There’s only one thing in the fitness world more aggressively polarizing than burpees, and that’s gym selfies. Sweaty selfies. #swealfies, if you will. Whether you love them or hate them, you’ve most definitely got some sort of strong opinion about your IG feed being populated with flexed biceps. The practice has become so commonplace over the last few years—it’s nearly impossible to get through an entire fitness class without seeing someone whip out their phone to smize for the camera mid-plank, but when we take a closer look, is there really any benefit to broadcasting our workouts to the world?
The answer, it seems, is slightly complicated. First, let’s start with the good stuff. “It’s a great way to announce: ‘I have a goal,’” says Janine Delaney, PhD, psychologist and fitness expert. “It’s a great way to keep yourself accountable for a goal, and I definitely think that is a very good motivation. A lot of people feel like once they put it out there into the universe, they need to be held accountable.”
Once the selfie is live, the positive feedback you receive on it can actually help you stick with your regimen. “People work really hard, and if they get any sort of positive reinforcement, it’s nice to hear and it motivates them,” says Delaney. In addition to helping motivate you, these shots can also help motivate anyone who might happen to stumble upon them when they’re scrolling. “Not everybody may respond to you putting your stuff out there, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of people who have eyes on what you’re doing, who are seeing what you’re doing, relating to it, and using you as their own motivational tool,” says Josh Cox, certified personal trainer at Anytime Fitness. “Sometimes people don’t even realize that they’re taking that thought process—you never know what’s going to plant a seed of motivation.”
But, Delaney warns, the intention you have when you post a selfie often affects the impact it has on you—if you’re doing it for attention-seeking reasons, it winds up feeling more performative than self-motivating. One concern that Delaney raises during our conversation is the effect that someone’s gym selfies can have on other people—which don’t always necessarily fall into the categories of “positive” and “motivating.”
“The selfie, while it may make some people feel good, it’s not an image I want to portray because I don’t necessarily need to show off to people or make people feel bad about themselves,” she says. “I feel like a lot of selfies tend to go toward that angle instead of being uplifting.” A 2018 study, for example, found that people who were exposed to more exercise-related content on their social networks were more likely to have greater concerns about their bodies.
Perhaps most importantly, gym selfies serve to exclusively highlight the physical effects of working out—they totally ignore the mental, emotional, and straight-up health benefits that sweating it out can offer. But if snapping selfies are you thing, by all means, strike a pose—just be sure to tag your trainer.