In late 2015, Karla Pankow was an occasional gym-goer who struggled to ditch soda, junky snack food and way too much sitting. Then she got on Instagram.
Setting a goal of losing 100 pounds, she decided to start taking gym selfies, although it was unsettling at first. “It made me feel incredibly vulnerable,” she recalls. “But nothing else was working to motivate myself. I thought that if I put myself out there, it might be the change I needed. And I was right.”
Not only did she lose the weight in about a year, but she also ended up becoming a certified personal trainer and nutritional therapy practitioner. Snapping a photo of herself nearly every day has been more of a boost than she ever anticipated. “I still feel like a goofball when I do it,” she says. “But now I can understand that there are serious benefits to something that can feel a little silly.”
Gym selfies, of the kind Pankow takes, are ubiquitous on social media, particularly on Instagram, and they range across all types of fitness endeavors — from yogis snapping pics of themselves in backbends to weightlifters capturing their form in the mirror. Despite some eye rolling from non-gym types, they actually confer some benefits.
1. THEY MAKE YOU ACCOUNTABLE
If you take an extra rest day and it turns into a week — and then a month — you may be kicking yourself for it later, but it’s not like everybody else knows it. Unless you share it online, of course. Although that might feel like a reason not to post your pics, that level of accountability can often be the push you need, says Sloane Davis, a certified nutritionist and personal trainer.
“The best way to get, and make, any type of change is to be accountable,” Davis says. “Part of that is keeping track of what you’re doing. When posting a gym selfie, you’re bound to get positive feedback, and that helps keep you accountable.”
2. IT’S VISUAL PROOF OF YOUR PROGRESS
Day-to-day efforts may feel like they don’t add up to much, but when you glance at selfies taken months — or even just weeks — before, you’ll be instantly struck by the difference. “You’re more than likely to be pleasantly surprised by how much your body has changed and how far you’ve come,” says Davis.
3. THEY CAN INSPIRE OTHERS
One aspect of gym selfies that Pankow didn’t expect was the outpouring of questions and appreciation from others on the site. As she took her own journey to fitness, she realized early on that others were paying careful attention as well. Sometimes, followers would tell her that one of her pics motivated them to make healthier eating decisions, or to skip happy hour in favor of the gym. In turn, that fueled Pankow’s fire even more.
“I’ve always been a big believer in small steps leading to great results,” Pankow says. “If someone takes a small step because of a selfie I posted, that’s humbling. And, it makes me work even harder.”
4. IT’S A FORM OF VIRTUAL SUPPORT
Even though you might never meet your followers on Instagram, they can often become closer to you than some of your in-person friends, Davis notes. Plus, they may be that vital sense of support and encouragement when you need it. In just a few months, Davis went from 3,000 followers to over 10,000. Her use of selfies seemed to keep that number ticking up, and she feels a sense of community whenever she posts one.
“If you’re having a bad day or feel like giving up, your followers could be the exact inspiration and motivation you may need to keep going,” she says.
5. IT ENCOURAGES LIVING IN THE PRESENT
Everyone has those days at the gym when PRs seem a long way off and routines can seem a little, well, routine. Those are the moments when Pankow makes sure to capture a selfie the most.
“It reminds me of why I’m here,” she says. “It causes me to be more present, to appreciate this opportunity to get fit and really enjoy this workout. That’s a lot packed into a selfie, I know, but it works.”