Use TikTok to build the perfect workout

Yes, you read that correctly—TikTok.
People looking at smartphone and working out
"So, this guy has some cool workouts but... Oh! A new dancing challenge!" Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

Even with gyms reopening at limited capacity, it’s still safer to exercise at home or outdoors. So, we’re dubbing this September Muscle Month to help you keep up your fitness, power, and health in socially distant times.

Within the bottomless pit of content that is TikTok, there’s a place where ripped people in sports gear stretch, run, jump, and squat—and they want you to do it, too. Congratulations, you made it to FitTok.

But TikTok is growing so fast that finding a content creator or even one exercise that works for you may seem like a daunting task. And the temptation to scroll endlessly through your “For You” page may be enough to dissuade you from even trying.

Don’t worry, though—with basic research skills and a solid strategy in mind, you’ll be able to sift through the noise and turn your new addiction into a more healthy habit.

Look for instruction more than inspiration

Like most social media, TikTok is a platform where people want to show who they are—the best, most exciting version of themselves. For a lot of those posting fitness content, this means showing off how much they can bench press, how far they can jump, or how spectacular their backflip is. There’s no doubt this is enthralling, double-tap-worthy content, but unless you’re an athlete or a fitness professional yourself, you probably won’t be able to equal many of these feats at home.

If you’re looking for something to help you get healthier and more active, or just an alternative to your current workout routine, look for tiktoks with specific instructions. That means something focused on one exercise, with a clear number of sets and reps.

A great workout tiktok will tell you how to adjust these numbers to match your fitness level, but simply having a concrete idea of what to do and how many times to do it will prevent you from overworking or injuring yourself. This is especially important if you’re a beginner.

Check for credentials

The fact that someone on TikTok can hold a plank for more than a minute without breaking a sweat doesn’t make them a fitness professional, so you should do some (mental) legwork before buying one of their programs or following their content with the intent of replicating it at home.

“You should be selective in who you listen to—you want to make sure they’re a professional,” says Sam Gach, a yoga teacher and fitness coach with more than 106,000 followers on TikTok. “If possible, try to check out the qualifications of the person posting.”

It’d be great if you could check a creator’s bio and see what it says about their qualifications, but the platform doesn’t make that easy.

“The bio section on TikTok is very small—you can barely write anything on it,” says Nina Nam, a Los Angeles-based fitness TikToker with nearly 220,000 followers. “I don’t [list my credentials], because I honestly think nobody cares. But for people who do care, it’s going to be hard to get that answer.”

If you want to make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate personal trainer or sports professional, Nam recommends asking them directly via TikTok’s messaging feature. But if someone has a vast following, that answer may never come. Your best chance is to do some digging online. Lots of creators have personal websites where they sell their programs or merchandise, but most of them are also highly active on Instagram, especially after TikTok’s ban scare. Start by checking there or on other social media platforms.

A common qualification may be a certificate from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (both Gach and Nam have one) or experience working in prominent gyms across the country. If you can’t find anything and your DMs go unanswered, you might want to swipe up and keep scrolling.

Focus on your form

Person doing sit-ups
Of course you know how to do a situp. But do you really? ShotPot / Pexels

One of the best things about exercising under the supervision of a professional is that you have someone there to correct your form. This isn’t a minor thing either—it’s possible you’ve been doing situps wrong your entire life or that you don’t know how hip and knee alignment can affect your leg thrusters.

But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely you’re exercising at home. Unless you can afford a personal trainer to oversee your workout via Zoom, you’re probably on your own. This is why it’s so important for fitness creators on TikTok to not only to show, but also explain how to do a particular movement.

“Generally, my idea of an effective workout tiktok is one that actually teaches viewers something,” says Gach.

These explainers may not be on every video—after all, most clips on the platform are 30 seconds long—but you should definitely look for them in the creator’s feed. If you can’t find any, try commenting on the videos you have questions about. As most TikTokers are constantly engaged with their audience in the comment section, you might even prompt the creator to post the video you need.

Try, try, and try again

There are a myriad of fitness accounts out there and you’ll be able to find lots of different types of exercises—that’s the beauty of TikTok, even if it’s slightly intimidating. But as with everything in life, the key to success is in trying things out until you find something that fits.

Nam considers her content to be a little more aggressive than the average workout TikToker. “I want people to feel strong and out of their heads,” she says. Gach, meanwhile, focuses on exercises and tutorials related to yoga, as well as tips for improving flexibility. These are two different approaches to a healthier lifestyle, and even within broad definitions such as these, there might be some things you like and others you don’t.

If you see a workout video you’re interested in, add it to your favorites list and try it out. It may be exactly what you need—or not. But you have options, and the perfect fitness content for you might be just a thumb swipe away.

Find something you truly like

This may seem obvious, but it’s actually not. A lot of people try particular exercises or workouts because they seem to be effective ways to achieve their goals—be that muscle building, endurance, or flexibility—but find they really hate them. If that sounds like you, don’t feel like you need to suffer to see gains.

“The best workout is always the one that you like,” says Nam. “Because the best exercise is the one you’ll stick to long-term. I think it’s a very personal choice.”

You should also enjoy the creator and their videos—the elements, music, effects, and editing. Nam has developed a personal style that she considers key to her vast following. Her fast-paced, funny, and visually stripped-down videos are easy to follow and have spawned a dedicated community, known as the “Bunnies.”

“I always listen to what they’re commenting and what they’re asking for, so whatever I feel is the most common request, I’ll make a video about that,” she explains.

Finding a creator that speaks to you, with content that fits your physical needs, may sound like looking for a needle in a haystack—and it kind of is. But TikTok is a big place and, even if you’re still searching for your fitness guru there, you may still find yourself in FrogTok—and that’s always worth it.