Crazy for fitness superstar Kayla Itsines

Personal trainer-turned-global fitness star Kayla Itsines, who has over 9.6 million Instagram followers, was in Singapore for this year’s FitnessFest at Marina Bay Sands. She shows us five moves for a quick full body workout.
Global fitness influencer Kayla Itsines at her BBG boot camp in Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre yesterday. She is looking to expand her US$63 million (S$85 million) empire in the region.
Global fitness influencer Kayla Itsines at her BBG boot camp in Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre yesterday. She is looking to expand her US$63 million (S$85 million) empire in the region.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Almost 5,000 participants turn up at Itsines' 45-min workout at MBS

Two pieces of toast, coffee or chamomile tea. The occasional scrambled eggs.

That has been Kayla Itsines' almost daily breakfast for the past nine years.

The Australian, who turns 27 tomorrow, is a stickler for routine. Even her sleep is followed closely. Bed by 9.30pm and up at 6am.

But, on Friday, the personal trainer-turned-global fitness superstar swopped her usual fare for kaya toast, roti prata and chwee kueh.

It was her first exposure to such Singaporean cuisine and, while the taste of kaya did not go down particularly well, Itsines is determined to familiarise herself with the Republic, and Asia, as she seeks to expand her US$63 million (S$85 million) empire in this region.

It was why she picked this year's FitnessFest at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre for her first Bikini Body Guide (BBG) boot camp in Asia.

"Singapore has always been on my bucket list, I've had many many requests (to do a boot camp) from the girls here," Itsines, whose previous boot camps in London, New York, and Los Angeles were almost sold out, told The Sunday Times.

  • Her tips to a healthier life

  • 1 ADD, NOT CUT

    Start adding positive things into your life, and the unhealthy things will naturally come out. Instead of cutting out carbs, add a 30-minute walk to your daily schedule, or swop the morning milkshake for toast with olive oil instead of skipping breakfast entirely.

  • 2 START SLOW

    If you exercise every single hour, every single day, you'll soon burn out and become unmotivated. Take things step by step and slowly build up your workout rather than pushing it too far at the start.

  • 3 GO FOR A WALK EVERY DAY

    Put your phone in front of the treadmill and walk for half an hour. Everyone can do that, everyone would love to do that. Do not discount walking as even bodybuilders do it to burn fat. It is not a high-intensity exercise, but it is better than doing nothing at all.

"I was completely sold by the good weather, the cleanliness and the great fitness community here."

The response - almost 5,000 participants were present for the 45-minute workout at MBS yesterday - was typical of Itsines' popularity.

She was hailed by Forbes as the top fitness influencer of 2017 with over 9.6 million Instagram followers. According to Bloomberg, Sweat with Kayla was the most downloaded fitness app in 2016, the same year Time magazine named Itsines in its Top 30 Most Influential People on the Internet.

The Sweat app, comprising workout programmes and nutrition plans, generated a revenue of US$17 million - the highest in the health and fitness category for 2016. Subscribers pay a US$20 monthly fee.

And it is set to grow even bigger.

It was recently available for download in Chinese and more Asian languages will be added over the next 18 months, said Itsines.

It is no surprise that Asia is a priority for Itsines, who dropped out of university when she was 18 to become a certified personal trainer.

A 2017 report by health and fitness trade association IHRSA noted that about US$14.4 billion of the estimated US$83.1 billion revenue in the global fitness industry came from the Asia Pacific region in 2016.

"People in Asia are really getting into fitness now, back in the days it was all about being thin but now it's all about being strong and working out and the female empowerment here is huge," said Itsines, who oversees an empire of BBG e-books, two hardcover bestsellers and the Sweat app with business partner and fiance Tobi Pearce.

Her signature BBG programme, a series of 28-minute circuit exercises, has attained a global cult following, especially with millions of women aged 20 to 35.

SOLD ON ASIA

I've had many many requests (to do a boot camp) from the girls here... I was completely sold by the good weather, the cleanliness and the great fitness community here.

KAYLA ITSINES , global fitness influencer, on why she chose Singapore for her first BBG boot camp in Asia.

NO NEED TO BE SKINNY

I want to empower women to be strong, it's 2018 and it's not about being skinny any more.

ITSINES, on her workout philosophy

A 2013 study by app data company Flurry revealed that millennials use fitness apps more than other age groups, with women using them twice as much as men.

Hollywood actresses like Jessica Alba, Allison Williams and Victoria's Secret top model Candice Swanepoel are among Itsines' fans.

The concept of the ideal bikini body has been criticised for perpetuating body stereotypes - Itsines herself has said she regrets the BBG name - but she stands by her philosophy.

She said: "The idea of a bikini body has been changed through programmes like mine. We want people to know that there isn't just one specific type of 'bikini body'.

"I want to empower women to be strong, it's 2018 and it's not about being skinny any more."

The stresses of young working professionals in Asia are many, acknowledged Itsines, who does 30-minute walks six times a week, but she stressed that it is important to take time off to get active and de-stress.

"Go for a short walk on the treadmill and watch Netflix on your phone, I'm sure everyone can do that," she said.

Her own journey from an everyday personal trainer to international fitness celebrity has been remarkable but Itsines noted fame has not changed her.

"People don't realise that I'm just like everybody else," she said.

"I am a normal person, I have a family, I lose motivation sometimes and I drag myself to a workout on some days."

Her ambition remains untouched too. She was tight-lipped about her upcoming projects but hinted "something new and very exciting" will be available on the Sweat app tomorrow.

Her plans extend not only to her fitness empire. The Adelaide-born Itsines, who is of Greek heritage and the elder of two siblings, is also excited about growing her family.

Sporting a princess-cut diamond ring - she got engaged to Pearce last month - she said: "I'd love to have kids in maybe five years, I've always loved them.

"I feel like I can still train through my pregnancy and show people that it's possible. It's only like what, nine months?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 20, 2018, with the headline 'Crazy for kayla'. Print Edition | Subscribe