Your Online Workouts May Be Hurting More Than Helping

A six-pack isn’t the same as a certification

Molly Glick
Elemental
Published in
5 min readJun 29, 2020

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A photo of a woman recording herself doing a workout using her smartphone on a tripod.
Photo: thianchai sitthikongsak/Getty Images

When the pandemic forced Americans to hunker down at home and stay out of the gym, at-home workouts surged in popularity. But even as gyms reopen throughout the country, most people say they aren’t hurrying back — and many fitness influencers have seen massive, persistent boosts in subscribers. YouTubers like Chloe Ting, Maddie Lymburner (aka MadFit), and Pamela Reif promise homebound viewers slim thighs, round booties, and flat bellies. Over the month of May alone, Ting gained more than three million subscribers while Reif and Lymburner each gained more than half a million.

So who are these influencers doling out exercise advice? If you glance at YouTube search results for at-home workouts, the algorithm commonly features fit young women performing exercises focused more on slimming and toning than strength and functionality. Like any other vlogger, many of them design videos with the best marketing practices in mind. Viral fitness videos therefore often play off of socially constructed ideal body types: While male influencers commonly come from bodybuilding backgrounds and emphasize exaggerated muscle, these female-oriented viral workouts often claim to banish supposed flaws like love handles and muffin tops.

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Molly Glick
Elemental

Health and science writer based in NJ (for now). Twitter @mollyglick. https://mollyglick.weebly.com/