For any female with a social media account and an interest in fitness it’s hard not to be aware of the Australian personal training phenomenon that is Kayla Itsines. As of August 2017, she has a Facebook fan club of 12.5 million and an Instagram following of 7 million, so chances are if you’ve not already liked or followed her, one of your friends has. Her record breaking Bikini Body Guides were launched in 2014 as eBooks, but can now be accessed along with a wider range of content via the Sweat with Kayla App launched in 2016.
(If you want to know about how the programme works, I’ve described the workouts in more detail at the end of this post).
It’s been two years since I took the plunge and purchased the first BBG eBook, and I’ve still yet to complete the full 12-week programme, so you may think that I’ve not found the love where so many others have. It’s not true- I adore this programme and it has completely transformed the way I work out. My failure to progress is pretty much this: I start doggedly, complete 5-6 weeks, then get ill/ injured/ go on holiday and struggle to pick up where I left off. Each time this happens, I prefer to go back to the start. It’s definitely a flaw on my part and not the programme’s – and it’s worth noting that every time I do have a few weeks off and go back to the start, it’s always easier than it was last time. Any muscle definition that I did have (the programme has made a modest but noticeable difference) returns much more quickly each time I get back to it.
This is one of the things I love about the programme- you can keep starting over. If it’s too easy, you just increase the weights or push yourself through more reps! If it’s too hard after a few weeks off, then do the opposite. The fact that I’m yet to complete it doesn’t deter me at all; if anything, it motivates me each time to get further than I did last time.
Here are all the reasons I think it’s so great:
- Structure. I love having structure in my life, and fitness is no exception. I’ve been known in the past to drag myself to the gym with no clue as to what I would do when I got there, nor how long for. This is not helpful! With BBG, I have a little graphic on my phone telling me exactly what to do. I don’t have to plan my workout routine.
- Having a structure set out for me brings with it an element of accountability, which is highly effective at making me get off my backside. I now have a schedule, and therefore some level of expectation. The App tells me what I should be doing. I love to tick things off a to-do list, so this in itself is enough to force me to progress. Following the programme means my progress is measurable- therefore I am accountable, if only to myself.
- Duration. It’s only 28 minutes. Ever. Including a 5-minute warm up, the rest periods and some decent stretching after, I’m in the gym for 50 minutes tops. Having a boundary to my workouts is a huge contributing factor in getting me off my ass to begin with. I know it’s only ever going to last 28 minutes, unlike a run or a cycle, which will last longer if I go slower, which I very much might do if I’m not in the mood, which very much might put me off starting. Bringing me on to the next point:
- I set the pace. Because it’s only ever 28 minutes, I can tailor my pace depending on how I am feeling and it won’t affect the duration of my workout. This is a common trick I play on myself to get to the gym in the first place! So even if I’m feeling lethargic and a bit crap, I tell myself I’ll just go through the reps really slowly, and not push myself. It might take me seven minutes to do one set of press ups but I will still have stuck to the programme and achieved something. Of course, as soon as I get moving, I’m normally capable of much more than I expected- I’ve never done a BBG workout and not felt like I’ve worked out. This is why I think it’s such a great programme for any ability- you really can tailor it to your own needs.
- Community. Millions of other women (and perhaps men, although it is designed specifically for women’s bodies) are following this programme and sharing their experience and progress on social media. I am both motivated and reassured in equal measure when I see the progress pictures on Kayla’s Instagram feed. If these ‘normal’ women can get great results, so can I!
- Accessibility. I keep mentioning going to the gym, because that’s where I prefer to do the workouts these days, but to begin with I did them in my garden or living room. The equipment required is minimal and easily adaptable: a bench or chair, a skipping rope, some light weights (I used 2-litre water bottles and plant pots before investing in some actual weights). This is great if, like me, you’re nervous going into a gym full of grunty, sweaty men and pneumatic gym bunnies. It also means that if you are away from home or your gym you can still cobble together what you need to do the circuits almost anywhere.
So how does this BBG thing work?
The BBG programme involves a 28-minute circuit performed 3 times each week for 12 weeks. Each circuit is broken down into four 7 minute cycles, where you start the clock and complete a set number of reps of different exercises, cycling through as many times as you can in 7 minutes. After the first 7 minutes, you take a rest, and then complete a second set of exercises for 7 minutes. Take another rest, and then repeat everything you just did.
For example, a ‘legs and cardio’ circuit could look like this:
7 mins: circuit 1 (15 Squats, 15 Lunges, 15 Weighted Step-Ups, 15 Burpees, repeat)
30 seconds rest
7 mins: circuit 2 (15 Sumo squats, 15 Knee Ups, 15 X-jumps, 50 x skipping, repeat)
90 seconds rest
7 mins: circuit 1 again
30 seconds rest
7 mins: circuit 2 again
If those example exercises aren’t familiar, don’t worry- the guides feature a full description of each exercise with graphics, and Kayla regularly posts videos of the exercises on social media.
The weeks are structured to target specific muscle groups with each circuit, so that Monday might be ‘legs and cardio’, Wednesday might be ‘arms and abs’ and Friday ‘full body’. (Of course, you don’t have to do these on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). If you’re fully committing to the programme, Kayla prescribes 40 minutes of LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) training on three other days per week, becoming HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) towards the end of the programme, with one day of complete rest each week. Because I was already a regular runner, I kept my non-BBG days as my running days, and tailored my distance and pace to how my body was feeling after the previous day’s circuit. After the early legs workouts, I could barely move for two days!
The Sweat with Kayla App is free to download but you’ll need a monthly subscription of £14.99 to access the full content including the 12 week BBG programmes. I think this is a bit pricey so would recommend the eBooks (currently £42.55 for weeks 1-12).