MEET THE FITNESS STAR WHO TURNED AN INSTAGRAM FEED INTO AN EMPIRE
Step into any Equinox and you’ll inevitably see a woman or two seemingly glued to her phone (okay, not surprising) following some how-to workout app. Not only are New Yorkers shelling out $200+ per month for a top-tier fitness facility, but they are attaining exercise tips, not from an IRL trainer, but from an app. Mind boggling; until you discover Kayla Itsines’ Instagram feed.
The app is Sweat and it has become a global fitness phenomenon. Initially launched as Bikini Body Guide, or BBG, the 12-week transformation course started with snack-sized HITT (high-intensity interval training) workouts that can be done on your living room rug, all under 28 minutes. The world noticed. In a few short years, Sweat has amassed over 40 million followers on Insta and created a 40 million user strong community online, all lead by 27-year-old Australian Kayla Itsines. In 2016, Time magazine named Itsines one of the ‘30 Most Influential People on the Internet;’ a year later, Forbes selected her as the number one fitness influencer on its Top Influencers list.
COOLS: I think it’s safe to say you’ve built an empire, all in your 20s. What has motivated you to build BBG?
Kayla Itsines: “I’ve always been driven to help people and make them feel good about themselves. So, being a personal trainer made so much sense to me and became a job that I really love. My motivation of seeing peoples transformation—not on the outside so much— but on the inside with their mental strength, which improves so much throughout training sessions. They may start with saying things like ‘Oh, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t’ but go to saying things like ‘this is really difficult right now but I’ve got to do it. And that is very cool to me.
COOLS: What does fitness mean to you?
KI: “Fitness means making people feel good about themselves. It means making women feel more confident. It means that I have energy every day and that I am feeling good. It’s not necessarily how many push-ups I can do or how much I can lift — it’s about mental strength. How strong are you every day? Can you get yourself out of bed? That’s something that means so much to me and so much to my community.”
COOLS: Do you work out every day? Tell me a bit about your daily routine.
KI: “I do something every day, but not necessarily a workout. The workouts that I follow are my BBG Stronger program. I used to do my BBG program when I was younger, which was mostly body weight resistance training, but now I do the Stronger program, which incorporates gym equipment. I do that three/four times a week, and then I walk every other day.
“My walking routine is on the treadmill and I pop on a Netflix episode (I watch a lot of shows). I walk for 30 minutes, no incline, at four miles-per-hour (6KM).”
COOLS: Do you have any rules or guidelines of the best time to workout?
KI: “Honestly, whenever you can sneak your workout in is perfect. There is no ‘better time.’ The fact that you’re even working out is amazing. Book it in your calendar like a meeting and do it when you can do it. Whether morning or at night, you’ll still get the adrenaline rush, the confidence, and everything else that comes with a workout.”
COOLS: I’m interested in the mental element of working out. What changes do you feel like occur?
KI: “It’s different for everyone. I work out because fitness is such a large part of my life. It doesn’t give me mental clarity or anything like that. For me, working out is me doing my job, me keeping my body in shape, and me being healthy. I like being at my grandparent’s and my grandpa asking if I can help lift something. I like that I am strong enough to be able to help around the house. I do it specifically for the way I live my life.”
COOLS: I read that the Sweat app is the largest and most supportive online community in women’s fitness across the globe. I’m interested in what the support element really means and how much that weighs into someone’s success.
KI: “Regardless of my app, you’re more likely to succeed if you have a partner, best friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, whoever to support you. So if you say you’re feeling lazy, they can say ‘get up, we are going to the gym.’ And then imagine that on a huge scale.”
COOLS: What advice do you give the most?
KI: “Have balance. Maintain a work-life balance and don’t feel guilty or be too hard on yourself. Don’t cut things out of your diet or go on an extreme diet. It’s about being realistic and having a balanced life, not comparing yourself to other women. I see so many women with so much pressure that I don’t think men have. I always want to reinforce a balanced lifestyle because I think women need to hear it continuously.”
COOLS: Your slogan has been “bikini body confident.” What mindset do you have for other people’s bodies knowing that we come in all shapes and sizes?
KI: “That is exactly why we called it Bikini Body. We wanted to change the way we absorb that word. Ten years ago, when you said bikini body, you probably thought of a runway model… We want to change the way women respond to the word ‘bikini.’”
COOLS: How do you maintain and translate body positivity across your platforms/app?
KI: “I think by me personally talking about family and being relatable, not making my page just about me. Talking to the community and seeing how they train. At the end of the day, I am a trainer, that is my qualification.”
COOLS: Body positivity is big in the States, but what does that mean in OZ?
KI: “Being accepting of others. Empowering women not to care about what anyone else thinks and to practice self-love. It’s also the mindset of being as nice to yourself as you would be to your best friend.”
COOLS: What are your personal challenges? Do you have a coach that you work with? How do you keep your momentum going?
KI: “I don’t have a coach or mentor. My fiance, Tobi, who I work closely with, we encourage each other. As far as personal challenges, just trying to cater to a community of 10 million women and trying to have a work-life balance. I do have an amazing support system around me and an amazing family that keeps me going every day.”
COOLS: What is an “ugly” wellness thing you do—something that isn’t Instagrammable?
KI: “Ha! Well, I’ll work out in Tobi’s gross T-shirt and ugly shoes. But then if I have to go on video for Instagram, I have to go and change into something nicer I just like to be comfortable.”
COOLS: Switching gears a bit, as I’m sure you spend a lot of time in workout gear, what are your favorite brands and any shopping tips that you look for?
KI: “At the moment, I really love Alo Yoga and PE Nation. I am big on comfort, so I won’t wear anything that is overly tight lycra.
“I’m in the same Hotty Hot Shorts from Lululemon all the time and I get comments like ‘You wear the same shorts in every photo!’ Yeah, because they are comfy!”
COOLS: What beauty products are you currently into?
KI: “My routine will be my routine for the next two years—I rarely change it up. I use a micellar water if I have makeup on and use Cetaphil as a first-wash, then double-cleanse with Skinceuticals. I’m huge on moisturizing; during the day I use Medik8 Hydr8 Day, and at night I use beta Moisturise. Under my eyes, I use SKINBIOTIC’s h-eye-light. To keep my skin soft, sometimes I use a few drops of Marula oil before applying moisturizer. And I always wear sunscreen.
“I don’t really wear any makeup except for eyeliner and mascara every day, but I do like Envy Y Skin tanning foams to keep a tan going and every eight days I will use Drunk Elephant’s Baby Facial.”
COOLS: With such a mega following, I’m curious who the last person was that you followed on Instagram?
COOLS: Favorite podcast?
KI: “I’m loving The Good Life Podcast by Sazan which just reminds me of me and Tobi, it’s very motivational.”
COOLS: What’s next?
KI: “I have some very exciting news! I am thrilled to announce that two new trainers; Chontel Duncan and Stephanie Sanzo are joining Sweat. They are honestly the most incredible and inspiring women. Together we are going to continue to provide the Sweat community with the utmost flexibility, variety, and support to help women worldwide achieve their fitness goals.”