The Complete Guide to Becoming an Instagram Influencer - Coach and Athlete Edition


In this article I will share with you my best practices for Instagram growth, all of which have helped me amass over 30,000 followers across my business and personal accounts.

Whether you are a strength coach, personal trainer, or aspiring athlete who is looking to increase online marketability, connect with companies and other influencers, or simply grow your passion for fitness into something more, this should a good kick-start for success.

We will discuss:

  1. Why you should even care about growing your Instagram following in the first place
  2. What your Instagram analytics mean, and where to find them
  3. How to review your Instagram performance objectively
  4. Four types of Instagram posts you should be doing
  5. The most common mistakes beginner influencers are making on Instagram
  6. My TOP Instagram secrets to success

Why Should You Even Care?

Before we dive into this comprehensive how-to guide for building a better following on Instagram, we first need to clarify exactly why you should care in the first place.

As a personal trainer, strength coach, and entrepreneur, I was (and still am) looking for ways to increase the amount of lives I can positively impact AND increase my financial and personal freedom (so I can put bread on the table, travel, pay bills, set up a future, etc.).

Online programming and training has taken off in the past few years, and like any smart businessperson I know, I had to adapt my style to keep up with the trends.

Moving parts of my business toward online training programs and team apps made my work 100% more scalable: more opportunities for financial growth, decreased amount of time spent per new customer (win/win).

Social media, specifically Instagram, has been one of the best referral sources to my website, blog articles, and online training programs/subscriptions. Without a strong presence and plan for growth on Instagram, I would be missing out on future business opportunities, financial growth and income, and ultimately a lifestyle that allows me to do a good portion of my work remotely (personal freedom).

TrainHeroic was my game changer...

Platforms that enable me to program for 20, 30, and even 70 athletes at once (with most accounts, you can have UNLIMITED athletes) has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my business. They:

  • Allow me to offer my ongoing programming and individual workout plans to Instagram followers and clients
  • Make the administrative aspect of online training easy (TrainHeroic has handled all billing, payment collection, and payouts).
  • Provide me with a way to scale my business online (financial and personal freedom at its finest).
  • Give me a technology-based platform to offer my programs, either online or via mobile app (scalability).

As you can see, TrainHeroic has been a valuable tool for me to increase my financial growth as an online coach.

In the below sections I will walk you through the exact steps I have taken to increase my exposure on Instagram and translate it into greater financial and personal freedom in conjunction with using software like TrainHeroic.

Review Your Instagram Performance

Like any performance review, you must first determine exactly what you have been doing in the first place, and if it has been working toward your goals. Since you are reading this, I’m assuming your goals are to gain more traffic on Instagram posts, increase comments and likes, gain more followers, and build a better online presence to showcase your training business, brand, or sports team/department.

Below is a step-by-step guide to reviewing your Instagram performance.

1. Activate Instagram “Business” Account and Facebook Page

Go into your profile and be sure your account is set to “business.” This will allow you to unlock a slew of analytics and add direct contact information for your followers to reach out.

This will then ask you to set up a Facebook page for your account, which can easily be done by any individual or business. Once you have set up your Facebook page, you should see your account type under your profile name. For example, my personal account is set with my personal Facebook page (different from my personal profile). You can tell by the word, “Writer” under my username.


2. View Your Best Posts and Stories

You can easily browse your top posts and stories from the past week, month, or year and filter stats to determine which ones had the most views, likes, comments, etc.

These are useful as they offer you feedback and direction on what types of content (see below) are performing best. Once you gain insight about the best types of content, you can start to produce more of it.


3. Know Your Instagram Demographic

You will get a breakdown of the age ranges, gender, and even geographic locations of your followers, which is very helpful when determining content and the “voice” you write your posts in.

For example, my best posts seem to be me lifting an odd, heavy object while showing some muscle. This makes sense because most of my followers are males (73%), ages 25-34 years old, which I assume are all interested in gettig fit and gaining muscle and strength.

Since I have data on demographic, I can adjust my wording and post types to keep them interested. You can also use the information to see if your posts are reaching individuals who you are hoping to reach.


4. Post Timing (Is It Important?)

I get asked a lot about whether or not there are better days and times to post on Instagram.

My first answer is: consistency is the secret, so be sure to get into a routine of posting 1-3 times a day.

This typically means morning, early afternoon (post workout), and sometimes evenings. You can use the analytics to see what days and times are better for your posts, as well as use the geographic data to determine what time zones your most active audiences are in.

Create Better Instagram Content

Creating a content plan for Instagram doesn’t need to be rocket science, but it should include a plan of action based on the above information. Below are some content ideas that have worked for me and my clients in the past, most of them specific to the strength and conditioning/fitness industry.

