I Survived the Kayla Itsines BBG Workout Program—and Now I'm Tougher In *and* Out of the Gym
The benefits of the 12-week Bikini Body Guide go way beyond sculpting a six-pack.
Every fitstagrammer worth her salt in mountain climbers adores Kayla Itsines. The Aussie trainer and founder of Bikini Body Guides and the SWEAT app, is practically fitness royalty (all hail the queen of BOSU ball burpees!). Her washboard abs (a thing of legend) and message of body positivity have inspired countless women to embrace their muscles and become their strongest, most confident selves.
My sister introduced me to Itsines' 12-week BBG program one gloomy day in January. I was neck-deep in the post-holiday slump, feeling guilty about overindulging over the holidays, yet unmotivated to go for a booger-inducing run in the NYC tundra. I was also recovering from a hypothyroid condition that had zapped my energy for months and added pounds to my waistline. When my sister assured me, you can do BBG workouts in your living room, I was half-sold. What sealed the deal was Itsines' Insta feed of epic transformations—all real women of different shapes and sizes from every corner of the globe kicking ass and looking powerful. And each one had started exactly where I was at the time: a health and fitness rut. Now they held their heads high, empowered by what they had accomplished through BBG—stronger, fitter, more capable bodies. (Related: Kayla Itsines Shares the #1 Thing People Get Wrong About Transformation Photos)
On that bitter winter's day, as I scrolled through success stories snuggled in my PJs, I got more and more pumped. "The Eye of the Tiger" began to swell in my ears. I could imagine the sweet taste of victory. I leaped from my couch (all right, a tad melodramatic, but that's how I like to remember the moment) and texted my sister: Sign me up for #KaylasArmy!
What is BBG, exactly?
ICYMI, BBG stands for Bikini Body Guide, but even Itsines recognizes that this terminology is a little, err, outdated: “I want all women to recognize that a bikini body is every type of body,” she writes on her website. Praise hands emoji. (Related: Why Kayla Itsines Regrets Calling Her Program "Bikini Body Guide")
BBG is a workout program that ranges in length, from eight weeks to 92 weeks. All the BBG workouts are 28-minutes-long and accessible via the SWEAT app (available for iOS or Android). Although you can also check out some exclusive sweat sessions from Itsines on Shape, like this post-pregnancy Kayla Itsines workout.
How does BBG work?
First thing's first: You'll need basic equipment, such as a medicine ball, a bench (I substituted a step ladder or a sturdy chair at home), and a BOSU ball (easy to find at a gym if you do the BBG workouts there). And need not forget dumbbells, which, btw, are the star of this exclusive Kayla Itsines workout for beginners.
At the beginning of the challenge, you perform two 28-minute resistance workouts per week (one abs/arms and one legs/cardio) and an optional third (full-body). Each BBG workout session is broken down into two seven-minute circuits, and each circuit consists of four exercises—you complete circuit one as many times as you can in seven minutes, then rest for 30 to 90 seconds and do the same with circuit two. You repeat the whole thing, for a total of 28 minutes. The program ramps up in difficulty level as the weeks progress to avoid plateau (for example, by week four, the third resistance workout is mandatory). On non-strength days, you complete light cardio (like walking) or HIIT training (ala this circuit-focused Kayla Itsines workout) and stretch daily. (Related:
I survived 12 weeks of intense (with a capital I), heart-pumping, wind-sucking, soul-searching, sometimes downright grueling workouts (they don't call it #deathbykayla for nothing, y'all)—technically I toughed it out for 16 weeks since there's a month's worth of beginner resistance training circuits. In that time, in combination with clean eating and intermittent fasting, I lost 14 pounds. But the most surprising results were those I couldn't measure on a scale. We're talking serious growth, people, and not just in muscle tone! I've since made BBG the centerpiece of my regular fitness routine. (And for those especially time-crunched moments, there's always this 14-minute Kayla Itsines workout that promises a full-body burn.)
If you're thinking about joining #thekaylamovement, read on for some fitspiration.
