In January, content creator Jessica Fernandez posted a video on Twitch of her lifting weights at a gym while a man in the back of the frame looks at her.
She deemed the man creepy and the clip went viral, leading to a national discussion about narcissism and toxic gym culture in the social media era. Once-sacred workout spaces are now movie sets for wannabe influencers, and people in the clips’ backgrounds have sometimes been unwittingly thrust into the spotlight.
Bodybuilder Joey Swoll has had enough.
“I am never trying to judge people or cancel them, but someone has to stand up to this culture,” he told The Post.
He weighed in online on Fernandez’s accusations, writing, “Women are harassed in gyms and it needs to stop but [this guy is] not one of them.” He then defended the man in the influencer’s video, which brought him into the media fray.
Swoll, whose real last name is Sergo, calls himself the “CEO of Gym Postivity” and has become an arbiter of etiquette in the workout world. Part Mr. Manners and part buff Richard Simmons, he makes videos calling out bad behavior while also cheering on people who have long been underserved by the fitness industry.
In a TikTok post with over 8 million views, he addresses Fernandez. “Why did this man look at you?” he says. “Well, you’re in front of him, off to the side. You’re in his peripheral. You’re also taking a video with your camera pointed directly at him, and you’re talking to yourself.”
Fernandez publicly apologized for her video, writing, “I messed up, and I’m going to just own this mistake.” Her long mea culpa acknowledged Swoll, and she pledged to “do better,” which is his catchphrase.
While many praised Swoll for his perspective, he soon became the object of numerous profiles labeling him “misogynistic” for underplaying the issue of women being harassed at the gym. He said the accusations are without merit.
“I was like, ‘You did not look at my page,’” he said, noting that poor behavior, not gender, catches his eye. “It was sad to see somebody try to create a narrative like that.”
A quick perusal of his videos shows he calls out both sexes when they ridicule strangers — for doing an exercise incorrectly or because they make the innocent mistake of being in someone’s camera’s eyeline.
Though he calls himself the “anti-influencer,” he has a massive footprint on the internet, with 6.6 million followers on TikTok, more than a half million on Twitter and 2.3 million on Instagram. He believes his message is having a real effect on gym culture and social media.
“You are seeing more positive stuff and less of those shaming types of videos,” he said.
The Chicago native, who lives in Los Angeles, is a stalwart in the fitness industry as an entrepreneur, coach and competitor. But he turned his focus to exercise etiquette a couple years ago after seeing an uptick in negative content from sweaty spaces.
“Five or 10 years ago for someone in the gym to be made fun of on social media wasn’t a thing. I got tired of it,” he said. “There’s so much filming in gyms today. There’s tripods everywhere. Everyone wants to be an influencer in fitness. I get it. But just because you are comfortable filming your body does not mean that the three or four people in the background are comfortable.”
“A lot of their content has become, ‘Let me get likes and attention at the expense of someone else,’” he said of gymfluencers.
Now Swoll is regularly tagged by followers, alerting him to questionable posts.
Before he weighs in with his own commentary, he waits to see if the creator realizes their mistake and takes it down or apologizes. Sometimes that happens after commenters gently point out that a post was mean spirited.
“I never attack people. I never call them names or belittle them. I just ask people to do better,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want his followers to pile on, but rather show “empathy, compassion and kindness.”
Swoll said his videos have led to some apologies — and even friendships with people he called out, including a New York trainer who once ridiculed an older lady for toting her coat around at the gym instead of leaving it in the locker room.
“We’re humans. We all make mistakes. I did stupid stuff in my 20s. I was a knucklehead. I’d kick my own butt for the things I used to do,” he said.
And he noted that he’s not doing anything revolutionary — just providing a refresher in common wisdom.
“I’m not doing anything special,” Swoll said. “I’m telling people something they already know. To treat others like they want to be treated.”