Anyone who exercises in any capacity probably does so to better their health and improve how they look. While we can always say we simply feel better after exercising for some time, one of the best ways to properly track progress is to take photos.
These ‘before’ and ‘after’ images are a great tool for noticing any changes in your body, such as an increase in muscular size, a decrease in body fat, or improved muscle definition. Some people also find them very inspiring. They can, however, be a source of serious debate when they are shared on social media. In fact, some people believe we shouldn’t use them as a tool anymore at all.
Enter: the following before and after images recently posted to Instagram by Australian fitness program entrepreneur (and former bachelor) Sam Wood, owner of the 28 by Sam Wood, an at-home fitness program consisting of workouts and meal plans. 28 by Sam Wood recently released an 8-week program, designed to get you into the best shape of your life in a short time frame. In a recent Instagram post, Sam shares that he used the program himself to improve his fitness.
Sam captioned the post, “You might recognise this bloke…..Last year I was sick of going through the motions so on the first of September I joined my own 8 week challenge and these are the results.”
“I made a decision and I went for it and I cannot believe how much better I feel. Forget how I look. It’s how I feel. More energy, better mood, more confidence, sleeping better, more productive. Feeling better mentally and physically in every way. I needed a circuit breaker. I needed to get out of a rut.”
While there has been an outpouring of support for Sam’s post – “Love it mate”, “I need to do this” and “Leading by example” – there have been a few other comments thrown his way questioning the whole ‘before’ and ‘after’ image approach.
The majority of the comments revolve around the fact Sam didn’t use the same pose in both images, and many believe him to be forcibly pushing out his stomach in the first one (something Sam denies in a follow up video).
“It would be more authentic if you held the same posture in both photos, rather than sticking out your stomach in the first?” one wrote.
Another comment read: “Ok I’m all for exercising to feel better, and sustainable change not ‘quick fixes’ or diet culture. But someone has to say we can’t be serious with this before and after posture/angle/lighting…I hope that ‘quick fix’ challenge expectations don’t lead people down the wrong path.”
Sam replied to the comments, adding, “To the sceptics and the haters it’s all good I get it. The photo on the left is me and it was taken in the last week of August last year. I’m not sticking my guts out. They were just out and my posture was many of things suffering.”
“I’m not sharing this as a marketing ploy. I’m sharing it to show that I’m real and was struggling like so many others as so many assume that as a fitness guy I’m always in good shape. It was scary and confronting to share a pic that I hate looking at but once it’s out there, it’s actually incredibly empowering and liberating.”
“This is me. This is real. This is the sh*t I share with my 28ers on a daily basis. If you don’t like it, unfollow, move on and happy new year x.”
We’re not here to comment on the pictures themselves, we’re more interested in discussing how helpful before and after images actually are in the current climate we’re living in. It’s a tough one with some people saying Sam’s photos made the idea of getting after it less intimidating, and seem more attainable, inspiring them to have a crack at starting an exercise program themselves.
Others argue that when you post a ‘before’ and ‘after’ image, you’re effectively suggesting looking out of shape is wrong. They say that for someone who may struggle to lose weight, or put on muscle, seeing these images might make them feel bad about themselves, with the idea being that the worse you feel about yourself the less likely you are to begin exercising, as depression makes people lose motivation. According to this school of thought, body positivity is actually key to getting overweight or out-of-shape people inspired to exercise.
It’s a tricky issue, as different people respond differently, with some being inspired to make hugely positive changes to their lives thanks to ‘before’ and ‘after’ images of people like Sam Wood or tough love rants by fitness gurus like David Goggins, and others simply being made sad or intimidated by them.
There are clearly two sides to this debate. On one hand, you have people like Washington DC-based fitness instructor Chad Raymond, who previously told DMARGE: “I hate the glorification of obesity and tha we’re supposed to accept being inside an unhealthy body.”
“It’s OK to love yourself, but you should always want to improve. As a fitness professional, it’s frustrating!”
On the other, you have those who are criticising Sam Woods just for posting a ‘before’ and ‘after’ photo of himself (and who wasn’t talking about or holding up anyone else as an example, only himself).
Sam Wood has previously spoken to DMARGE about the impact social media has on our fitness goals. He told DMARGE in 2020: “The danger is you are often drawn to someone’s aesthetic rather than their qualifications and knowledge. It tends to show you lots of exercises that look fantastic but don’t necessarily have any functional benefit to you.”
“I love that seeing a physique that you would love to have is perhaps the catalyst for getting people moving, but people absolutely need to understand that these freak fitness physiques should not be what we are aiming to have.”
“People should be focusing on being healthy and strong far before worrying about what they look like from an aesthetic perspective.”
Sam also touched on this in a follow-up Instagram post – a video where he answers the criticism he received on his before and after post – and said much of his transformation was about his energy levels and where he was at mentally, not just physically.
“To the haters that have never met you and all the ‘experts’ with no idea,” Sam wrote. “Having success in anything is hard. Really hard. So here’s to using our energy to support and love each other while also improving ourselves rather than sitting around doing very little except take others down.”
The gist of the video was basically that he was trying to be honest and vulnerable with the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photo, and was genuinely hoping his experience over that 8-9 weeks would inspire other people who had ended up feeling a little bit “groundhog day” over the last couple of years with the challenges COVID-19 has brought. He wasn’t trying to shame anyone (as some people wrongly claimed) but just share his own personal experience. He wasn’t trying to shame himself either or say how he was before was wrong – but rather share his feeling of pride for turning his energy levels and fitness around.
An influx of comments below the video can be seen from supportive commenters and fans encouraging him to “keep it real” and telling him he shouldn’t have to explain himself and that they understood the real intention of the previous post all along.
To give you an idea, one such comment included: “You have always supported 28ers when faced with social media rubbish. Sending back stacks of love and know it will only make u shine 10000x brighter. The real ‘followers’ will always have your back Sammy xx.”
Andy Anderson, change expert and founder of the Ultimate You Change Centres, has also previously told DMARGE how the ideal male body has been influenced by what we see on platforms such as Instagram.
“Over the last five years or so, it’s become more of a social norm that men work out, have more lean muscle mass and are focused on being strong,” he said.
“There are definitely more men who want that lean, toned, harder look. But I think what’s missing is the understanding of what it takes to achieve it!”
Andy added that ultimately, we should be more focused on our physical health than our physical appearance (something Sam is a proponent of too). “We should ask ourselves: ‘Do I feel good? Is my energy increasing? Am I sustaining my momentum during the day? Do I feel happier? Do I have more clarity? Do I feel more motivated? And not just: ‘What do I look like?'”
Food for thought.
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