We idolize fitness experts for their aspirational exercise videos on social media, stylish athleisure, and impressive energy that motivates us to get moving.
But building a fitness empire takes more than a sunset backdrop and a cute wardrobe — the life of most successful experts and influencers can be a grind. That’s why, for National Women’s Health & Fitness Day on Sept. 25, we asked the most popular fitness gurus to share the truth about #fitspo (Chipotle and good lighting are often necessary).
Comfy gym clothes are treasured.
Fitness motivator, model, and entrepreneur Jen Selter went viral in 2013 when she took a spontaneous photo of her backside, unofficially inventing the “Belfie” (a butt selfie). The 26 year old has since been signed by talent agency PMG Sports; she sells her own line of protein bars; and is a featured athlete on Fitplan App, a fitness workout and personal trainer app. Oh, and Selter has 12.7 million Instagram followers (with a combined 38 million people on social media).
The former gym receptionist often films her workouts on her own New York City rooftop, telling Yahoo Lifestyle, “Before moving into a building, I make sure it has a great gym and common area, or it is really a deal-breaker for me.”
However, fame follows. “I don’t like being recognized when I am working out, so I usually wear undercover outfits. I find it very comfortable to wear Alo yoga joggers, sweats, and a big hoodie or T-shirt,” Selter tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “When I am not filming, you won't find me in a crop top!”
Rebecca Louise of the BURN program has 607,000 Instagram followers counting her every move. So when her active lifestyle leads to injury, she doesn’t let that distract her from helping people reach their goals.
For instance, in 2017, Louise suffered an ACL tear while skiing with her boyfriend. “We still had to fly to Hawaii to film a contracted video shoot,” Louise tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “So I wore a hot and sticky knee brace under my leggings.”
As a work-around, Louise dedicated six full weeks to upper-body workouts. “My customers had really buff arms by the end,” Louise tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Another time, Louise was filming in Los Angeles (near her Huntington Beach home) and caught an itchy full-body rash from an unknown plant. “I was covered in red marks,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The crew gave me Benadryl to relieve the pain but it made me incredibly drowsy — I could barely keep my eyes open.”
Plus-size fitness experts don’t always feel so body-positive.
Personal trainer Roz “The Diva” Mays is often seen wearing little more than a sports bra or a bikini, but don’t make assumptions because she’s curvy.
“People view me as the patron saint of body love,” Mays, also a certified pole instructor with 44K Instagram followers, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’m called ‘inspirational’ and ‘brave’ because I wear skimpy workout clothes. But exercise is my comfort zone.”
Characterizing plus-size fitness experts as bastions of body-positivity is stereotypical. “People are well-intentioned,” she says, “but it feels patronizing to always hear, ‘How do you have the nerve to wear that?’”
Mays says the awestruck comments can sometimes contradict her own feelings about her body. “Sometimes, I don’t like the way I look, but I am excited about what I can do.”
Mother Nature can make or break a workout.
Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn of the Tone It Up franchise met 11 years ago at — where else — a gym in Manhattan Beach, Calif. They became best friends, and then launched a fitness app, nutrition plan, and global tour series, gaining 1.4 million Instagram followers to date.
But striving for beautiful outdoor backdrops means you’re at the mercy of the elements. During a shoot in Turks and Caicos, the women were exercising on a beach in unbearable heat. “The humidity was so strong — our bodies were cooking,” Scott tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The camera crew was filming with umbrellas over their heads and jumping into the ocean to cool off in between takes.”
The humidity was too much for Scott, who dry-heaved and collapsed on the sand, just before the wind blew the women’s yoga mats away. Between calloused feet, the blinding sun, and friction from the rough sand, exercising on the beach did a number on the women’s bodies. What’s more difficult: Making it all look easy.
Social media “likes” don’t necessarily reflect expertise.
Jeanette Jenkins, creator of The Hollywood Trainer program and who has worked with Pink and Alicia Keys, has 579,000 Instagram followers, but Jenkins is the first to admit that numbers can be deceiving.
“Just because someone jumps up and down with six-pack abs, doesn’t mean they’re qualified to give fitness advice,” Jenkins tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Social media is inspirational and anything that gets people off the couch and moving is great. [But] it’s also important to check expert credentials.”
Jenkins, who studied human kinetics in college and holds more than 18 international certificates, has seen it all from famous fitness buffs: demonstrating incorrect or risky moves, toned booties sculpted from butt-implant surgery, and demos more appropriate for professional gymnasts.
“Social media is a free market — and an unregulated one — and anyone can claim to be a fitness expert,” Jenkins tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Information is only as valuable as its source.”
Photo-editing apps can transform bodies.
Before Sia Cooper became a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer, she described herself as overweight. So, in 2011, she lost 50 pounds, became a nurse, got breast implants, and launched “Diary of a Fit Mommy” with more than one million Instagram followers.
But Cooper developed chest and joint pain, extreme fatigue, confusion, inflammation, and hair loss — and medical tests didn’t provide answers. Cooper didn’t know that she was experiencing breast implant illness, an unofficial medical diagnosis for symptoms related to the materials in silicone breast implants.
Cooper gained weight and sales from her workout guides waned, so she enhanced her Instagram photos with an editing app that slimmed her waist and faded out her cellulite.
Not everyone posts honest photos, the mother-of-two tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “There is often lighting tricks or other editing involved.”
Today, Cooper strives to redefine “imperfection,” telling Yahoo Lifestyle, “It felt weird undoing all my work in a society that encourages plastic surgery.”
On Instagram, Cooper has documented her breast implant removal surgery, unveiled how flattering poses are utilized — and deleted her photo-editing app.
Meal prepping is a form of food styling.
Healthy meal prep (preparing a week’s worth of dishes or ingredients in one sitting) solves the “What should I eat?” question that encourages unhealthy habits.
Shannon Eng, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified fitness nutrition specialist and creator of Cali Girl Gets Fit with 314,000 followers, is an expert meal prepper, posting daily photos of skillet baked eggs, “nice” cream, and colorful salads.
However, she takes smart shortcuts for her inspiring end results, akin to food styling. Only the most beautiful shots are posted, and Eng’s “set” receives the same attention to detail.
“People think my kitchen is fancy and modern because I have beautiful marble countertops,” says Eng. “In reality, I have a small one-bedroom apartment with a tiny kitchen. My ‘countertops’ are marble contact paper glued to some foam core that I remove and store after styling a food photo.”
And during the weeks that Eng is not motivated to meal prep, she doesn’t. “I love Chipotle, so it's my go-to if I get really lazy.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: