For anyone who is interested in fitness and exercise, Kayla Itsines is a household name.
Renowned as one of the world’s most influential fitness trainers, she initially became famous for her ultra gruelling and high-intensity Bikini Body Guide (BBG) home bootcamp programs. However, since having two children, her approach to fitness has changed somewhat, and she now offers pregnancy, post-pregnancy, low-impact and multiple programs to suit those of all fitness levels and requirements.
As the co-founder and head trainer of Sweat, the women’s fitness app with around one million active users, the Australian continues to be one of the fitness industry’s most prominent figures.
Kayla took the time to speak to Livehealthy before her headline appearance at Dubai Active, where she will be leading a live, high-intensity bootcamp for thousands of people, and doing a Q&A and meet and greet with her fans.
Why has your approach to fitness changed?
It wasn’t like I set out to write super-hard programs in the first place. I was working as a personal trainer in Adelaide, and people were asking me what my clients were doing to get these great results. So I started to write down what my super-advanced clients were doing. But then beginners started using them as well and working their way up to doing the whole thing. I love that everyone tried it. They’re only 28 minutes long. So they somehow feel manageable.
I’ve had two kids since I started my career, and now I understand the struggles that mums go through so much more. I used to punish mums for being five minutes late to my sessions by telling them to do burpees. I would listen to none of their excuses. I have more of a holistic approach now. Before I just went for what was the hardest. That works really well for some people, but for new mums it can feel impossible. That’s why I released pregnancy and post-pregnancy workouts and low impact, high intensity ones. I have something for everyone now, and I’ve grown with my community. I’ve got members who are in their 30s and they’ve been training with me since they were 18. We’ve grown together.
What challenges did you face after having your children?
Arna is four and Jax is eight months old. When I had Arna I felt the most lost I’ve ever felt. I had a cesarean, so major surgery, and I had no idea what exercises I could do. As a personal trainer, I felt like I was meant to know these things, but everything that I did hurt. I was so scared because I have this really deep-seated fear of injuries. The first day I mustered enough courage to go to a gym. I was so weak, I had to get someone to physically lift me back up off the floor. For some idiotic reason I decided to do push ups. My brain was scattered and I was in tears. I didn’t know when I would feel normal again. I should have just waited a few weeks, and I would have been fine. But my hormones were everywhere. I think as a first-time mom, you can read all the books you want and listen to all the podcasts, but it still screws with your head. It passes eventually.
I wanted to feel strong again. I felt a responsibility to my community to show them that you can have a cesarean, and get your strength back. So the next day I walked, the day after I stretched and I slowly built up my confidence. I came back even stronger because I was more motivated. I showed up and I love myself for this.
I was lucky not to have any pelvic floor issues. But there are certain exercises, and ways of breathing and moving, that can help with that. I want to add some in my app. Not from me, but someone trained in it. It’s so needed for post-pregnancy.
Dubai Active is the thing that I’ve been working towards since I had Jax. I don’t want to feel breathless on stage, I want to feel my strongest. I’ve really been working towards it and I’m very excited for it.
Is injury something that you fear?
Yes, I think it started when I was playing basketball as a kid. Every time I was injured and had to sit on the bench, it felt like a punishment. Being injured still feels like being benched. I don’t know how to describe it in any other way.
I have the biggest fear of hurting my ribs, I don’t even like it if someone hugs me too tightly.
If you’ve ever experienced back pain, lower back pain, it can be mentally triggering because it literally knocks out your entire body, and you can’t do anything. It’s a horrible feeling.
How do you work with clients who are injured?
Obviously, you don’t train with a back injury. You have to go to a physio. If it’s something like tennis elbow, I will wrap their elbow dramatically in a bandage. That way we can mentally see that their arm is knocked out of the equation.
We do a lower body session instead and train around it. Without the bandage the client can forget not to use that arm and even as a trainer you can forget too. But wrapping it in a white bandage means you don’t forget. I can work around most injuries, just not backs.
Should women adjust their training according to their monthly cycle?
I’ve got endometriosis and adenomyosis, which impacts the muscle lining of the uterus. If I have my period, it’s a no-go zone for me. I don’t train for two to three days. That’s not the case for everyone. Some of my clients are fine. It’s really dependent on the person. But your period is one time of the month where it’s definitely okay to just tone it down. I think that the industry needs to stop pressuring women to work out every single day and stick to their training schedules no matter what. That’s the easiest way to derail your motivation and even your discipline.
When I ovulate is actually the most painful time for me. Then my period is not as bad, but I still take the time off because it’s not fun. I’m so understanding if a client doesn’t show up because they have their period.
Will you do a program for perimenopause?
Yes, but not until I’ve gone through it. I would never release a program that I haven’t done myself. You don’t want to offend anyone either. You have to be really careful with your words because there are a lot of people who are in their fifties and running marathons and are full-on athletes. They might not feel like they want a program that makes them feel old. You want to keep them feeling strong and full of energy.
A lady the other day said to me: ‘I train to be independent for as long as possible’. I thought that was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.
What do you think of the term ‘fitness influencer’?