1. Workout Posts

I have had pretty good success with pairing my day-to-day training, partially for my followers to gain motivation and workout ideas, but also for me to document my own training in an online “journal.”

These posts are almost daily, often starting out with me listing my thoughts and emotions on that day toward how things felt, the workout, or mindset. It is then followed up with the specific workout that was performed to offer some programming ideas for my followers and peers.

One of my most successful posts of 2017 was a workout video and analysis I did recapping one of the CrossFit Open workouts. While I am by no means an elite athlete or CrossFitter, I did offer my two cents on things I would have done differently, what worked, and what I would suggest others try to do to maximize their score.

2. Educational Posts

These types of posts can be more time consuming since you want to be sure to word your post correctly and cover all your bases. I really like doing this with certain slow-motion lifts or movement.

I typically will outline the post in my head, offering the reader the video demo, potential benefits of performing the exercise, what things to watch out for, and how to include it in their own training.

I find it best to then have a call to action where I ask them to take a look at my full article that I wrote on the same topic/exercise by visiting my website link in my bio page.

3. Motivational/Success Story Post

This can be any type of motivation post, meme, quote, or transformation story. These are there to offer another level of depth to your feed and to show your followers first hand that your methods and training/coaching can help them with their goals.

Maybe this is sharing a client success story, your weight loss or muscle gain success, or simply posting some videos of your latest competition (or your team's). The idea here is to show the end result of your (or your client's/team's) dedication so others can see that the goal is 100% attainable. 

4. Instagram Swipe Stories

Swipe stories are the newest thing on Instagram, which are kind of like Snapchat, but better (in my opinion).

They are typically done with the intention to offer a quick, more personalized follower experience, showing your followers what you have been up to in the last 24 hours. With filters and the ability to write on videos or pictures (and even add hyperlinks to content), swipe stories can be another way to build a better experience for your followers.

I typically will do snapshots of upcoming posts, special announcements, screenshots of funny texts messages with athletes or clients, behind the scenes look at life, or links to events, programs, or feature blog posts.

Avoid Common Instagram Mistakes

These are generally accepted as some things to avoid if you are trying to build a community and following through your Instagram account.

As a coach and athlete, my goal is to inspire, educate, and converse with those who are interested (or curious) about similar things I am. By not committing these mistakes you will be able to build out your Instagram following with real followers that are truly interested in what you have to say.

1. Poor Lighting and Audio

We all know dark pictures or videos when we see them, and often tend to skip right past them on our feeds. When we come across a crystal clear, vibrant, and well lit video or picture, we often stop and take a deeper look.

Poor lighting and audio issues can be the fastest way to have your posts die in Instagram.

When recording or taking pictures, be sure the camera is between the object being shot and a light source, such as the sunlight, overhead lighting, etc. If you take a picture facing the light source, this will leave shadows, blurriness, and bland imagery (imagery is what makes Instagram so successful).

2. Blurry Video

When recording video, it's key to have clear footage not only to increase the production value of your posts, but also to entice people to stick around and watch the entire thing. We all know how to focus on the subject when taking a picture or video, but what happens when the interview changes?

iPhones have something called AV Block, which basically allows you to lock in the focus level and lighting settings so they stay constant regardless of what might happen in a dynamic video. Simply press and hold the screen (like you would to focus) for a few seconds, and you will see a yellow icon pop up. You then can slide your lighting up or down to adjust the brightness.

Have a friend record your video, or simply prop your phone up on the ground, on a bench, or whatever rigging you can come up with. I have bought stands in the past, but in the end, I find a camera propped up against a kettlebell or foam roller does just fine.

3. Not Using Hashtags

Hashtags are one of the easiest and cheapest (free) ways to increase your audience and following. If you are not using hashtags on your posts, you are critically missing out and will most likely not grow your following.


Solid day of fitness with some pretty fit people! @andrecrews @nikkiberger @juliusmaximus24 @atrain4240 (presence was duly noted) ___________ 3RM Overhead Squat from Floor: 120kg/265lbs then 2-2-2-3min intervals, 1min rest between 5 Strict Pull Up 5 Ring Dip 6 Burpee Over DB 9 T2B *remaining time, SA DB OHS (77lbs/35kg) x AMRAP then. Score is total reps from AMRAP segments. I got 16-20-20-30 reps per round, 86 total). 10min AMRAP 8 cluster (165lbs) 16 cal row 32 double indeed *12 double unders shy of 3 rds then Ring L-Sits x 4 max effort sets ___________ #overheadsquat #burpee #crossfit #snatch #powerclean #muscleup #lsit #crossfitters #getafterit #squat #cluster #thruster #amrap #emom #fridaynight #crossfitopen #abs #coreworkout #weightlifting #dumbbells #reebok #olylift #menshealth #roguefitness #crossfitunionsquare #nfsports #toestobar #concept2 #doubleunders

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I recommend starting with 10 hashtags you can put on every post that get a high amount of traffic (you can do hashtag searches on Instagram) and match your profile and what you have to offer. Then, pick another 5-10 per post that change, based on the post type. 

