Social media turns fitness into business

“Summer is coming!”

As the heat increases so does the saturation of bikini selfies, acai bowls and fruit filled VOSS bottles popping up on our social media news feeds.

“Have that hot summer bod in under 12 weeks!”

There is a frantic scramble as people ditch nights of Netflix and ice cream for spin classes and dumbbells.

“Get your workout and food plan for only $89.95 a week!”

The number of social media fitness accounts has skyrocketed faster than a cardio lover on the treadmill. But is there more to this industry than meets the eye? Body builders, power lifters, cross fitters and selfie-obsessed active wearers are using social media platforms Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat to alter the way we approach health and fitness. These sites are used to record their journey, share and gain knowledge, score sponsorships, start businesses and connect with others in these niche communities.

I followed 25-year-old Perth girl Jem Wolfie on Instagram when she had a little over 5000 followers. Now with more than 40,000 followers she is paid by her sponsors to promote supplements and runs two successful businesses.


Jem Wolfie training. Photo: Instagram @jemwolfie

“I started to gradually gain more followers in 2014 when I began to post more regularly about health, fitness and my food creations,” says Wolfie. “When I started to use hashtags is when I noticed a spike in followers.”

Wolfie’s average activewear snap will rake in about 1500 likes while her workout and basketball videos range from 4000 to 30,000 views and Facebook videos have reached 200,000. “Any photos or videos showing more skin always get more hits. That’s just the way it is,” she says.

Social media is often scrutinised for promoting an unrealistic body ideal and flashing soft pornography but Curtin University social media expert Bridget Tombleson says the positives of social media far outweigh the negatives.

“Successful social media use is all about being authentic and fans will know what is real and what isn’t,” she says.


Bridget Tombleson. Photo: Curtin University

“People who have failed have not understood the value of the fan. If you get enough fans they will build your community… If you are not responding to them I think they are very quickly going to lose interest.

“People are craving community in our disconnected world. People want to share their experiences and maybe people physically around them aren’t interested so social media helps people connect to a like-minded community that will give them positive reinforcement. It’s inspiring and motivating.”


Bridget Tombleson teaching Transmedia Storytelling at Curtin University. Photo: Pim Pattanasuk

There is no doubt Wolfie is devoted to her fans, replying to messages from her 5000 Snapchat friends at 3am in the morning.

“No matter how many followers I get I’ll always stay humble and grateful and take time to talk to all my followers,” she says.

“Social media has played a major role in the success of my business. I would not be able to get the same exposure without it. [It] is responsible for 90 per cent of my clients.”

Wolfie’s dedication has paid off with her healthy meal business Good Eats achieving great success since its establishment in 2014. Due to popular demand she released an 8 week training and nutrition guide, Workouts by Wolfie, in August this year. In the future she hopes to establish her own website where she will sell her food and workout guides directly.

“I also get sent a lot of products, clothing, swim wear, sunglasses and random things that I often will do a one off post and tag the company,” she says. She has also been sponsored by Perth based supplements company Fat Burners Only for more than 18 months.

“Promotion is fine as long as there is transparency,” says Curtin University’s Tombleson. “In Australia we do need more regulation. Social media is used for legitimate media purposes now. Influencers are being paid so why aren’t they regulated under the same strict rules as ‘cash for comment’ in radio and broadcast? I’m not quite sure why social media is being treated so differently.”

Tombleson doesn’t follow Wolfie, choosing instead to follow fitness accounts that appeal to her specific interests including world renowned Kayla Itsines and several cross fitters. “Social media is great for building very niche communities,” she says.

One of these niche communities is a group of competitive power lifters.

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Callan Gibbons. Photo: Mikaela Knight

Scroll through the Instagram feed of 24-year-old Callan Gibbons and you will find a selection of lifting clips to heavy metal music filmed at his local gym. “[Instagram] has helped me improve my technique and connect with fellow power lifters from around the globe,” he says. In late October this year he flew to Brisbane to compete in the national power lifting championships with the aim of achieving a record 305kg deadlift.

“It is definitely motivating seeing what other people are doing,” he says. “If I have seen people do some certain lifts I have [thought] ‘well if they can do that, I can do that as well’.” Gibbons first became involved in the sport when he was inspired by a YouTube video of a power lifter deadlifting three times his own body weight.

“Social media is definitely promoting the sport,” he says. Gibbons started his own YouTube channel but found Instagram more effective and easier to access.“People don’t have much time…Instagram was only 15 seconds and now a minute.

“It’s easier to find stuff on Instagram…especially through hashtags. YouTube has tags but they are not really as effective as hashtags.” By using specific and popular tags his following soared from 500 to 2000 and he has had several competition videos reposted by popular power lifting pages.

“I’ve been able to meet a lot of people who I wouldn’t have been able to meet…and interact with people that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been using [social media],” he says.”I know a lot of people I am competing against through Instagram.”


Callan Gibbons. Photo: Youtube @CallanGibbons

“Instagram holds the crown [in the social media landscape],” says Tombleson. “We have become a more visual society. It’s a shorter snapshots, I think people have grown tired of overloaded Facebook feeds containing excessive sponsored posts and unrelated content that friends have liked.”

“Social media allows naturally strong leaders to inspire a community that reaches far beyond their friends.”

Gibbons’ love of competitive lifting inspired him to support others on their fitness journey. “I have helped a lot of people to lift heavy stuff,” he says. “It’s a really good feeling watching them achieve their goals and knowing you have had an input in that.”


Jason Li. Photo: Mikaela Knight

One of Gibbons’ training partners is 22-year-old amateur bodybuilder Jason Li. Li competed in the INBA West Coast Super Show late August this year.

It has been a gruelling six months. Living on a strict diet of chicken thighs and broccoli, he has spent countless hours pumping iron in the gym, counting macros on his iPhone and learning how to flex his muscles for maximum effect.

“I wanted to challenge myself,” he says. “The funny thing is you will be dieting for six months…but you will be on stage for not even five minutes.

“It’s only positive at the end of the day. I would highly recommend competing. I would do it again. The hunger is there but you keep coming back for more, you can’t get enough…you feel sore but you go back in again tomorrow. It’s an addiction.”

During preparation he followed multiple YouTuber’s for training and posing advice and paid an overseas trainer from the United States to check in with him regularly over Skype. At the Perth Fitness Expo he waited in a 45-minute line to meet five time Arnold Classic Champ Kai Green who has an Instagram following of 2.2 million. Li says that people connect with Green because of his rough upbringing and personal struggles.


Jason Li with idol Kai Green. Photo: Instagram @jason_stronglifts

“It is a character building experience,” he says. Nicknamed ‘fried rice’ in high school, Li says the gym has boosted his confidence, given him focus, relieved university stress and taught him how to see the positive in any situation. He has since established an Instagram, Facebook page and Snapchat account documenting his progress and is in the process of creating a YouTube channel in the hope of inspiring others just like Green.

So it seems fitness fanatics will be showing off more than just muscle gain this Summer. Whether it is gaining new gym buddies, technique advice, free stuff or even a springboard to start a business, one thing is clear…social media is looking stronger than ever.



Categories: General, Health