Rock, the former wrestler and actor with 181 million followers on Instagram, have admitted to the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in order to make themselves look more muscular. The result is to portray a false image of what is possible naturally. These perceptions often demoralize individuals who work out for a prolonged period of time but do not see the same results.  

Many videos have also emerged claiming how physical transformation can be achieved with rigorous diet restrictions, such as the lemon detox diet, where only lemon juice is consumed for weeks at a time without any solid foods. People have taken to such diets with even more eagerness than exercising, seeing dieting as an “easier” way to lose weight.

Transformation videos have also gone viral in partnership with workout and diet videos, with people showing off drastic results from just two weeks of doing the same workout or following a diet. However, these transformations cannot be attributed to just working out, and are oftentimes unnatural or faked completely. Rather than debating the validity of a transformation video, those eager to get in shape should compare results to themselves, not others. 

Despite misleading content on the internet, there are many ways to utilize the ease of YouTube workouts without falling into the trap of promised results. Many of the exercises used in videos are great full body workouts that don’t overwork and injure a certain part of the body. Fitness goals should be ambitious, but also achievable. 

Looking for a generically titled video, or stepping away from YouTube entirely and doing informed online research to create your own workout routine, can provide you with the benefits of targeted workouts without the influence of an expected physique after doing so.

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