I can’t stop watching fitness influencers risk life and limb for viral fame

People have been embarking on outlandish exercises in the gym for views, and the trend has reached a boiling point.

Perhaps you’ve seen a video come across your timeline of someone — usually in peak physical shape — performing some sort of exercise that should alarm everyone in their immediate vicinity. Typically, these videos will be accompanied with a caption that reads something along the lines of: “What is bro training for??”

And if you haven’t seen one, well:

Shown above is Matthias Mckinnon, a fitness influencer that offers training and other workout-related resources to the masses, even if its hard to imagine, based on the absurd content found in his Instagram and TikTok feeds, someone like this offering banal advice on squat form. It all begs the question: What exactly is bro training for?

Most of the comments are usually jokes that suggest Mckinnon is readying himself to fight a fictional superhero from the Marvel or DC universe.

The simple answer to that question is: internet clout. A year ago, Mckinnon was posting relatively normal content. He was still lifting a formidable amount of weight, but it was just that — a strong man displaying his strength in conventional ways. These sorts of posts can get lost within a sea of content at the time, which were racking up modest engagement (at least when compared to his more recent, viral escapades).

The danger zone — Things shifted around the December 2021, when Mckinnon started uploading Santa-themed workouts. One in particular served as a jumping off point for the more dangerous content that he has become known for. During the video, Mckinnon is suspended in midair, and two other people (also dressed up like Santa) strike his abdomen with hammers.

A portion of Mckinnon’s videos will be preceded with a disclaimer (at least on TikTok) that users should not attempt to recreate any of the exercises. While captivating, and obviously impressive, these workouts probably pose a risk to anyone who might even think of doing something on a similar scale. But that danger hasn’t stopped a wave of other fitness content creators from integrating similar stunts into their brand.

Take itsdreamsworl, another influencer, who, based off the feats of strength he accomplishes in his videos, has me convinced he could actually challenge Thanos. The antics are certainly more tame than anything done by Mckinnon, but anything that would command the attention of an entire gym is pretty effective for courting an audience on social media.

I’m always taking phone calls like this.

Officialdflex, a contortionist based out of Atlanta also went viral last month by merging his flexibility with the weight room. The majority of his content was already shocking, he’s able to flex his limbs in ways very few people on the planet can do. Doing so in the confines of a gym has helped access a wider audience, though.

Viral stunts obviously aren’t new — Jackass has been around for ages. But the major difference between these stunts and early prank videos like Jackass, is that the latter was at least replicable by anyone off the street (if they had enough disregard for their own safety). On the other hand, something tells me Johnny Knoxville won’t be bench-pressing a couch anytime soon.

The viral spiral — Are these “workouts” dangerous? Yes. It doesn’t take an expert to surmise that one shouldn’t be lifting weights while also lifting outdoor furniture, no matter how strong they are. But the danger, in this case, kind of is the point. Whether we like to admit it or not, we love to watch people live “on the edge” even if the “edge” in this case is actually two huge tractor tires.

Call it schadenfreude, call it reality testing, it doesn’t really matter. Nothing can stop humans from risking life and limb for fame, and likewise, nothing can stop us from watching every second of it.