With almost 12 million followers on Instagram, Kayla Itsines is the embodiment of an influencer. Rather than a social media feed littered with whimsical holiday snaps or glossy selfies, however, her timeline is full of evidence of her actual influence. Every other post shows an incredible body transformation, captioned with the giddy story of an Itsines follower who changed her life following the BBG (Bikini Body Guide) plan.
The plan has evolved to become Sweat, an at-home app platform that offers 12-week fitness plans, nutritional advice and a community forum to offer other members advice and support. A big reason behind BBG's success is its easy introduction to weights for women. An early BBG adopter-turned-trainer Kelsey Wells, who has more than 2.6 million Instagram followers herself, offers a PWR (short for power) programme as part of the Sweat app, aimed at helping women get started with weight training.
Both Itsines and Wells will be in Dubai this week as part of the Dubai Active fitness and wellness event. They speak to The National about how to get started, stay focused and fit fitness around busy lifestyles.
Has fitness always been a big part of your life?
Kayla Itsines: Yes. I was a really active kid. I played basketball in high school and also coached for a while, which is where I developed my love for personal training.
Kelsey Wells: Fitness actually wasn't a big part of my life until after I had my son, Anderson, who is now 5 years old. Like for many women, pregnancy and delivery were tough for me mentally and physically, and I struggled with body-image issues and finding my confidence again. It was during my post-partum journey that I realised I needed to make a change, so I sought advice from a healthcare professional who told me to try and incorporate fitness into my daily life as a way to help me cope with my postnatal anxiety. I never thought that what began as small efforts to be more active and live a healthier life would have such positive effects on my mental, emotional and physical health. Not only did I find a new sense of confidence, it also led me to find my ultimate passion in fitness and women's empowerment.
Kayla, how did you come up with the BBG plan?
KI: My BBG programme is based on how I trained myself and my clients at the gym very early on in my career. They would pay for sessions in 30-minute blocks, and it became clear quite quickly that women were getting all they needed from a 28-minute workout session with me, so they wouldn't book a full hour. My fitness philosophy is based on efficiency and effectiveness, so it made sense to build a programme that lasted for 28-minute sessions that you complete three times a week.
Did you ever expect your fitness accounts to turn into full-blown movements?
KI: I had no idea we'd be where we are now when my husband, Tobi, and I first started the business. It started out really organically with the BBG e-books, and grew through word of mouth, then through social media, [where] I was able to share my fitness philosophy and workouts with so many more women around the world. I think we really knew we were on to something big after a boot camp we ran in Perth, Australia, in 2015. It was such a surreal and humbling experience to work out with so many women in one place at one time.
KW: I never expected it. I created my Instagram account because I needed a place where I could express myself and connect with other like-minded women. I found comfort in sharing my journey online, as I realised that I wasn't alone, and that the struggles I faced, so many other women from all over the world were facing, too.
How does it feel to see the impact your advice and plans have on peoples’ lives?
KI: It's amazing, I love that the BBG community provides such a supportive environment for like-minded women from across the world to come together. I love learning about their experiences, hearing about their journeys and seeing their results.
KW: One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing and hearing about the positive impact my PWR programme has had on the lives of women around the world – physically, mentally and emotionally. Empowering women through fitness is my ultimate goal and I feel blessed and humbled to be representing a community made up of strong, confident women who support each other every day to be the best version of themselves.
How do you stay motivated on those hard days?
KI: When I'm having a tough day, I look to my family for support and motivation. I come from a big Greek family, whom I'm really close to, so I always know they're there to support me when I need them most. And I also get so much inspiration from the BBG community, so I just hop on to Instagram to see what they are talking about and find that really gives me the motivation to keep going.
What would you say to women who are intimidated by lifting weights?
KW: Weight training truly empowered me and has given me so much confidence. However, I didn't always feel this way. Having experienced intimidation in the gym myself, I was driven to design a programme that provided an easy introduction to weight training, to break down the fears and barriers associated with women lifting weights, to help them lift with confidence. For those who are yet to start their weight-training journey, the most important thing to remember is that you can do this and you have just as much right to be in the weights section as any other person.
Kayla, you’ve recently given birth to your daughter, Arna. What tips would you give to other new mums?
KI: I've always been very organised, and before I had Arna, I would plan out my week, including when I would exercise. I still do this now that I have her, I just need to be more flexible around her schedule, for example, planning time to exercise after she's gone to bed at night. So a big tip for new mums would be to plan out your schedule as best as possible. Also create a meal plan for the week, prep healthy meals and snacks in the fridge, ready to go when your schedule might not always go to plan. But, what I think is most important for women, is not to put too much pressure on themselves. Do what you can, try to make healthier choices and make sure you have some time for you.
Itsines and Wells are hosting workouts on Friday at Dubai Active. Held in collaboration with Dubai Sports Council from Thursday to Saturday at DWTC, Dubai Active includes fitness classes, meet-and-greets, Q&A sessions, nutritional talks and an exhibition with product demos and freebies from more than 200 fitness brands. Tickets cost Dh55 (general admission), Dh80 (two-day ticket), Dh110 (three-day ticket); www.dubaiactiveshow.com