IT’S KAYLA ITSINES
Flick to her exclusive workout
Stick her in a photo shoot and Kayla Itsines is a pro. As perfectly tanned as she is toned, the 26-year-old fitness VIP knows her best angles and, as she bounces around in front of the camera, she works them to their full potential. When the photographer calls time, the glaring set lights are dimmed and we settle down to chat on the sofa – Kayla relaxing in a grey hoody with her legs folded up beneath her. Cards on the table: I expected our interview to be a polished, well-rehearsed (and prepped for media) recital of bland half-truths in answer to my questions. A finely tuned script steering well clear of any of the potentially dodgy issues that are slowly rising to the surface in the Insta-world of wellness. My mistake – I’d never met Kayla before.
‘NO TWO BODIES ARE THE SAME, IT’S TIME WE RECOGNISE THAT’
‘The first time I walked into the weights room, after I’d already had a horrible day, I just felt so intimidated that I started crying,’ she reveals. The candid admission is all the more surprising when you consider Kayla has inspired millions among her army of followers to start lifting. ‘I just didn’t have the confidence to go in there on my own and do my workout – it was overwhelming. That’s exactly why I want to help other women feel confident enough to hit the weights rack, do their thing and feel great about their bodies. Think about it: we’re capable of bearing children, so with the right attitude and self-assurance, pumping iron shouldn’t be much of a problem!’ It’s this crisis of confidence that led Kayla to launch Bikini Body Guide Stronger, a version of her original Bikini Body Guide (BBG) workout plan – which focused on short, sharp sessions of body-weight training that women could do easily at home – but adding common weights-room machines to the mix. ‘They’re 30-minute workouts, each based around a different weight machine you’ll find in an everyday gym. I include a video tutorial of each move so you know exactly what it should look like, a kit list so you know if you need to set up your dumbells or mat next to the machine, and playlists curated specially to power you through those moves.’ All that’s missing is Kayla standing there in the flesh. The workouts will be available on another new project of Kayla’s – an app called Sweat, for which Kayla has teamed up with yoga guru Sjana Elise Earp and empowerment and post-pregnancy training expert Kelsey Wells. It’s a one-stop wellness shop of guided workouts, recipes and more. ‘The idea is to pick and choose between the three workout disciplines – weight training, yoga and
‘WHEN MY COMMUNITY FLOURISHES, SO DO I – I’M A GENUINE PART OF IT’
low-intensity core training – and lifestyle elements to find a regime that’s right for you,’ explains Kayla. ‘No two bodies are the same – it’s time we start recognising that.’ Some might question why Kayla’s chosen to stick with the term ‘bikini body’ for this new venture, especially given the backlash following that Protein World advert last year. She argues it’s a conscious choice. ‘I’m reclaiming it. A bikini body is a body in a bikini – it doesn’t matter who you are.’ Kayla seems to be doing her best to distance herself from the message put out by airbrushed billboards and filtered celebrities, instead focusing on the reality of fitness and the difference it can make to your life. ‘The digital age is so visual that sometimes we can forget what’s really important,’ she says. ‘Sometimes I’ll post before-and-after photos of someone who’s had a really powerful journey to overcome illness, drug addiction or obesity, and negative comments pour in saying they looked better before. But telling someone they’re too skinny or that they have too much muscle is just as hurtful as shaming them for being overweight.’ When talk turns to Kayla’s followers – the millions of women who pore over her feeds and follow her advice religiously – the responsibility she shoulders, and emotion she feels, is real. ‘Yes, BBG Stronger reflects my fitness journey, but the app and my social feeds are about the community, and it’s taken millions of women to build that,’ she explains. ‘I use my feed to encourage my fans to follow each other, share stories and motivate each other. When my community flourishes, so do I – I’m a genuine part of it.’ So strong is the connection she feels with her followers that the inspirational, upbeat events she hosts around the world can actually have a surprising effect on her own mood. ‘When I do a bootcamp with 4,000 ladies and see them smiling and laughing, it has the opposite effect on me and leaves me feeling really down,’ she says. Why? ‘Because while they’re happy now, there’s so much emotion resulting from past stories where they’ve hated their bodies or felt their lives were empty… I just wish I’d been there to help them when it was that tough. I take on a lot emotionally, but encouraging my followers to be there for each other helps that become more manageable. If I can’t be there for them personally, then there are 30 women who can be. It’s like a huge emotional safety net.’ For someone who’s built a reported £35 million empire from burpees and lunges, self-esteem and mental health seem to be shaping Kayla’s current agenda more than good ol’ exercise. ‘I believe a focus on the brain is the next frontier of fitness,’ she says. ‘I’m not saying mental health issues can be “fixed” through physical activity, but I’ve watched my clients undergo transformations in their minds as well as their bodies. It’s all part of the journey,’ says Kayla. ‘It’s about boosting everyday happiness.’ Part of what makes Kayla so endearing is how happy she is in her own skin. Having shared images of her own stretch marks and revealed her struggle with female-pattern baldness (see page 91 for more about this condition), she believes in total transparency. ‘These things make me self-conscious, just as they would anyone else, but focusing on being healthy and happy is more important than hang-ups you can’t control.’ And it isn’t just in front of the mirror that Kayla joins the rest of us in the self-confidence struggle. Teaming up with Sjana for Sweat led her to dip her toe into the world of yoga. And she’s the first to admit it’s hard. ‘I underestimated yoga,’ she says. ‘It’s a lot more challenging than I expected. I envisaged breathing and chanting on the mat for an hour, but the flexibility it demands of you was a wake-up call for my body.’ But isn’t leaving your comfort zone important? ‘You need to push yourself to find what motivates you to keep fit. You’ll never regret a workout, so be brave and try something new. It’s why I offer my bootcamps free of charge – people can have a go and, even if they don’t enjoy it, they’re introduced to like-minded people who can hopefully introduce them to something they will love.’ Her eagerness to interact with her fans – almost as just another woman in her own community – can sometimes tip her work/life balance too much towards work. ‘I tell my followers to find balance, so I’m learning to practise what I preach. I’m so invested in the community that sometimes it’s difficult to ignore the emails, stop scrolling through my feed and just put down my phone to really focus on Tobi [Pearce – her boyfriend and business partner] sitting next to me at the dinner table.’ So is a digital detox on the cards? ‘Absolutely not!’ she squeals. ‘I just need to learn to filter the noise and have a cut-off point in the evening, but turning off my phone for a long period of time would feel like abandonment. Sometimes I feel like throwing my phone into the ocean, but social media is the thing that started my success and it will hopefully help me long into the future. That’s not something you turn your back on.’ The girl’s not forgetting her roots. And for those who find that time spent scrolling through endless selfies can leave them feeling down on themselves? ‘Think what you’d have to offer if everyone around you were blindfolded. That’s the stuff you should be nurturing, not how your ass is going to look with a certain filter.’ And if you can do both? Then you’re winning.