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.
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.
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 continually increase the stress (a.k.a. weight) put on our bodies in order to continue burning calories and building muscle.
“Women may think they can look as toned and lean as the girls in the workout videos from just their workouts, but this is far from the truth,” she says. Sticking with four-pound dumbbells will only land you in Plateau Central in the long run.
Your Move: Increase The Intensity On Your Own
While many of Tone It Up’s workout videos include progressions and modifications to help match the moves to your fitness level, at a certain point you’re going to need to increase your workouts’ intensity in order to continue seeing results. That means lifting heavier weights, adding in extra reps or sets, or shortening your rest intervals, Suter says. If you have anything left it the tank at the end of your workouts, that’s your cue to take things to the next level—so grab heavier dumbbells or pump out an extra set of each move.
NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)-certified personal trainer Anna Victoria’s FBG (Fit Body Guide) is a fat-loss and toning program that’s broken up into three 30-minute strength workouts and three cardio workouts per week. Each workout plan—she has multiple—takes you through 12 weeks of workouts and can be combined with a 12-week meal plan for roughly 80 bucks. At first you’ll build strength using your body weight and perform lower-intensity cardio—but as the weeks and months progress, you’ll add weights to your strength training and build up to high-intensity intervals for your cardio.
Pros: Highly Customizable Nutrition Plan
The FBG meal plan focuses on whole foods, has vegan and vegetarian-friendly options, is highly customizable, and provides macro guidelines for flexible eating. While it does contain recipes, it also offers information about healthy foods and proper portion sizes so you can create your own meals. Victoria, who isn’t certified in nutrition, created the nutrition plan and had it approved by a nutritionist, says White.
Cons: Less Exercise Instruction Than Most Beginners Need
Expect to find everything from biceps curls to box jumps to single-leg Romanian deadlifts in Victoria’s workouts. Instructional images give you a rough idea of how to perform the moves, but don’t come with the full descriptions really needed to master form. So while an experienced exerciser who is familiar with the moves may be able to follow right along, the plan may be more difficult for a beginner, who won’t be able to perform single-leg glute bridges or Bulgarian split squats with proper form in the first week of a new program, White says.
If you’re more experienced in the gym, though, these are totally effective moves. They use multiple muscle groups at once to build muscle and trigger significant metabolic changes.
Your Move: Download The Program Preview
Not sure if you’re ready for Anna Victoria’s workouts? The Fit Body Guide offers previews, so you can check out before diving in. “Before purchasing a meal plan guide or workout guide, I would recommend downloading the previews and trying them out first to see if the plans are for you,” White says. If the moves are outside your comfort zone, build your squat, deadlift, lunge, pushup, and row strength before you get started.
Certified personal trainer Emily Skye’s FIT or Fitness Inspiration Transformation is a program designed to build muscle and burn fat. Each phase lasts four weeks and includes 30-minute daily workouts (consisting of strength training and HIIT circuits) and various nutritionist-developed meal plans and nutritional guidelines.
Pros: Highly Effective Exercises
Large, compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and swings make up the bulk of the training program. By working large groups of muscles with every rep, these moves help women get the most benefit in the least time possible, explains Canada-based kinesiologist and certified exercise physiologist Gavin McHale, C.S.E.P., C.E.P. Skye provides instructional videos, which makes nailing these technical exercises easier. Since these moves require some base strength, though, Emily Skye’s program is probably best for those with some strength-training experience.
Cons: Structure Not Ideal For Getting The Most From Those Exercises
Skye’s offers three four-week workout phases: Phase 1 is a full-body plan, Phase 2 is a legs and butt plan, and Phase 3 is an abs and core plan. But this approach just doesn’t make sense, says McHale. After all, as soon as you stop training your legs, you start losing your hard-earned leg gains—and miss out on a significant calorie burn. In an ideal world, each phase of the program should focus on your full body and build on what you accomplished in the last one.
Plus, newbies who don’t have a particular move down pat may struggle to perform the number of reps in the workouts (around 12) with proper form. Remember: the more reps you do, the greater your chances of breaking form and using muscles other than the ones intended.
Your Move: Combine The Three Phases Into One
Instead of focusing on each phase separately, McHale recommends merging all of Emily Skye’s programs. That way you’ll train upper and lower body multiple times a week, and benefit from HIIT and additional core work throughout the full 12 weeks. This will keep your strength balanced and progress steady.
Meanwhile, when performing large, compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows, bench presses, and kettlebell swings, feel free to dial down the number of reps and focus on quality over quantity. You can up the number of reps—or the amount of weight you use—as you get more comfortable.