Tips for conquering each BBG workout:
Leave your comfort zone in the rearview.
I'm a cardio junkie. Running is my fix. It makes me feel powerful—just me and the open road, wind in my hair. What doesn't make me feel like Wonder Woman? Push-ups, and burpees, and commandos (oh my!). I used to avoid these strength moves because they made me feel weak (a quick pause to reflect on that irony!). But, hey, I bet I'm not alone. In life, we tend to gravitate toward things that make us feel good, capable, and comfortable. Except this isn't an option when you do BBG. The program is chock-full of daily exercises that might scare the hell (and breath) out of you. (Related: How to Do a Burpee-and Why You Should)
TBH, after the initial high of joining BBG, I panicked—spider push-ups, tuck jumps, raised-leg sit-ups, what did I just get myself into? But I had committed, and I wasn't going to let my inner scaredy-cat talk me out of it. So, I brushed aside my self-defeating thoughts, took a deep breath, and dove headfirst into the BBG workouts.
I wish I could say I took to BBG week one—and all those that followed—effortlessly like a fish to water. I didn't. For example, take Itsines' killer compound exercise—the burpee + push-up + bench jump = a challenging move even for the fittest of Itsines' BBG veterans. But for a rookie like me, it was like scaling Everest. My arms trembled, and my legs wobbled through all the heart-pumping jumping. I'm pretty sure I sounded like an elephant stampede (shout out to my neighbors downstairs for not complaining!). The important thing? I kept showing up. Sure, the moves were insanely difficult, but it was about more than pushing through the physical pain. What really counted was pushing through the emotional discomfort of trying something new and feeling awkward. I was facing my real, underlying fears—that I would suck at this and look stupid—and staring those ugly little self-hating critters down. (Related: The Kayla Itsines 28-Minute Total-Body Strength Training Workout)
And you know what? Breaking outside of my comfort zone with BBG made me brave in other ways, too. From the moment I had seen La La Land, I had dreamt of taking tap lessons. But I was too scared to sign up for a class. What if I look like a fool? What if I can't keep up? But my BBG experience proved I could succeed at new things, no matter how unfamiliar and unknown and gave me the confidence to pursue my Ginger Rogers fantasy. I've been time-steppin' ever since!
Prepare to step up your stamina.
As a half-marathoner, I always thought I scored pretty high in the stamina department, but Itsines' BBG workouts really tested my endurance. Aren't they only 28 minutes long? you ask. Oh, but they're so much more than that! They're a mix of plyometrics, body weight, and hypertrophy (aka increased muscle size) training. Itsines engineered these circuits to kick your ass! By the end of each 28-minute workout sesh, I barely had the energy to take a shower (thankfully, for everyone around me, I managed). Needless to say, I looked forward to non-strength days when I could go for a run and feel like myself, i.e., not a wind-sucking puddle of mush. To my chagrin, my body ached even on my cardio days. 'She broke me', I thought. 'Damn you, Kayla!' But, after the first few weeks, I wasn't tiring as quickly on my runs. In fact, I was shaving seconds off my miles. I was becoming stronger physically, but mentally, too. I had a tougher, more persistent mindset to accompany my new, tighter muscles. I realized that half of the stamina battle was in my head. And, in most cases, as long as I believed I could endure the burn, my body would cooperate. (Related: Science-Backed Ways to Push Through Workout Fatigue)
What's weird? This mental and emotional perseverance began to surface in other areas of my life. I had been working on a screenplay for months, a true labor of love and feeling burned out, doubting whether I could finish. But after BBG, the finish line no longer felt unattainable. Long hours of hard work? So what. I could handle the pain!
Get yourself a cheerleader.
