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My 12 Weeks with Bikini Body Guide

72 days of burpees and jump squats

Seth McConnell/Getty

I follow fitness star Kayla Itsines on Instagram, so therefore I could pick her abs out of a lineup. They’re the perfect abs that built a fitness empire, with her Bikini Body Guide fitness plans and community of 4.8 million Instagram followers with dramatic #BBG before-and-after pics. Kayla’s abs are on display on her Instagram feed every seventh post, by my estimation, but I never thought I would get to see Kayla and her abs in person. This past December, however, I found myself in the back row of an NYC exercise class for journalists taught by Kayla herself.

I was in the room because my editor said she wanted "a normal person" to try the entire 12-week BBG and write about what happens. That normal person was me, at least fitness-wise — I’m very average fitness-wise.

Over the past three years, I’ve gained about 10 pounds. It hasn’t been the end of the world, but my closet has taken the biggest hit. My boyfriend jeans became my skinny jeans. That’s especially a bummer because I justified more than one $180 pair of jeans as an "investment purchase." Those are the same jeans that currently live deep in the back of a drawer.

What was almost more impressive to me was how effortlessly she demonstrated the push-ups and jump squats.

So that’s how I got here to BBG, getting my butt kicked by Kayla Itsines in person. Because I’m sure you’re wondering, she is very teeny tiny but she doesn’t look scary thin. She looks like an elegant giraffe, all legs and arms and abs, and what was almost more impressive to me was how effortlessly she demonstrated the push-ups and jump squats.

The workout was 30 minutes at most (consisting of burpees, planks, ab bicycles, etc.) but it felt like an eternity. We stretched afterwards and Kayla came over and pushed my legs down while I was stretching, but I knew they wouldn’t go down any further. "Tight legs," she whispered. I felt a sting for having disappointed her.

Afterwards, I asked Kayla for burpee advice because I couldn’t do them at all, and she broke it down for me, which was so nice of her. I practiced burpees for the rest of December while waiting for the first week of January, when BBG would begin. Note: I did the old-school Bikini Body Guide PDF, not the app, and I didn’t do her meal plan.

Weeks 1 to 4

Kayla’s workout plan starts out with two to three sessions of her resistance training intervals a week, complemented by stretching and two or three sessions of LISS (which stands for "low intensity static state," as in 35 to 45 minutes of fast walking).

Those interval training sessions involve two circuits, each consisting of seven minutes of exercise with a rest of 30 to 90 seconds in between circuits. (I’ll) do each of the circuits twice.

A single seven minute circuit equals four exercises (for example: 15 jump squats, 15 squats, 24 walking lunges, 24 knee ups). If you get through all of that before time is up, start over and keep going until you hear the buzzer. You’ll need just a few pieces of equipment, like weights and a bench, and the gym in my apartment building had most of it.

Is it cheating to do my #bbg progress photos while wearing workout @spanx?

A photo posted by goshgeegolly (@goshgeegolly) on

If you’re trying the PDF version of BBG like I did, an interval training app like Pacer for your phone really helps with this.

I finish my first resistance training at 7am on Monday, January 4th, and I feel close to throwing up. For me, this is a heart-beating-out-of-your-chest, totally-out-of-breath workout. I’ve only worked out this hard in the occasional boutique fitness class.

As the week goes on, I struggle with normal gym-style sit-ups and pushups. I take my time during the intervals and also took a lot more breaks than I would’ve in an exercise class, probably more than I should have. I start watching #BBG YouTube videos, where super ripped girls exercise in real time. My idol is SquatMango, who breaks down her BBG journey on her blog in a way that makes you feel this is possible.

Most of the time, no one else uses the apartment gym, as I humiliate myself doing these exercises, but one day I notice another girl bopping around doing intervals. Wrapping up my workout, she looks at me and says, "Hey, were you doing Kayla’s workout?" A BBG friend in real life! She tells me that she’s done it before, it’s worth it, and it never gets easier. That sounds ominous.

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Weeks 5 to 8

I started BBG at 146 pounds and so far the scale has hardly moved; I’m at 144 on a good day. In December, I bought these Lykke Wullf overalls at Racked’s LA market — despite the very important detail that I couldn’t zip the back zipper up over my butt. Now I can zip them up! It’s still not acceptable to leave the house in these (ahem, cameltoe). That will be something to work toward.

There are now more LISS sessions to do. The resistance workouts have ramped up, and I wasn’t even okay with how it was going originally. You now have to do 15 burpees in a row instead of 10. There’s a reason BBG folks call it #deathbykayla.

There’s a reason BBG folks call it #deathbykayla.

Every time I go to do resistance training, I study the workout plan in the elevator, looking at the hell that awaited me. In my head I always think, "Oh my god, no."

I show my husband, Joe, the week five plan, where you have to put your feet on a bench and your hands on the floor and do pushups. "I don’t see that happening," he says. "That’s some Navy Seal shit." I try it, to the best of my abilities, and my biggest accomplishment is that I don’t fall flat on my face.

It feels like I’m constantly doing these workouts, and although Kayla says they are 28 minutes, they take me about 50 mins door-to-door with the warmup and breaks. But I start to look forward to them more than LISS, weirdly, because walking on a treadmill is so boring.

