The brains and body behind popular fitness program Sweat tells Body+Soul how she keeps it all together. Spoiler alert: she asks for help
Kayla Itsines may have more than 40 million followers on social media, but she’s just like the rest of us mere couch-loving mortals in at least one crucial way.
“Sometimes I go to the gym and think, I can’t be bothered. [Daughter] Arna may be teething or she’s sick and I’m like, please someone tell me what to do today because my brain isn’t working,” she tells Body+Soul with a laugh. (You can almost hear the worldwide sigh of relief, can’t you?)
“Motivation is fleeting, a trigger. It happens when you see something or someone says something, but discipline will help you show up anyway. If I relied on motivation, I’d never get anything done. It’s about discipline and routine.”
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It’s a fastidious routine that is the backbone of her life as a single mum.
The 30-year-old Adelaide-born fitness entrepreneur split from fiancé Tobi Pearce, 29, in August 2020 after eight years – Arna was born in 2019.
After Itsines’ first Instagram post in 2012, her following exploded and the couple launched an e-book, Bikini Body Guide, in 2014. The hugely successful Sweat app that followed is a mix of workouts and meal plans, and quickly became one of Apple’s biggest-grossing health apps.
They scored top billings on young rich lists and, in July this year, sold Sweat to iFIT Health & Fitness, with reports each pocketed $200 million (both are still involved in the business).
Refreshingly, Itsines seems unaffected by her fame, fortune and accolades, saying she lives in a bubble that consists of “love, culture and family”. And, she reveals, adjusting to life as a single mum has been easier than becoming a mum in the first place.
She credits her “big Greek family” in Adelaide with enabling her weekly fitness routine, which includes three low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio sessions, three to five high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, “an express workout [15 minutes, no equipment], and stretching and foam roller when I remember”.
She says these workouts are scheduled in her calendar.
The message she wants to demystify – for single mums and everybody else, too – is that you don’t have to sacrifice your fitness. Instead, ask for help.
“I wouldn’t have survived this [past year] without my support network: my mum, sister, grandmas and dad,” she says.
“The way I juggle it is falling back on them and that’s hard for me as a businesswoman. I am very driven, I like being in control of everything and it’s really hard for me to reach out and ask for help. But when I do, I get so much of it.”
Her other top tip? Unearthing an activity you actually enjoy. “Try, fail, suck at it, show up again until you find something you love.”
As for using your children as makeshift dumbbells when you deadlift, she’s a “work-out-by-yourself kinda person” and cherishes the time to herself.
“If I have Arna while I’m cooking, cleaning and working, and then have her in my training sessions as well – that’s a lot of time,” says Itsines, who is quick to acknowledge that not every parent or carer has a dial-a-support network, the mental bandwidth to “try new things”, or a living room big enough to smash out 10 burpees.
“Some people are stuck in apartments with kids in lockdown and I get it. They are reading this thinking, what about me?”
She admits she finds it tougher dishing out advice during these pandemic-ridden days. “Two years ago, I was broad with what I was saying, but with Covid I’m on eggshells, especially when I talk about being a single mum,” she humbly admits.
“Some people say, ‘Give me tips,’ and others say, ‘Stop giving me tips as I feel all this pressure.’ What about if you’re just surviving? What if you’re juggling four kids? It’s about whatever works for you.”
It’s her astute observations of Sweat’s community and the mental roadblocks women face that is the intangible reason for her phenomenal success. So, what keeps her going when she’s overwhelmed?
“I work out every day because I feel like a boss: confident, empowered and strong. I want to be a good mum to Arna and keep up with her,” she admits.
“I was at [Adelaide’s] Henley Beach the other day and I thought, this is my ‘why’. I was strong enough to throw her in the air and I thought, this is it: I want to be that mum. I want people to look at me and think, if she can do it then I can, too.”
4 healthy habits of busy people
Advice from the experts to help you plan for success.
“I set my alarm an hour before Arna gets up. I shower, get dressed, cut my lunch – tuna salad with rice. I’ll schedule my workout for the day, literally drag it in my calendar and text my friends: ‘We’re training at the gym at this time.’”
Michele Chevalley Hedge, nutritionist
“On Saturday or Sunday, plan your food for the week. Cook and freeze a bolognaise or chilli, or a vegetarian option. It’s cheap to make, saves time and you don’t waste money on takeaway.”
Ali Hill, psychologist
“Win your wake up. Research has shown that having a consistent morning routine is key to a more productive day.”
Dr Aimee Brown, holistic chiropractor
“At night when your brain can’t switch off, have a pen and paper by your bed and get all those thoughts down on paper. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see it or whether it makes sense, getting it out will help you sleep better.”
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