Ryan Tannady, a 22-year-old college student based in Jakarta, makes it a point to workout at least two times a week while on quarantine. When he’s not doing laps in a pool, he does a series of core and arm workouts on a gym mat spread on his bedroom floor. Directly across is a table with a phone playing a short video on repeat. Gyms are still closed but at least he has TikTok.
“I thought that the lockdown restrictions at home would make it difficult for me to workout. But TikTok users' posts are creating a fun and new way for me to stay healthy,” Ryan told VICE.
Like Ryan, millions of people around the world are now turning to TikTok for their workouts. It’s the latest trend to come out of the app, which is arguably social media’s biggest quarantine success story. According to SensorTower, 111.9 million people across the world downloaded the app (and its Chinese counterpart Douyin) in May 2020. In the United States alone, the number of users jumped from 22.2 million in January to 39.2 million in April, after coronavirus lockdowns started, according to Comscore data reported to Adweek.
The app is now where most viral trends start, from the frothy Dalgona coffee, to the Renegade dance. And now it’s given rise to FitTok, short workout and wellness videos that are equal parts exercise and viral internet trend. For many, they’ve taken the place of 30-minute workouts on YouTube.
Kristina De Villa, a 20-year-old college student in Manila, prefers FitTok’s shorter videos because they hold her attention for much longer.
“It makes it easier for me to watch the fitness videos without getting bored,” she said.
Kristina is a big fitness freak and tries to work out four to five times a week. On most days, she plays touch rugby with her friends or goes to the university gym to lift weights, but when she’s at home and wants a quick, easy work out, she turns to TikTok.
Kristina was part of Singapore's Under-18 touch rugby national team and tends to focus on videos that target her arms and her legs - muscles which are essential for the sport.
Her favourite FitTok influencer is Demi Bagby, a 19-year-old CrossFit athlete and bodybuilder.
Demi has a total of 11.8 million followers on TikTok, and over 208 million likes. She posts workout tutorials, as well as impressive videos of herself doing backflips and speed-running. Her videos are usually focused on strengthening specific body parts. While they're pretty straightforward workouts, the videos have "TikTok" written all over them.
She demonstrates each move and writes the corresponding number of reps in large on-screen captions. In the TikTok below, she’s doing a routine for a leg-focused workout while bopping to Justin Beiber’s "Intentions," ending with a cute smile with her dog.
Even vloggers who made their name on YouTube are turning to TikTok. Cassey Ho, the woman behind Blogilates, one of the most well-known fitness channels on YouTube, now has condensed versions of her pilates-inspired HIIT routines.
An up-and-coming FitTokker, Sarah Anne, has 61.6K followers and calls herself the "Queen of Fitness." She shares videos of herself at the gym, workout tutorials, and lots of food recipes that help her keep fit.
But what really sets TikTok fitness videos apart are the challenges. Like TikTok’s dance videos, these usually entail stunts that are seemingly impossible, but actually easy enough for people to replicate.
Sarah Anne popularised the #dragonflagchallenge, an intense core workout where she lifts her legs high up and slowly lets it down. The hashtag now has over 1.3 million views.
"I've actually tried the "one-hand-two-hand challenge" with my friend, which was super funny because it took us forever to get it right! The music was so fast and we felt so tired after completing it. It was a good change from our usual gym workouts," Kristina said.
One of the most popular challenges is the “push-ups of your age challenge,” that TikToker Eli Spirit King started in March. Since he was 23, he did five standard push ups, five military push ups, six diamond push ups, and finished with seven dead army hand push ups.
The video now has 4.7 million views, over 500,000 likes, and countless “duets,” or when users post a video of themselves doing the challenge with a split-screen of the original video.
Kevin T. Edmonson Jr., another FitToker, started the “push up and plank challenge,” that has people switching between the two moves to the remix of the song “Betty Boop.” Singer Carrie Underwood followed suit and posted her own video doing the challenge.
For many, duets are a way to connect with loved ones despite not being physically together during quarantine. Like many trends to come up in recent months, FitTok is as much about getting physically fit, as it is about seeking online interactions that make people feel less isolated.
“The workout challenges are fun because once I accomplish it, I feel so proud of myself,” Ryan said. “I often do the workout challenges with my family too, so we can all push each other to stay fit.”
Find Miran on Instagram.