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Why Kayla Itsines’ Workouts Are Taking Over the World

The Australian trainer responsible for the slew of #BBG photos flooding your social feeds has become a go-to resource for those looking to get in shape. With her new Sweat With Kayla app ($20/month, iTunes) dominating the gym schedules of women everywhere, we wondered: Does her plan really work? In short, yes. Very much so. With nearly five million Instagram followers and a legion of dedicated fans, there’s one thing we know for sure: Kayla Itsines is a success story.

How the Plan Works
Sign up for the app and you’ll score a workout and nutrition plan that’s practically spoonfed to you. Itsines suggests three sessions of resistance training each week, along with three low-intensity steady-state cardio workouts (LISS), a stretch day, and a rest day. But what does that all mean? Let’s break it down:

Resistance Training: With Itsines’ strength workouts, you’ll rotate through four seven-minute circuits comprised of four exercises designed to get your blood pumping and metabolism humming (think: burpees, mountain climbers, and jumping lunges). “It’s very good programming,” says Jessica Matthews, senior advisor for health and fitness education at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “Plus, you’re in and out in under 30 minutes—28 to be exact—which is great and more realistic for someone who doesn’t have a ton of time to devote to the gym.” (Want to mix up your workouts? Check out Women’s Health’s Ignite routine created by Next Fitness Star Nikki Metzger.)

Strength workouts are an important component to any fitness program, says Matthews. And research has shown that women who lift weights shed more body fat than those who just do cardio. Just schedule your strength workouts on alternating days, she says, because your muscles need 48 hours to properly recover from a hard AF sesh.

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LISS Cardio: While research has shown that cardio intervals may be better for weight loss, Matthews says she doesn’t mind seeing three days of LISS in this program. “The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, and LISS falls under that category,” she explains. Itsines’ plan advises users to get in 35 to 45 minutes of whatever steady-state activity they love most, whether that’s walking at a brisk pace, biking, or riding the elliptical.

It’s also NBD for you to break up your LISS throughout the day, especially if it’s easier on your schedule, Matthews says.“Research shows that getting in 10 minute bouts here and there gets you the same benefits as working continuously,” she says. On the flip side, don’t be afraid to get your LISS and strength-training done in one bang. “There’s no reason you can’t do it all in one session together, if that’s more practical for you and your daily schedule,” she says.

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Stretch: Itsines’ plan also calls for one workout each week to be solely dedicated to stretching and foam rolling. The app will guide you through more than 20 different movements to help maximize recovery before your next workout. “If you tend to skip out on that portion of your workout class because you have to rush off to work, this is a great way to make sure you’re still making time for it,” Matthews says.

Making It Work for You
To recap, Itsines suggests six workouts a week with just one rest day. While that may be chill for more advanced athletes, it can be a lot for a beginner. In fact, Itsines specifically warns that her app is not for newbies. So if you’re a freshmen in the world of fitness, Matthews suggests starting with bodyweight exercises before going balls to the walls with Itsines’ plan.

On the flip side, Matthews loves how the plan gets progressively more difficult as it goes on. And of course, the guided workouts tend to ramp up the motivation factor, she says. “When you have a trainer guiding you along the way, and basically handing over a step-by-step guide that helps you get the results you’re after, then it’s a lot easier to follow,” Matthews says. And because it follows the established guidelines recommended by ACE and the AHA, Matthews says you basically just have to play follow the leader.

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Want to beef up the app’s workouts? Focus on expanding your warmup, Matthews suggests. Itsines recommends five minutes of walking before jumping into each sesh, but research proves that a good dynamic warm-up can increase flexibility and blood flow. “Incorporating exercises like cat and cow poses, leg swings, and hip and arm circles take the joints through their range of motion and prepare the body for movements that are going to come later at a much higher intensity,” Matthews says.

Don’t hesitate to go HAM with your HIIT, either. While Itsines’ plan doesn’t ask you to work at a 10 out of 10 on the intensity scale until weeks nine through 12, Matthews says you could add HIIT intervals even sooner. In weeks five through eight, you could aim for an intensity of five to seven out of 10, she says. “You’ll be able to work on your aerobic efficiency, which is basically building your body up to be ready for such high intensity intervals and minimizing your risk for injury,” she says.

Most importantly: Don’t forget to store a “before” picture in the app’s “Progress” log, so you fully appreciate your new abs 12 weeks later.

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