In short bursts of information, low in loftiness, the fitness community of TikTok have presented an alternate version of online wellness – one where nobody takes themselves too seriously
There is a strange paradox within the home workout boom: 2020 has absolutely necessitated them, a way of keeping fit with an expert eye overseeing you at a time when fitness offerings were few and far between.
But the curse is that social media, where most of these workouts can be found, is also a place where people promote a certain kind of flawlessness: an aptitude and exceptionalism in their physique that doesn’t always translate well to someone who, furloughed and in need of an outlet, wants to start doing HIIT for the first time.
While Instagram remains a vital resource if you’re looking for free workouts from some of the industry’s greats, there’s a new social media outlet that’s offering something a little bit different: TikTok.
Famed for its viral trends, dance routines and Vine-like chaos, TikTok is not without controversy. But it has carved out a particularly interesting niche for fitness professionals: a space where people can be athletic and hot, but also have a personality.
TikTok might not seem like the next place to look to for help with your workouts – its videos are short, its energy much more scrappy – but the people who are making names for themselves on the app have found that it’s the perfect place to suggest new workouts, trial unusual supersets and even just go over the basics of gym etiquette and exercise form for people who need a refresher.
Whether you’re an exercise newbie or a veteran, it might be worth turning your attention to TikTok.
Two things lead the men of Fitness TikTok to the platform: young girls in their families and seeing an opportunity to grow an audience.
For Eyal Booker, it was seeing his younger sister using it; for Paul Olima, it was his daughter. For Alex Crockford and Franklin Sopuluchukwu, it was a chance to build an audience and give their expertise to a new group of people who needed it.
David Templer, a 30-year-old personal trainer and content curator, first joined TikTok as part of a paid partnership. “I think TikTok reached out to me and offered me £150 to set up an account,” he explained.
“And then I also just post a few bits of content both on my TikTok channel and my Instagram feeds. I got addicted within a week.”
Templer’s entire business model is built on a holistic approach to health: nutrition and fitness go hand in hand, and he’s found a huge amount of success with his “shirtless chef” recipe videos, his often audaciously OTT meals finding a huge audience during lockdown.
But fitness still continues to drive a lot of traffic for him: one of his most successful videos, at the time of talking, had been a guide on how to do a deadlift.
“I think it is those educational pieces that people are really, really looking for, so I think what I’m going to do is go back into doing those one-off tutorials.”
For Templer, the real power of TikTok is its ability to offer simple, general advice that anyone can use.
As an F45 instructor, he knows that not everyone responds to the same blanket information on how to do a workout. For some people, he thinks, checking out the guides on TikTok might provide an explanation no one had offered them before: “There’s more than one way of explaining how to do something right to people.
I’m not saying what I say is gospel; my content isn’t the best out there. But it’s one way of explaining and describing how to do stuff.”
This instructional aspect is helped, he adds, by the app’s easy-to-use captioning options.
Alex Crockford has long been prescient about the move to home fitness.
A trainer on the telefitness behemoth Fiit, with an active YouTube channel and his own app, #Crockfit, TikTok just felt like another place to share his work: “If your passion is to reach more people and help them in their fitness, then why not go for it? It’s a good opportunity to be more playful, to create good content and help more people.”
The biggest change in making content for TikTok, he says, was how attention differs.
All platforms require you to hook somebody in quickly, Crockford explained, “but with TikTok you have to get the attention quickly, hold the attention throughout, whilst also delivering whatever the whole video is about in a really short amount of time.
On YouTube, if you get their attention, they may stay for 20 or 30 minutes.” You can see this editing ethos now influencing his other content: flexing his guns in a brief intro before going through each step of an arms workout.
Eyal Booker also found that sharing condensed workouts was where his fitness content really took off. He’d started posting in January this year and had some success leaping on dance trends.
But he knew he could either be reactionary, “or break away and do something that actually interests you”. Ever since finding success on Instagram following his years as a reality star on Love Island, Celebs Go Dating and Celebrity X Factor, Booker had found he was uninterested in being an influencer if he didn’t influence anything of importance.
“You’re somewhat conditioned into being what people presume you should be after going on a show like [Love Island]: working with fast-fashion brands, not really caring about anything more than superficial things.
And I realised that wasn’t really me.” Fitness had always been a big part of his life, so he decided to see if he could offer something useful.
“Pre-Covid I was in LA and I started to post workouts because I knew that people were going to start to think about their summer body,” he explained. “I did an abs workout and then a fat-burning workout.
And the fat-burning workout blew up and has over ten million views.” He had just wanted to show people a précis of what he’d done in his own workout, editing together footage of him “in a manky pair of gym shorts” in probably five minutes.
Suddenly he was finding success, and he’s kept fitness posts in his feed ever since. Just like everyone, though, he also does a little bit of everything: TikTok, everyone agreed, is a place that rewards users who engage with multiple different strands.
According to the people we spoke to, abs seemed to be the thing TikTok users wanted advice on: Franklin Sopuluchukwu and Alex Crockford both mentioned that ab workouts had been some of their most successful videos.
But then you’re faced with an interesting conundrum: how do you make sure you balance what people want – a six-pack – with what people actually need, AKA just working on developing a stronger core?