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5 Ways Social Media Can Be Toxic for Athletes (and how to fix them)

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Social media isn’t going away. Sure, sometimes it’s tempting to jettison the cell phone out the car window while driving down the interstate. At times we probably all fantasize about a world completely devoid of technology, but for most of us, the positives of social media usually outweigh the negatives. We can stay up-to-date with old friends, find inspiration, and follow what’s going on in the world. All the same, social media can have a negative impact on your training and sport performance. So, if we’re not going to give up social media entirely, that means we have to learn to live with it.

Here are four common ways social media can be toxic for athletes, and how to address them.

You’re constantly comparing yourself to others.

If you find yourself getting upset or jealous when you see on social media that a friend won a race or hit a goal time, then it might be time to take a big step back. Remember, social media is primarily a person’s curated highlight reel.

What to do instead: Spread support, not jealousy. Instead of being jealous of someone’s athletic achievement, get stoked. Leave compliments and congratulations. Being an athlete is not a zero sum game. You can support others’ success and have your own, too. If someone’s social media presence consistently bugs you, or makes you get down on yourself, the solution is simple: hit the unfollow button.

You’re wasting a lot of time.

This one’s pretty self-explanatory, yet many of us are guilty of spending too much time on our phones. For Time-Crunched Athletes, this can cut into already limited time for working out, stretching, and sleeping. Looking at screens before going to sleep is one of the worst things you can do for your sleep quality.

What to do instead: Set boundaries. No social media before 8am or after 9pm. Download apps that limit your time on Instagram, Facebook, etc. Try to make your time on social media “quality” time – i.e. interacting and posting rather than mindlessly scrolling.

You’re doubting your training plan because Jerry on Strava rode 100 miles today.

This is a huge trap for athletes. We already get anxious when we take time away from our sport, or when we need more than one rest day. And seeing what everyone else is doing on the Internet can exacerbate the problem. We fear we’re falling behind or cheating ourselves by not doing as much as so-and-so, even if so-and-so is at a completely different phase of their season!

What to do instead: Trust your program and trust the process. Remember that Jerry takes rest days too; he just doesn’t post about them on Instagram. If you find yourself consistently doubting your plan, that is something you should talk about with your coach. They’ll probably tell you to log out of Twitter and focus on yourself.

Your need to document your workout is a distraction

Are you staring at Instagram between sets in the gym? Are you pulling your phone out to take pictures ten times during your ride? If so, these habits are probably diminishing your performance.

What to do instead: Leave your phone behind when possible, or at least put it on silent. Set boundaries and stick to them. For example: No pictures except on weekend fun rides. Strive to be more aware of when you are logging on to social media, including the times when doing so might be inappropriate. And then work on changing that habit.

Your self worth is tied to Strava leaderboards.

Strava can be really fun, and there’s nothing wrong with going out and working hard to get some QOMs/KOMs and personal bests. But at the end of the day, it should be fun. If you beat yourself up about being at the bottom of the leaderboard, well, that’s just not a good use of your energy.

What to do instead: If the leaderboards are a source of stress or negative emotions, focus instead on the tab marked “Your previous results.” Try to beat your past self, and don’t worry about what others are doing.

Syd Schulz is a professional enduro racer. You can find more on her blog or on Instagram — or, what the heck, Strava


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Comments 5

  1. Haven’t been bit by the Strava bug.
    Training is training and race day is for racing in my world. I can’t imagine turning local pieces of road into ITT’s for bragging rights. Seems counter to the way I was taught about racing and training over the course of 30+ years….

  2. A very well written article is just what we all needed. I find that Strava has ended the great “group ride” as we’ve known it.

  3. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News | Thurs, Dec 13 | Ultrarunnerpodcast.com

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