So you’ve been making some gains in the gym and you want everyone to know. How do you stand the best chance of your pictures and videos being seen, liked and commented on? How do you grow your Instagram following and attract attention whilst not boring people?
Instagram is awesome. Lifting is awesome. It’s no surprise that Instagram is full of pictures and videos of athletic individuals lifting things or just looking hench and athletic. But how does the committed powerlifter or strength athlete best showcase themselves, build an audience and avoid any detriment to their training?
Your goal might be to become an Instagram influencer with a huge network and potential sponsorship deals; it might just be to record a visual log of your training. Either way, here are our 10 top tips from our experience and the data:
- Master the algorithm
First off, if you’re interested in growing your Instagram account, it’s important to note that the platform adopted a non-chronological algorithm in June 2016. Whilst this might sound complicated, it just means that Instagram chose to stop showing you anything and everything shared by the accounts you followed.
Instagram has evolved and like its parent company Facebook, now uses a complex formula to determine which posts appear on your news feed. It tries to only show you pictures and videos it thinks will not only interest you, but also keep you on Instagram for longer. The more views, likes, comments and shares your content receives, the better it scores amongst all the content someone could be shown, and the more it appears on newsfeeds.
- Craft your brand identity
Short of developing an entire social media strategy and content calendar, it’s smart for any Instagram user to create their personal brand. For many strength athletes, their sport or general strength is likely to play a key role in their personal brand but it’s important to craft a well-rounded identify with several layers.
Decide which features comprise your personal brand and stick to your real voice and values. These should be apparent from your bio, profile picture and through the content you share. Having an identity helps prospective followers quickly find you, understand your vibe and decide whether they want to follow you.
It also helps you stay consistent with your brand when thinking about how and what to share, so you don’t post anything that will confuse your following. Above all, stay genuine. Don’t post anything because you feel like you should.
- Take better photos
Elevate the quality of your entire account by simply learning how to take high quality photos. Visuals are super important on Instagram and the better quality they are, the better your personal brand.
Obviously, blurry or pixelated images are a no-go and the object of the photo must be clear to someone scrolling their feed quickly. Improve your image composition by using the rule of thirds, which is when you split the image into a 3×3 grid and focus key parts of the image on the lines or intersections. There’s a grid setting in iPhones to help you with this fundamental composition technique.
In general, the data suggests that lighter images outperform darker images and those with a colder, bluish tone are better than warmed, reddish images. Taking an image with an unusual angle often helps attract someone’s attention to something they might see every day. A 2014 study showed that images with your face in are likely to outperform those that don’t by way of likes and comments, so don’t forget to smile!
- Set the scene
If you’re serious about getting your Instagram game on point, cover the basics – a little can go a long way. Framing each shot is everything, so use a tripod or at the very least get a phone stand. Edit your lift videos so they don’t have a super long set up, and crop after you put the bar down. Attention spans are short so arrive at the main event faster.
Before you click post, check what’s going on in the background of your pictures. A mirror shot with a messy bed behind you or a lift video with people in the way won’t give the impression you want. Plan each shot like you’re a brand of your own and your Instagram feed (and followers) will thank you for it.
- Be consistent
Consistency is crucial to building your Instagram account. In general, the more regularly you can post, the better, if you can maintain the quality. Every post can earn you more reach, engagement and followers. Every post can alert someone new to your account.
Once you’re sorted with your image and video quality, work on being consistent in your content style and theme. You could choose a specific colour scheme, always post from a certain spot in your gym or use the same filters for each post.
If you get really good at this, your content will start to have a signature style that your followers will recognise instantly. This is proof that you’re building a valuable personal brand and you’re much more likely to attract engagement from your fans.
- Hashtag well
To stand the best chance of your post being seen, use a variety of hashtags ranging from those that have been used frequently (250,000+ uses), more niche and lesser-known ones (50,000-100,000 uses), to those very niche ones (<50,000 uses). This is to combine the chance of your post being seen by someone searching a commonly used tag with your post appearing in the top posts section of a niche hashtag. The bigger your account, the more likely you are to appear in the most popular posts of popular tags.
Once you start typing a hashtag you’ll see the number of times it has been used. The key to visibility on Instagram is being in the top 9 for that hashtag. We love Display Purposes for perfectly planned hashtagging.
You can use up to 30 hashtags in every post but you can’t copy and paste the same ones every time – that’s a sure-fire away to get shadow banned, which is Instagram’s way of telling you off for spamming.
Naturally, if you’re posting a lot of gym and lifting content, you’ll use the same hashtags a lot; however, mixing up at least four or five each time avoids a penalty and might get you in front of new audiences.
- Leave your ego at the gym door
In the grand scheme of life – powerlifters, weightlifters and strength athletes are strong human beings. However, there’s pressure from all sides to get stronger and compete with all the other strong human beings on Instagram. It can be difficult not to get caught up in all the personal bests you see and avoid chasing them yourself, which can lead to overreaching and sub-optimal training.
Ego lifting can result in performing non-comp standard lifts like half squats, or doing too much overload work such as block pulls, so the weight on the bar is Insta-worthy. It might also make you push yourself harder than your programme prescribes, thereby messing up the plan and performing grindy reps.
If you compete or are planning to compete, I recommend only sharing competition standard lifts on your Instagram. Squats that are above parallel, hitchy deadlifts and bum-raised bench presses won’t get you white lights on the platform, so don’t build yourself a reputation for lifting outside the rules. Refs have Instagram too and they probably subscribe to the same hashtags you do.
Ego is the enemy here, and it’s far more impressive to see a competition-standard lift with less weight on the bar but great form than one that would never pass if referees were watching.
- Showcase the gym
Until we have a fully comprehensive, worldwide directory of all the best strength gyms in the world, Instagram is a great way for travelling athletes to have a peek inside other people’s gyms and plan their trips accordingly. Set your pictures and videos up so that we can see more of the gym, or shoot a tour around it. Use Instagram’s location tagging to tag where you’re training, too.
- Mix it up
If lifting is not 100% of your life, don’t make it 100% of your Instagram. Intersperse your images with pictures and videos of your other interests. Include what you do during the day, your friends and family and your trips away. The best strength athletes on Instagram show that they have a personality and a life outside the gym.
Whilst they might not get as much engagement as your lifting pics (or maybe they’ll get more!), being a well-rounded person with a wide range of interests gives you more of an identity online and helps you find common ground with your followers beyond squats.
- Focus on your own game
If you have a competition coming up, it’s really important not to let other athletes in your category throw you off your game. It doesn’t matter what someone else is repping for a triple, it doesn’t matter when someone else does their last heavy squat. Paying attention to how someone else is training can only serve to throw you off your own track or play in the back of your mind, so make use of Instagram’s mute button to keep them off your radar, even if only temporarily.
As well as focusing on your own game and not the lifting of others, don’t give your rivals the chance to predict your numbers. Surprise the masses on the platform, where it really counts, instead of sharing your PBs beforehand. Especially if you’re in medal contention alongside other lifters, keep quiet about what you can and can’t do to ensure you have the maximum knowledge and competitive advantage on comp day.
Building that personal brand, showcasing your best work and avoiding the pitfalls of being an active Instagram user is one of the challenges of the modern-day strength athlete. Use these tips above to get the balance right and supercharge your account!