The Four Tiers of YouTube Fitness Content
YouTube fitness content is extremely varied — the tagline for this article isn’t an exaggeration at all. You can find fake gurus who over promise, cite made-up studies, have zero actual experience, prescribe downright dangerous exercises and gain followers through dramatic clout-chasing self-aggrandizing antagonistic and inflammatory videos built to merely get clicks.
You can also find some of the best sources of free fitness information on the web. People who teach you how to logically set up a training plan or inspire you to push harder towards your own goals. They’ll give you the principles of dieting, the structure of a weekly progression, the concepts that will allow you to have the tools to coach yourself effectively and efficiently.
This type of content, while extremely clickable, often provides little benefit beyond a nice dopamine release or entertainment. It might be a response video, or a call-out, or some other form of drama. We just love watching a good argument, don’t we?
It’s in our blood — we’re still pretty damn tribal underneath this civilized facade.
“Day in the life” vlog style of content also falls into this category. Are you really learning all that much from watching your favorite creator go shopping, then drive around, then go to the gym, then go home? I mean, really? It might be entertaining, but be honest about how much you are actually improving yourself by consuming this type of content. The answer is probably very little.
Challenge workouts are also definitely in this category. Watching two grown ass men do a navy seals workout is entertaining, but there’s very little in terms of actionable information for you to take away from it. It’s not a real workout. They didn’t train like that to get the body they have. It’s pure entertainment.
Eating challenges are even less educational. I’ve heard people justify consuming this content by saying that “it helps me count my macros”. That’s a stretch. Of the things you could do if you really wanted to learn how to improve your diet, watching someone chow down on 20, 000 calories in a single day isn’t really high on that list. In fact, it’s probably counterproductive. It’s entertaining, but that’s about the extent of the value it brings.
Perhaps “shit” is a bit strong, but all of these types of content really are not going to help you get towards your fitness goals. Feel free to click away — after all, this style of content is by far the most “mass appealing” by far — but realize that you are pissing away your valuable time.
A step up from wallowing in the lowest tier is the noob tier. This is content specifically aimed for beginners.
Full workouts are a popular type of content, where a creator just takes you along for a normal workout that they are doing. This is significantly better than a “challenge” workout, as at least it’s actually a real workout! However, I think it’s important to realize that if someone is a “fitness influencer” it’s likely that they’ve been training longer than you, probably have better muscle building genetics than you and quite possibly are on anabolic steroids as well.
This means that you are observing “survival bias”, and there’s a very good chance that you should not train the same way as your hero. Everything from your technique to your exercise selection to your overall structure of the training should likely be way different.
“Natty or not” videos are when a creator speculates on whether a peer in the industry or a famous celebrity has used performance enhancing drugs or not. This is some of the most clickable, controversial and overwatched content in fitness. The first few of these you watch, sure…maybe you ARE getting some information out of, like what might be attainable naturally, or what compounds they might be taking.
However, there is a very large “grey zone” where it’s extremely difficult for ANYONE, even these self-proclaimed gurus, to tell if someone is actually natural or not. Plus, how does this help YOU? Even if someone gets the “natty” stamp of approval, that probably isn’t attainable to YOU. It’s just drama, clickbait bullshit and for the most part is a waste of your time.
Another extremely popular style of content is the “Follow along workout”. This is especially popular amongst women, and can be a good way to get in a decent workout. But the main drawback is that you aren’t really learning all that much. You are just following a character on the screen, who almost certainly is not actually conveying the nuance of what you are doing. It’s a good way to get into fitness, but it’s a shame if you stay there.
Plus, a lot of these workouts are “suboptimal”. I am really holding back on using stronger language here.
Watching some 400lb monster deadlift a house is great. However, how much do you really get out of watching these “big lift” videos? Perhaps you might get some insights into their setup or technique, but much of this is individual and the carryover to your actual training is limited. Probably the only real benefit is a lesson in humility.
Noob tier is a fine place to start your fitness journey. If that’s what it takes to get you going, fair play. I’m not talking down to anyone here, because consuming this content and getting momentum is really important — and a hell of a lot better than nothing at all!
A step up, this type of content actually provides real value. It does require more thought on your part, but that’s a big part of the benefit.
First up, we have technique videos. These usually focus on a specific lift, going over some pointers for you in varying levels of detail. While less “clickable” than the above tiers, these can be absolute gold for both beginner and intermediate lifters, especially those without a coach. Video content really is very helpful here.
Similarly, videos discussing training splits such as push/pull/legs or upper/lower are very useful. Again, you have to be a lot more intellectually involved than watching an eating challenge, but that’s not a bad thing. This helps to give you the tools to coach yourself. You can take these templates and apply them to your own training, experiment with them and see what works for you.
I’d put “peer reviews” in this category as well, as long as they are objective, fair and undramatic. By getting a new source of fitness information or knowing who to avoid, it’s easier to navigate the troubled waters of YouTube fitness content.
Finally, basically any specific content with regards to fitness, training or diet goes in this category. If it’s talking about one lift or recipe or split or advanced technique or fat loss strategy or creator, it goes firmly in the excellent category, because it’s educational, useful and helpful content that actually can make you better.
Top tier content is often a bit more general. Instead of just talking about one specific lift or food or whatever, it presses that “zoom out” button a few times to give you a better look at what is going on. This means that it’s harder to follow along, and some types of content in this category might actually take a few times of watching in order to fully grasp how to effectively apply it to your own life.
Excellent fitness content focuses on the “what” or “which”.
Superb content focuses on the “why”, or “how” or “when”.
Not just what exercises to do for chest, but why they are good, how to program them into your training, or when to change them up so that you keep adapting. It’s many layers deeper.
It’s also many times less popular.
Most people want to be told what to do.
They want to be told what to think.
They would rather not be given the tools that allow them to think for themselves, thank you very much! That sounds like a lot of work, man.
All in all, there’s nothing wrong with starting at noob tier. Call it “novice” if the word noob gets your panties in a twist, and swap the word panties for pantaloons if that just offended you. Heck, consume only shit tier if you want. I won’t stop you. Mostly because I can’t.
But hey, it’s up to you. If you value entertainment over education, that’s not the end of the world. Just be honest with yourself over what it actually is, and don’t claim that you are consuming that fiftieth “natty or not” or “10k calorie binge” because it’s teaching you something.
Now reach down there, forcefully untwist your pantaloons, and step up your content consumption game!