A strength coach tries to get InstaFit: Which popular exercise program is more effective – Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide or the Tone It Up Challenge?

This year, I decided to spice up my regular strength training and running routine by trying a few exercise programs that seem to be popular with the Instagram crowd due to their impressive #transformationtuesday progress pictures and heavy focus on their respective social media communities: the Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide (#BBG) and the Tone It Up Bikini Challenge (#TIUChallenge).

Besides trying something new for fitness last year, I was curious to see if these Insta-popular exercise programs are actually safe and effective from a strength training, functional movement and body composition point of view, instead of just another way to burn extra calories.

**Warning! This post contains #Fitspo images (bikini bods, abs, butts, etc.), so maybe don’t read it on your work computer OR if you’re trying to avoid images like that.***

In May of 2016, I completed the 8-week Tone It Up Bikini Challenge workouts, and followed the nutrition plan (but added in more calories because I was running as well) for 4 weeks. As summer ramped up my nutrition slid by the wayside a bit, but I still kept up the workouts until after the challenge ended.

The Bikini Series Bundle you get when you sign up for the plan.

In October of 2016, I started the 12-week Bikini Body Guide. I did not follow the nutrition plan because they didn’t offer a vegan/pescatarian option, and the meals were pretty plain in comparison to what TIU offers. I finished the exercise program just before Christmas.

I went into both programs with an open mind, and chose to do what worked best for me. Ideally, I would have followed both nutrition plans to a T to compare and contrast, but I don’t like following “diet” plans because they’re never realistic and one plan does not work for everybody. As far as aesthetic results are concerned, both programs helped me develop and maintain muscle tone, and I was definitely “fit”; but since I didn’t follow the meal plans and had to modify/add to workouts, I wasn’t able to fully compare and contrast the programs based on what they made me look like. As a strength coach, I was looking for program effectiveness, functionality and safety.

Here’s what I thought about each exercise program:

Tone It Up Challenges (TIU)

The good stuff

  • Challenging but fun workouts. Although some exercises were a bit complicated at first to perform (tricep-extension-lunge-back-torso twist… ?), once I got the hang out them they were fun to perform. I was sore almost every day throughout the challenge, so I know they were doing SOMETHING, even though most moves were performed with 5-lbs weights.
  • Adorable trainers. Although I thought Karena’s and Katrina’s bubbly, California girl-esque demeanors would be annoying at first, I actually found them to be super positive, supportive and highly entertaining to watch. They come across as women you’d actually WANT to be friends with in real life. They joke around a lot during some of the cardio and HIIT videos, which some people may find distracting – I found it distracting as well, but in a good way as it actually helped to distract ME from the pain of 20 burpees in a row.
  • A good balance of strength, stretching and cardio. I loved the variety of workouts and thought overall they were well-balanced. Each muscle group got worked at least twice every week, and they encourage you to doing at least a 5K for #SundayRunday, which I liked, of course, as a runner.
  • Positive and supportive #TIUTeam community on Instagram. Karena and Katrina are crazy active on Instagram, and don’t just share transformation or bikini photos all day long, which is nice. I also found that by using any one of the #TIU hashtags, other members doing the challenge would stop by my posts to offer words of encouragement and support.

The not-so-good stuff

  • There was no heavy lifting. Lighter weight and high rep workouts are effective, but should be combined with one or two days of heavier lifting for a more well-rounded program. If you’re looking to get stronger, you’ve got to lift heavier. They do suggest you can use heavier weights, but some of the moves are better performed with lighter weights to maintain proper form. It would be good if they performed a few simple exercises with heavier weights as an example.Some moves were too easy. This is great if you’re a beginner, but not-so-great if you’re an advanced exerciser or athlete who’s used to more challenging exercises. This is where I had to add in extra sets and reps to make the workout more effective.

Verdict: Overall, I really liked the Tone It Up Bikini Challenge (read my review here) and am a few days into their #LookForLove New Year’s Challenge. So far the workouts (featuring Jillian Michaels!) are harder, and there seems to be more opportunities to go heavier with the weights if you want.

The @ToneItUp Instagram feed

Bikini Body Guide 1 (BBG)

Good stuff

  • Hard workouts. Each workout consisted of two sets of 4-5 moves to be complete in as many sets as you could in 7 minutes. The workouts got harder and harder each week, and offered cardio as well as strength training.
  • Easy-to-follow guide. The BBG is a downloadable PDF, and it was fairly easy to follow along with. Some of the harder moves had modifications in the back, which would be helpful to exercise newbies.
  • Incorporates cardio. The program is three days a week of strength/HIIT and two days of 30-45 minutes of LISS (long, steady state cardio), which worked well for me. I did the BBG workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and ran for 45 minutes on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Not so good stuff

  • Incomplete workouts. I was surprised that there were hardly any posterior exercises (back exercises) in the BBG. I had to supplement every single workout with my own strength exercises to ensure I was getting a balanced workout. I hope this has been addressed in the BBG2.
  • Too much pushing and crunching. Each week had me doing anywhere between 100-150 push-ups and/or abdominal crunches and sit-ups (which most people shouldn’t be doing anyway) with hardly any exercises for the opposing muscle groups. Again, I had to supplement in my own workouts for a more-balanced program.
  • Challenging but kind of boring. Doing 100 push-up type moves back-to-back is HARD. But it’s also really boring. Even though it’s a HIIT circuit format, I found myself slowing losing my form and dreading doing it again.
  • Superficial-feeling Instagram feed: Miss Itsines’ Instagram feed just didn’t jive with me. Sure, both the Tone It Up girls and Kayla post hundreds of shots of their bikini-clad bods, but there is just something about Kayla’s feed that doesn’t seem as authentic, positive or supportive as the TIU girls. Maybe it’s because she hardly ever posts photos of her face? Maybe she has someone else managing her feed? I don’t know. I’m sure she’s lovely in person. The #BBG Instagram community and associated hashtags did seem supportive, but much less engaged than the #TIU community.
  • No heavy lifting. See my comment in the TIU section above.

Kayla’s Instagram feed

Verdict: Overall it was fun to mix up my workouts with HIIT and circuit training, but in my personal and professional opinion, I would not follow this program again or recommend it to anyone who’s a beginner, has back issues or past and present knee and shoulder injuries.

Have you tried either of the Bikini Body Guide and/or the Tone It Up Bikini Challenge?
What do you think of them?
What do you love about them? What would make them better?



Linking up with Amanda for Thinking Out Loud Thursday!