Daniel Bartlett on why fitspo culture is doing harm
Personal trainer and Team Body Project co-founder Daniel Bartlett says fitspo does more harm than good – now, he wants to change the philosophy around fitness.
It’s not every day you meet a trainer who is anti-fitspo.
But then again, it’s not every day you meet Daniel Bartlett: a personal trainer on a mission to make “progress, not perfection” your new workout philosophy.
“It’s the absolute focus on aesthetics over health that is most damaging,” he tells body+soul. “Exercise is positioned almost entirely as a way to change your physical appearance – certainly on social media.”
Of course, you don’t have to scroll very far to know – he’s got a point.
For the uninitiated – or rather, those not on Instagram – “fitspo” (short for “fitness inspiration”) refers to the idea that seeing someone else’s fitness or diet regime can be inspirational. However, with fitspo culture sweeping (or maybe, hijacking) social media in recent years, many are convinced that in reality, it could be leading to a “fear of fitness” and ultimately doing more harm than good.
Bartlett is one of those people. He believes that while fitspo can prove inspirational for some, for the majority, it presents “an unrealistic aesthetic ideal”. He says: “Fitspo is asking people to compare themselves against false ideals. It’s presenting the idea that you should be inspired by somebody else, which means you should be a version of someone else. That’s a bad idea full stop.”
There’s no doubt that Instagram plays a significant part in the problem, he says. Specifically, our compulsion “to share or gaze enviably at the lives of others”, which comes at a price. “Rather than allowing us to get lost in the moments that matter, users are either looking at the falsified highlight reel of others, or spending time creasing one.” He adds: “A life well lived is not necessarily (and usually isn’t) a life well-documented.”
However, the real problem is that this curated perfection is sending the wrong message about what fitness should look like, focusing nearly exclusively on how it can alter our looks, he says. “Whether the aspirational body type is thin, muscular or fit is irrelevant, engaging people in the life and health transforming benefits of exercise beyond aesthetics is the key to sustainability.”
But Bartlett doesn’t want to talk about who is to blame for this toxic messaging. Instead, he sees it as his responsibility, as well as those also in the fitness industry, to strive towards changing the existing rhetoric. He says: “The power to make a positive change to the way people see their health is in the hands of people in the fitness industry who recognise we can do better.”
Which is where Team Body Project, a platform for home workout videos for all shapes, sizes and fitness goals, comes in. The platform, which is run by Bartlett and his wife, and fellow trainer, Alexandra Bartlett, aims to “encourage and engage people in a different way”.
The pair deliberately refuse to position themselves as role models or influencers, though. “We’re coaches, and because we coach rather than attempt to inspire via our physiques or lifestyle – we are treated as coaches and build confidence in the people who take part in our workouts.”
The workouts tend to focus on the importance of movement and health as the most important element, aiming to engage people “emotionally as well as physically”. “We know building confidence and acceptance is just as important as doing squats for long term health.”
For those still overwhelmed by their fitness journey, Bartlett has some advice: “Take it one moment at a time”. As he points out, focusing on today is more manageable than planning on the long-term. “Start at the level you are now and not where you think you should be. Know that you won’t always feel motivated and that is okay. And also, be kind to yourself.”
“Every second of exercise that you complete is a win, you don’t need to ‘finish’ a workout to be a success. You can pause, you can slow down, you can stop and come back tomorrow. There is no need to push it to the limit – you’re far more likely to succeed in the long term if you meet exercise where you are now.”
Now, that’s the kind of fitspo we can get behind.