It’s a touchy subject because I view myself as a personal trainer, but people like to call me a fitness influencer. I just feel that the fitness influencer space is very different to the people who want to be taken very seriously and professionally. Fitness influencers might not be actual trainers, but they love training and they can give advice on things that they are using at that moment. They partner with brands and they gain money and their income from that.
Whereas a personal trainer, like me, is a person who has trained people in gyms, in bootcamps, and one-on-one. They might have started off broke and working in people’s houses. So to call them a fitness influencer doesn’t seem right. There’s a lot of stuff happening in the fitness industry right now. I feel that in some ways it’s becoming hyper-sexualized. I understand that it’s important to get views and likes, but there’s vanity in metrics, and it doesn’t actually serve a purpose or educate women or make them feel good about themselves. Which is what I think fitness should be. I get a bit frustrated with it.
When you’re receiving advice from someone, just make sure that they actually have experience in what they’re talking about. It’s not just in the fitness industry. There are cosmetic surgeons now that aren’t actually cosmetic surgeons, but they speak like they are like. Just be cautious of who you’re following and how it makes you feel. If you’re feeling envious, or bad about yourself, or like you’re not good enough after you watch someone’s videos, I would maybe unfollow them.
How do you deal with negative things said about you?
I just laugh. I’ve been around a long time but I’m the same person. I come from a really good family and they ground me and make me feel whole. I don’t need to be validated by others and I don’t need the attention. I honestly am just living my life and doing what I love most, which is helping people. I help people online, but I also go to people’s homes and help them create a nice home gym. I love helping people and I think people can feel that when they see my social media. That’s probably why I’ve retained my following and I continue to grow.
Some of the stuff that comes out is not accurate at all. For instance, I didn’t hire a professional hair and makeup team for my daughter’s school photos. I had a campaign shoot for OG Kayla on the same day as Arna’s photos and she came with me while I was having my hair and makeup done. She wanted to join in so my make-up artist pretended to put some on her and I recorded it. That was all there was to it.
Why did you decide to join the sober movement?
I don’t drink. But I have tried it. I’m generally a very confident person. But when I went out drinking when I was younge, I would feel awkward. Even though I was drinking, I felt like I didn’t change as much as everyone else did when they drank. I played basketball then and it also didn’t suit my lifestyle. So when I was about 18 or 19 I stopped.
I see things on social media where people are talking about things like getting anxiety after they’re drunk or feeling super-depressed the next day. Also about which alcohols either hide their mood or make them feel super angry. I find it interesting because I don’t have any of those stories.
Does drinking impact your fitness?
Massively. As a trainer, Monday is the worst day because I have so many cancellations because of people still feeling rough from the weekend.
It just affects your routine because you don’t want to train. You feel like crap, and your body’s trying to filter out all this poison that you put in it. Again, I’m not against drinking. I come from a Greek family who drink ouzo. But for me, there’s no point.
My lifestyle is not ultra-healthy. It’s just about eating good food and working out, For me fitness is not a job, it’s my life. For instance, I will go for a photoshoot and they will give me a kale salad for lunch. I will be like, ‘Oh, what am I meant to do with this?’ I’d much rather have a burger, pasta, or something that will actually fuel my day.
Are there any new fitness trends that really bother you?
The rise of drugs like Ozempic is awful. People are taking it who don’t need to be. They’re absolutely beautiful the way that they are, but they’re putting this pill version of an eating disorder into their body.
Then people talk about things like ‘Ozempic butt’, where you become saggy because you’re not eating and you have no protein to build your muscles. You’re not going to the gym. You’re just sitting down at a desk and wasting away. That just makes me so sad. To not eat just doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe because I don’t drink or anything, I rely so much on food for my happiness. When I eat, I want to eat good food, that helps me do good workouts. I want everything in my life to be good and Ozempic is the furthest thing from good in my mind. A whole day of just not eating would feel like going to jail for me.
When you lower the amount of food that you eat for a long period of time, your body gets used to it. Then when you go and eat like a normal person, your body’s like, ‘Wow, you’re overeating’. Then you gain weight rapidly and you get stuck in a horrendous cycle where your body can’t work out how much food you should be eating. It’s awful.
People say ‘oh it’s ok for you you’re genetically small’, but I struggle to put on muscle. I’ve gone through my whole career with no boobs and no bum. But I am where I am because I’m not trying to fit in or be curvy or whatever the current trend is. Maybe that’s why I have such a strong opinion.
But what I still think is true is that if something is unsustainable, don’t do it. If it’s like a quick fix and a fad, and it doesn’t actually teach you anything or help you, don’t do it. What I want to do is offer healthy, balanced diet and training programs that you can do forever.
How do you supplement your lifestyle?
I have tried doing an ice bath once. It was so painful I thought my ankle was going to break. I never want to do it again, but I probably will. I have an ice bath at home, I just haven’t unboxed it yet. I love infrared saunas, but I don’t have the time or the patience to do it regularly. I love castor oil and I rub that on my belly when I have really bad pain from my endometriosis. I also take Nutrafol supplements for my hair, which I think are working, and I take sea moss, too.
To see Kayla at Dubai Active, book your tickets here.