I do the interval training religiously but find myself slacking on the LISS. I walk my dog, do Soulcycle on occasion, even go snowshoeing, but mainly I just walk on the treadmill, watching Lisa Vanderpump and her mini-horses on Real Housewives.

I feel like I'm getting fitter, for sure. Still, not seeing the scale move is super frustrating.

I felt like I’m getting fitter, for sure. Planks have been getting easier, burpees are still horrible but better, and my jump-roping skills are tops. Still, not seeing the scale move is super frustrating.

I wanted to do this while eating like a normal person — no crazy calorie counting or stick and leaf diets — to see what would happen, because some of the BBG transformations are so extreme. I’ve just been trying to eat healthier, although I have been slipping and eating pizza with my friends.

Besides cruising through #BBG hashtags and Kayla’s Instagram, I’m also obsessed with a Reddit thread on BBG. One Reddit-er says she could stick with her workout and eating plan as long as she didn’t spend any time with family and friends who might disrupt her schedule. I might be misinterpreting that, but that’s not how I want to live my life, BBG or no.

I know that diet is so important, but for me it’s even harder than doing these workouts. It’s time to knuckle down, eating-wise. I give up carbs for one day, then break down and start buttering a second piece of bread. "Did you already have one? Don’t do it! Don’t do it!" Joe calls out from the couch. "I’m doing it!" I yell in a panicked voice, smearing more butter on the bread.

Weeks 8 to 12

Time to ramp it up, and Kayla does not disappoint. Some of the exercises frighten me. I take a pass on the one that requires me to jump up onto two parallel benches into a squat. I don't think I will clear the bench, so I never even try this. During another exercise, I slam a bosu ball into my shin, resulting in a gnarly bruise.

I also add HIIT sessions, or 30 seconds of sprinting on a treadmill then 30 seconds of resting repeated over a period of 10 to 15 minutes. You’re not supposed to do this in the same session as resistance training, and I can see now why college students are so often featured on Kayla’s Insta. This workout requires lots of chunks of time.

That time I met the one and only @kayla_itsines #bbg #throwbackthursday

A photo posted by goshgeegolly (@goshgeegolly) on

I share more photos to the #BBG hashtag to power me through the last weeks. BBG is so solitary, and it’s easy to bail on a workout, that I can see why a surge of likes for photos of salad and dumbbells would be helpful. I find out one of my friends asked another, "What’s up with all the gym selfies Adele is posting?"

Like all things in my life, it takes me until the 11th hour to get serious about my diet. I start counting calories, which I hate doing. Truthfully, I didn’t want to let Kayla and her abs and her #BBG army down by not posting any results. I said I didn’t want to do this in an unhealthy way, but I’mso desperate to make the scale change that I suddenly became a ferocious calorie counter. I skip some meals. I know this is totally against what Kayla says in her guide, she doesn’t emphasize the scale at all, but I feel the pressure to get results, and I wonder if her followers do too.


It’s been two months since I finished BBG. I don’t think my "before and after" results are going to get me on Kayla’s Instagram. They aren’t very dramatic, which is a tad disappointing. When all was said and done, I lost six pounds in 12 weeks of workouts; four alone in the last weeks when I was really pushing myself in terms of diet.

Plenty of BBG girls don’t stop the workout after 12 weeks — they keep on trucking, moving onto the 2.0 version or working through the app. Honestly, I couldn’t handle that, I was happy to be done. Something about workout challenges stuck with me though, and now I’m trying to do 20 yoga classes in a month at my studio, Corepower Yoga.

I learned the simple power of not quitting something hard, of just sticking it with it and seeing improvement day by day.

I can actually almost do a proper chaturanga now, and I never could before (my tennis game on the other hand is horrendous because I didn’t practice at all while doing BBG). I’m completely obsessed with the hardest, sweatiest workout at my yoga studio Corepower. "You know what I say when my classes are looking tired?" the Yoga Sculpt teacher yells. "Burpees!" And I start really flying through them, thinking back to that class with Kayla when I could barely do a single one.

In these 12 weeks of BBG, I learned the simple power of not quitting something hard, of just sticking it with it and seeing improvement day by day. Ok, so it was my job not to quit, so major props to the #BBG community for sticking with this killer program.

And even though this workout has a pretty retrograde name (uh, every body is a bikini body), it taught me something about body image. When I started, I really hoped I could finish this article by saying I lost "X" number of pounds and got to my goal weight. That was going to be my idea of success and this is how my mindset about weight loss and health had always been. I feel like too many times in my life I’ve been obsessed by the scale and that number had the power to ruin my day.

Before starting BBG in January 2016 (L) and at the end of BBG (R) in March of 2016. Photos: Adele Chapin

In the end, I didn’t lose 10 pounds; I didn’t get back to what I weighed in college. Maybe some day I will, maybe not. But at the same time I’ve realized that I’m on track for what I really wanted to do when I started: fit into my clothes (including those damn overalls) and get stronger. I’ve accomplished that, and whatever the number on the scale is, it doesn’t have the power to take that away from me. You know what, I’m also proud of the little proto abs that I have now from all those "arms & abs" days, the proto-abs that perhaps only I can see.

Editor: Meredith Haggerty

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