"Round butt + burn fat + toned legs": A content analysis of popular at-home youtube fitness videos


Background: As a result of COVID-19, engagement with virtual forms of exercise instruction spiked – particularly on YouTube. As such, the most popular fitness creators on YouTube boast millions of subscribers and views on their videos. Hence, these videos are influential in shaping social understanding of fitness and exercise. However, an analysis of the content of these videos has yet to be conducted. Purpose: To analyse the ways in which visual and verbal content is used to shape ideas around fitness, fitness goals, and "health". Methods: An environmental scan was conducted to identify eligible channels. Fifteen channels were identified for extraction. The top five most popular (i.e., relevant) videos for each channel were selected. Codes were iteratively derived by the authors across several meetings. Transcripts and visual data from the 75 videos were coded using NVivo 12 and thematically analysed. Results: Overwhelmingly, YouTube fitness content was aimed at a female audience, and framed fitness "goals" as calories burned, weight loss, and the augmentation of specific body parts. Exercise was presented prescriptively as a set of exercises to be conducted within a pre-set time. Importantly, the idea of "health" as achieved through fitness, is largely absent from these videos; rather, the explicit and implicit purpose of fitness is aesthetic (young, thin, attractive). Conclusions: Popular YouTube fitness videos convey a unidimensional idea of fitness and fitness goals. The images and discourse presented in these videos reproduce the normative aesthetic ideals of fitness, akin to contemporary digital platforms (i.e., Instagram).

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to acknowledge Kelsey Sick, Anisa Morava, and Katarina Huelleman for their contribution to the conception of the project.