Instagram-famous trainers are taking over the fitness scene. But are their get-fit programs really all they’re cracked up to be? Short answer: It depends.
“It’s only natural for us to see other people following a plan, having success, and want the same for ourselves,” says Ava Fitzgerald, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., sports performance coach at the Professional Athletic Performance Center in New York. In other words, it’s hard to scroll through transformation photos and abs selfies and not want to hop on board.
There are a few things you should keep in mind before double-tapping, though: Some people promoting fitness programs online don’t have the necessary qualifications to do so safely and effectively, says certified health and fitness specialist Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. So before you start any trendy online workout program, make sure the creator is certified by an accredited organization. (A few to look for include ACE, NASM, and NSCA.) And beware any nutrition program that doesn’t come from a registered dietitian.
Before you dive into a program, also remember that many of those “before” and “after” pics in your feed represent the best possible results, not necessarily the average ones. (Some of the images may even be digitally manipulated.) After all, fitness and nutrition programs aren’t one-size-fits-all.
If you’re itching to get in on the Instagram fitness community, we dug into its most popular workout plans with the help of top trainers and dietitians, to help you find the plan that’s best for you.
1. @Kayla_Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide
Certified personal trainer Kayla Itsines’ #BBG (Bikini Body Guide) is a fat-loss program for women that’s focused on 30-minute strength circuits—combining bodyweight exercises, gym equipment like medicine balls, and free weights. Some of the program’s staple moves include med ball squat-to-presses, pushups, lunges, and jump squats.
Related: 6 Exercises That Double As Cardio AND Strength Training
Itsines sells her 12-week workout plan (complete with photos of the moves) and a clean eating plan she developed with dietitians. You can follow up your first 12 weeks with a second 12-week workout plan, or try Itsines’ recently launched Sweat With Kayla app, which transforms her plans into a phone-friendly format and includes exercise demonstration videos.
Pros: Continued Results And Community
Itsines’ workout plans are designed to continually build you up through weeks one to 12 and 13 to 24, ramping things up by including more challenging moves and heavier weights as you go. The goal: to prevent plateaus by progressively challenging your body. (Lifting heavier and heavier helps women build more muscle and burn more fat.)
However, perhaps the biggest benefit of #BBG is the enormous community behind it. Seriously, just check out the six million Instagram posts tagged #BBG. There are even closed Facebook groups in most major U.S. cities (and many abroad!) for members to offer support, swap ideas, and plan in-person meet-ups.
Cons: Little Customization For The Cost
Whether you buy the workout and eating plans together or apart, it will cost you around 100 bucks. However, the workouts are not easily customizable and the nutrition plan offers only regular and vegetarian versions.
Fitzgerald recommends building up a base of strength before starting the program, since many of the moves aren’t quite as beginner-friendly as they may seem and the program doesn’t provide modification options. Jackknives (an ab move), for example, are hard to nail if you don’t have the core strength to properly perform a hollow-body hold first. Plus, moves like burpees-to-bench-jumps and double bench jumps can be disasters waiting to happen if you have cranky knees or balance issues.
The meal plan is a similar story—the recipes offered are balanced, but may not fit your unique calorie and macronutrient (carbs, fat, protein) needs, says White. You may need to adjust portion sizes and swap out ingredients—like dairy products—if you have any dietary restrictions.
Your Move: Try The App First
For a #BBG experience that’s a little more interactive and customizable, go for the Sweat With Kayla app. “It includes workouts, recipes, and challenges to keep you motivated, along with recipes for a regular diet, vegetarians, pescatarians, lacto-vegetarians, and vegans,” White says.
You can also store progress photos, connect with other women doing the plan, and read additional content about fitness and nutrition. Download a seven-day free trial of the app to make sure the workouts and eating plans fit your individual needs before handing over your credit card—the app costs 20 bucks a month.
Best friends and trainers Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn share workouts, full exercise plans, recipes, and nutrition plans online as Tone It Up. (Katrina has a B.S. in health science and Karena has ‘studied kinesiology.’) In addition to loads of free workout videos, recipes, and more, they also sell premium workout programs (called “Beach Babe”) for about 40 dollars, along with a nutrition plan—created by dietitian Lori Zanini, R.D.— that includes veg, gluten-free, and other options for 150 dollars. Tone It Up also has a large Instagram community, with almost two million posts tagged #tiu.
Pros: Great For Beginners
The Tone It Up program packs beginner-level, at-home-friendly resistance training, as well as short cardio and stretching workouts, into roughly 30 minutes per day. “Overall, the movements are simple, and include squats, lunge variations, bicep curls, triceps extensions, upright rows, conventional rows, and a plethora of dumbbell work,” says Baltimore-based strength coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S. Since the exercises all use just your bodyweight or very light weights, Tone It Up is a good program for women looking to ease into a lifting program, she says. And since Tone It Up offers so many free workouts and videos, you can get a feel for their style (and your results) risk-free.
Cons: Not Ideal For Advanced Exercisers Or Major Transformations
While using body weight and light dumbbells makes strength training accessible to beginners, it’s not as effective for more experienced exercisers or women looking to transform their body in a big way. “While going light may be beneficial at the start of the program, it might not be enough for women to see drastic physique changes,” Suter says. That’s because we need to