For example, I may choose to use #weightlifting #crossfit #strengthcoach #j2fitweightlifting #olympicweightlifting #squat #fitness on every single post, and then also include hashtags like #snatch #frontsquat #cleanandjerk #usaweightlifting on all my Olympic weightlifting posts.

This will help new people discover your content when they search through their hashtag discover tabs.

4. Not Answering Comments

With over 14,000 followers on my personal account, managing comments and responding to people can be a tough task, but it is something I have found great value in. Many people will offer motivational words or emojis, and others will ask questions seeking some guidance.

As a coach this is what you love to do, so not answering comments would just be counter-productive to your growth.

Additionally, many new followers may visit your profile page and follow you based on your responses in comments (both on your posts and other posts), so always be sure to be genuine and represent your best self.

5. Posting the Same Things

While having consistent posting schedules and content that offers some sort of uniformity to your following is a good idea, it doesn't necessarily mean you should become one dimensional (however, there are a lot of accounts that are really successful by doing just that).

Be sure to refer to your analytics and experiment with different post ideas to see what does well on your page, and simply do more of those types of posts.

On my J2FIT Instagram page, we have great success and increased traffic once I started posting 12-20 minute EMOM (every minute on the minute) workout posts that linked to our EMOM blog. By looking at analytics and reading the comments, we decided to step up our posting schedule for EMOM workouts and have spikes in followers, website traffic, and even new athlete subscribers to our Daily EMOM workout app.

RECAP: Instagram Secrets to Success

If you caught yourself scrolling to find the most valuable nuggets of wisdom, well, here they are.

If you stick to these five simple guidelines, you can expect to nurture a following of passionate and dedicated individuals who will be glad to be a part of your growth journey.


A post shared by Mike Dewar (@mikejdewar) on

1. Answer Comments and Questions

If I were to stop you on the street, say hi, and ask you a question that takes you less than a minute to answer (and let’s assume that question is 100% something you are interested in), I would HOPE that you would give me the 60 seconds of your time to enlighten me.

Your followers (well, most of them) truly care about what you have to say, so when they ask for help or comment, respond. Yes, you will certainly have your fair share of trolls, bots (automated liking and posting software) and people looking for follow backs, but distinguishing between those and genuine accounts and questions is very simple.

Bottom line, be human on your account, and generally respond to others like you would like to be responded too if you were to ask someone a question.

2. Offer Your Two Cents

Gary Vaynerchuk is a huge advocate of offering genuine, free, no strings attached advice and motivation to anyone on Instagram with the goal of gaining traction and real followers.

Simply explore hashtags you are interested in, or go through the discover tab to find posts  you can interact with. Simple motivational comments, technique advice, and other non-intrusive guide comments can go a long way to building up your following.

3. Monitor Instagram Analytics

Doing the review process every few weeks or monthly is a great idea, as it helps you stay active and engaged with your community so you can bring the best content forwards. With the Instagram stats tab, you can even look at your analytics instantly, making it a great idea to check out the results of a new post type or story as well.

4. Be Consistent

Consistency is the name of the game. Gaining followers and growing your brand/audience on Instagram is a long-term journey, one that take time, energy, and effort.

If you were to gain 3-5 followers per day you would wind up gaining 1,000+ followers per year, which is a pretty good goal to shoot for starting out.

5. Use Hashtags

I cannot stress this enough! Hashtags are the currency used for Instagram explorers who are on the prowl for the next fitness coach, athlete, or influencer to follow. By using the hashtag strategy discussed above, you can increase your exposure to hundreds of thousands of people who are interested in the same kind of things you have to offer!

Coach’s Final Words

There is a bunch of useful information in here on how to build a following on Instagram. However, I hope I was also able to shed some light on WHY that can be beneficial in the first place. Too many coaches and athletes fail to see the potential in their following (even if you only have 300 followers!).

My goal was to ignite a business-mindset within you so you may begin to shape your passion of fitness and hard work on Instagram into another income stream to increase personal and financial freedom.

About The Author

Mike holds a Masters in Applied Physiology from Columbia University and a Bachelors in Exercise Science from Bowling Green State University. He is an accredited Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCAS CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and an Advanced Sports Performance Coach from USA Weightlifting (USAWL2).