Kayla Itsines on fame and fitness ahead of UAE visit

Dubbed ‘the world’s most influential trainer’, lifestyle guru Kayla Itsines is preparing to take the UAE by storm, writes Ann Marie McQueen

On November 3, at 5pm, Kayla Itsines will be at the Golden Mile Galleria on The Palm, Jumeirah, in support of the Dubai Fitness Challenge, to offer one of her signature 28-minute workouts.
Powered by automated translation

Kayla Itsines may have been named the most influential fitness trainer in the world by Forbes magazine this year, but when she started out at the age of 18, her only goal was to help people in Adelaide, Australia, get fit, one at a time. "It was my dream job and it always will be," says Itsines, now 26. "As soon as I started training, I loved it. I never started personal training to have a business. I never started personal training to have an Instagram account. I never thought I'd be in the position that I am."

Itsines was 21 when she met Tobi Pearce, who would go on to become her partner and business partner. Her explosion in popularity over the past three years began with her Bikini Body Guide workouts, originally sold as PDFs, followed by an app, Sweat with Kayla. She has quickly built an online fitness community of more than 23 million women, including 7 million followers on Instagram and 15 million on Facebook. Last year she published a bestselling book, The Bikini Body 28-Day Eating & Lifestyle Guide.

Itsines says she was uploading pictures of her clients as they progressed – and tracking her own daily, healthy lifestyle – when things started taking off. "I was pretty nervous," she admits. "I didn't really know what was going on. And the fact that people were following a lifestyle I was just living normally? I was just doing what I loved."

After years of stopping over in Dubai on flights to Greece and America, and having fans here who spotted her posts plead that she stay a while, Itsines will finally do so next month.

On November 3, at 5pm, she will be at the Golden Mile Galleria on The Palm, Jumeirah, in support of the Dubai Fitness Challenge, to offer one of her signature 28-minute workouts. Enthusiasts can expect a “high-energy vibe” and a huge crowd – in 2015, Itsines became the first person to train more than 30,000 people in person as part of her Bootcamp World Tour.

“[There will be] a lot of energy, a lot of buzz, a lot of connection,” she says. “I think a lot of people will be meeting their friends there, which will be awesome as well.”

Those who follow Itsines's workouts at home are in for some added motivation, she says. "I want to show the girls that's the way I want them to work out, that's the intensity, that's the motivation, that's the inspiration. So just sort of set the beginning for them and then they can keep going."

Before and after shot of a client of Kayla Itsines.
Before and after shot of a client of Kayla Itsines.

Itsines's followers have already begun call-outs on social media to turn up for her Dubai bootcamp, and a fit bunch they will be. The Sweat app offers 12-week programmes at a rate of about Dh74 per month, with discounts for multiple month sign-ups. The three, weekly, 28-minute resistance sessions are seriously challenging: think burpees, jump squats and reps to exhaustion.

There are also three, weekly cardio sessions: either 35-minute low-intensity steady state, or Liss, workouts (walking, running or cycling) or high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, sessions. The app also recommends two weekly recovery options: a day of rest and a foam-rolling session.

In addition to BBG, there is the new BBG Stronger, which requires gym weights, as well as yoga and post-pregnancy workouts offered by other trainers. Access to the soundtrack requires an Apple Music subscription.

There are also detailed daily food guides for three meals and two snacks. Although there have been some critics, most online reviews find the workouts intense, efficient, affordable and doable.

Itsines repeats the word balance throughout our interview, and despite having built her business with Pearce on a one-for-all programme, she insists that followers have to do what is right for their own body at any given time. And people who haven’t worked out before, or have let their fitness fall back to beginner levels, should take time to build up to her BBG workouts, she says.

“People put so much pressure on themselves when they want to start working out, and they’re doing too much too fast,” she recommends. “Just go for a walk.”

Whenever she gets a first-time client, she usually puts them on a treadmill, asks them how their body feels and writes down the answers, repeating the process 12 weeks later. "I love the comparisons; they feel better, they are healthier, happier and more confident, and it's good to have that," she says.

One of the most common questions Itsines gets from fans are what she eats for “cheat” meals. “I don’t have one meal where I sit down and go: ‘OK, this is my cheat meal’,” she says. “I’ll sit down at my grandma’s house and I’ll have a coffee and a Greek cake and I’ll have a little bit of dessert. But I choose the healthy option, I choose to work out, I choose to go for walks, I choose the healthy lifestyle. But if I had to go for a ‘cheat food’ or whatever anyone wants to call it, I don’t feel bad. As long as you choose a healthy lifestyle.”

Itsines, who has a new book coming out called The Bikini Body Motivation & Habits Guide, has set her own goals this year: to do as many chin-ups as possible. She started out with five and hopes to wrap up with 15 at a time by December.

“You can always get fitter,” she says. “You can always do more, but it’s about doing what’s right for your body, and I would never recommend something I would do for other clients. It’s about working with people individually and progressing slowly.”

Having so many fans, Itsines maintains, is fun – even if people do commonly ask her on social media if she can stand beside an object to provide a perception of
her size. She insists on
creating all of her own content, posting on Instagram and Facebook herself, and pouring over reader transformations to find the most compelling circumstances. "Reading their stories is the most powerful and that's why I choose to save their stories and not just upload their ­Instagram photo."

In addition to the transformations, Itsines's Instagram and Facebook feeds are a mix of original inspirational sayings; healthy recipes, including this week's "apple doughnuts", or apple slices topped with Greek yogurt, granola and berries; her own workouts; and snaps of her beloved dogs, who she jokes regularly sabotage her exercise sessions. When Itsines's husky TJ died earlier this year, her Instagram post about it made international headlines. (Her other husky, Ace, has since been given a buddy named Junior).

And yet even after interacting with so many fans online every day, Itsines still gets major stage fright before live events, she says. "I get on stage and go: 'Oh my God, no.' But once the workout starts, I'm in my zone," she says. "I'm a personal trainer, I know what I'm doing, I know what I'm saying, so I don't feel any nerves any more. People say: 'You're so confident', but I'm super-nervous. Even after, when I'm meeting everyone."

And for all those who are dreaming of becoming a fitness influencer, Itsines offers one guiding principle. “Be authentic,” she says. “All I’m trying to say is the hardest thing on Instagram is trying to be someone different, and then when people see you in person you are not that person. Just be you.”

Register to join Kayla Itsines for a free 28-minute workout on November 3 at 5pm via the Golden Mile Galleria Facebook Page (@GoldenMGalleria).
For more information, go to www.goldenmilegalleria.com