Despite all the evidence touting the benefits of exercise partners, I was never one for a workout buddy until I began Intsines' BBG. The online BBG community is a force—you can find support from virtual sweat mates through the free SWEAT forum and BBG Facebook groups. But I already had my very own ride-or-die, the Venus to my Serena: my older sister. Together we were two scrappy soldiers in #KaylasArmy who had each other's back through every bench hop, BOSU burpee, or edge of a breakdown. We never actually worked out together (we live in different cities), but just knowing that she was putting her all into the BBG workouts too made me work harder. Daily texts and weekly calls kept me on track. We'd alternate sharing war stories about weighted sumo squats and mountain climbers-misery loves company, after all. (Related: Joining an Online Support Group Could Help You Finally Meet Your Goals)
But, invariably, the convo would turn from commiseration to motivation. What we might not be able to do for ourselves, we could do for each other and send encouraging messages. You got this. You're a badass. I'm so proud of you. To my surprise and delight, our sibling camaraderie began to extend beyond the BBG workouts to include support about dating and career slumps. Though we've always had an oil and water dynamic, we finally found common ground in BBG, and now our bond is stronger and tighter just like our abs thanks to Itsines.
Trust your instincts.
Even badass BBG chicks need time for rest and recovery. I learned the hard way during week nine of Itsines' program. Midway through a set of decline push-ups (push-ups done with your feet raised on a bench), I began to lose steam. I could feel my form breaking and a slight strain in my shoulder, but I insisted on steamrolling through the discomfort. The thing is, I'd been feeling a little stronger, even began to notice a sculpted bulge in my triceps (in the right lighting, at least), and my newfound confidence silenced that inner voice telling me, 'You're pushing too far. Pull back now'. One tube of Bengay later, I was in pain and frustrated with myself. I knew where I had gone wrong—I should've trusted my damn instincts. (Related: Should You Try CBD Creams for Pain Relief?)
The minor injury set me back a few days but gave me time to reflect. The lesson? Taking a break doesn't make you weak. Being attuned with your body and knowing when you need to recharge makes you smarter and ultimately stronger. This renewed mindset helped me set better boundaries outside of fitness, too. When it comes to work, I'm a bullet train. My brain's always rushing through life at high speed, every moment consumed by strategizing, outlining, writing, editing, stressing, and on and on. But mental and emotional burnout is not a badge of honor. Just like my muscles need some R&R every now and then, I've learned to listen to my inner voice when my brain can use a break. Now I feel less guilty about pressing pause on a weekday. The way I see it, Netflix binges are a necessary form of self-care. (Related: This Is What the Ultimate Recovery Day Should Look Like)
Stop comparing yourself.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." I bet Teddy would have had a thing or two to say about social media where the competition for likes and comparison game are fierce. After more than a decade of therapy, I consider myself a fairly well-adjusted, confident, and self-aware person, but I still fall prey to the pale-by-comparison trap and find myself feeling less-than when scrolling through social media.
At the start of my BBG journey, I compared myself to Itsines herself, the apex of the fitness food chain. She was a superheroine, a graceful gazelle, a jumping bean of endless energy. Itsines was strong and springy and made every BBG workout look easy in every video after video. I, on the other hand, felt sluggish and slow, my forced effort apparent with every grunt and ache. But then my inner critic began to think about how far I'd come from the beginning: I could now do twice as many jump lunges and triceps dips without stopping and that was hella impressive. I reminded myself that Itsines was my inspiration, helping me aspire to my own personal best, not a human barometer by which to measure my achievements or failures and shortcomings. (Related: Kayla Itsines' Sister Leah Opens Up About People Comparing Their Bodies)
And then I had an even brighter light bulb moment. 'What do I really covet about Itsines?' I asked myself. It wasn't her rock-solid six-pack, but her infinite positivity and how she uplifts so many people. I figured if I can be as encouraging as she is, maybe I can make my little corner of the universe a better place, too! And, just like that, with a little reframing, I flipped the script and put my comparison to good use. The no-comparison rule may not be a new lesson (apples and oranges, right?), but BBG helped remind me why it's an important part of my mental health and well-being toolkit. Now, whenever I feel the urge to compare myself, I try to refocus my lens on everything that I'm grateful for: tap class on Wednesdays, my completed screenplay, my big sis, Netflix binges, and my stronger, healthier BBG body.