What’s so bad about HIIT? (Kayla Itsines version)

Plus: Zadie Smith is Noticing women's biceps, Remi Bader tried semaglutide, and broccoli pesto pasta. This is Link Letter 68!

What’s so bad about HIIT? (Kayla Itsines version)
May 16-18 2022 on Kayla Itsines' Instagram feed.

We begin our session today by with a brief interlude of Strong Women at the Golden Globes. First we meditate upon Angela Bassett’s traps, about which MANY of you messaged me:

Long may she reign! Michelle Yeoh threatened the producers trying to play her off by saying, “Shut up, please! I can beat you up, okay? And that’s serious.” Last one: Jennifer Coolidge’s acceptance speech was so perfectly her.

Last weekend, I sent paid subscribers my cultural analysis of Kayla Itsines, her Bikini Body Guide, and her Sweat app (free subs can get a peek, or upgrade to read all 4,000+ words). I didn’t realize at the time I was writing it, but this all falls roughly on the 10-year anniversary of the 2013 launch of BBG (give or take a couple months).

The deal with Kayla Itsines
And the limits of saying you want to “help women.”

While I have my own read of where Kayla Itsines fits in the culture, I thought I’d turn the mic over to you all and see if anyone had any experiences with or opinions on Kayla, her Bikini Body Guide program, or the Sweat app they wanted to share. And boy did they!

Here’s a representative sample:

In 2015 I was the resident advisor at a University residence to a group of eighteen year old girls, who gave themselves and each other Kayla Itsines-induced eating disorders. I am entitled to, conservatively, one hundred million dollars. There was just something about being a teenage girl in Australia in 2015!


I was starting as a super-beginner and felt like I was going to die after the first workout. No thanks! ✌🏻


I was sent the PDF back in 2016 or early 2017 by my former fitness buddy (still my friend, but our fitness journeys have diverged, to say the least)—felt like an absolute failure because I could never complete a single workout. [It] probably discouraged me from moving my body for health for at least an entire year, because if I couldn’t do the workouts, fitness must just not be for my type of body/personality? Too weak for fitness? I barely tried to do the diet part at the time, but I suspect BBG contributed to the persistence of “1,200 calories” as an ideal in my mind, alongside that godawful subreddit. But it didn’t really wreak havoc on me until I got engaged 🤪 I know it’s so typical, but the months leading up to my wedding were probably the least healthy I’ve ever been body- and body-image-wise! Wish I could go back and tell that girl that I am actively throwing around barbells now as I type this!


Ugh, I did BBG for a year or so before my wedding in 2015 and honestly felt amazing and stronger than I ever had in my life, but probably just from the consistency and intensity of working out, not her program specifically. I ended up feeling so bored by the end of my time doing BBG. Got quite swept up in her Instagram world, too, and look back with mortification because it feels like a cult. Every single one of her IG posts makes me cringe deep in my soul. Thank you for writing about her with such thorough coverage and criticism.


I used the Sweat app for like… 6-8 months and loved it. Did the powerlifting program (not led by Kayla obv [ed. note: Stephanie Sanzo appears to have been responsible for the strength programming in the app during her affiliation]). I didn’t use it to peak for anything. But I think the overall strength programming was fantastic, especially for bench. My only caveat is that I also have/had the benefit of personal coaching prior to running the program, so knowing what/when to modify might bias me a bit. But I wish I had that type of program (or one like yours) when I was just getting started!


Oof. I downloaded Sweat for exactly the reasons you wrote about—I thought it would be decent because targeted to women, I liked Stephanie [Sanzo], I was trying to get back into moving during the pandemic. The HIIT-style workouts were never my thing, as much as I tried to make them work. There’s always so much jumping. I didn’t get any use out of the food or community aspects, both because they were buggy as hell and because they were toxic. As a person who doesn’t eat meat, the meal planning options were rough. Definitely not enough of anything useful (protein, fat, carbs), and heavy reliance on dairy to make up the difference. I think parts of the strength section could’ve been good, but the app was so borked—weight logs not actually recording weight, recommending moves and gear even after [I said] no to those things, recommending AB CHALLENGE CARDIO BLAST every other day. And this is a super small thing, but what finally made me unsub was trying to do a yoga sequence that was so poorly designed as to have caused lightheadedness from the constant, thoughtless up-down-up-down-fold-up-down etc. The forums were hell. Entirely weight loss, barely moderated.


Decided to get in shape, tried it out without even knowing what HIIT is, nearly had a stroke on my patio, immediately gave up. A lot of jump roping was involved, if I remember correctly, which is also something I legitimately can’t do but felt like there was no alternative for. So I just jumped fast.


One more thing: I’m looking with very wide eyes at this headline I came across during my research: “If You Want Sore Abs Tomorrow, Try This 100-Rep Core Challenge From Kayla Itsines.” Who wants sore abs tomorrow? Who??? If you “want” sore abs and are somehow in a position to influence other people, please go away, do some intensive internal reflection, and leave the rest of us alone!


~Discord Pick of the Week: Maybe I just have an exceptionally soft spot for this song, but I’m overjoyed to know “couples rhythmic gymnastics with your dog” is a thing. I will skip you to the energetic part that starts at 2 minutes, but by all means watch the whole thing:


Favs on favs: Zadie Smith wrote about Tár. What does this have to do with lifting or, even more generously, strength? Just give me a second, look:

If poor little Johanna mistakes Lydia Tár for an omnipotent God, she’s not too far off the mark. Conductors are godlike. You can’t start without me. They are the first cause of music. But women as gods, as artists—as first causes of anything—can still be a tricky proposition, especially, for some reason, in recent independent cinema. In the multiplexes, superheroines are busy flexing their much-celebrated biceps, but over in the art houses, the concept of the “independent woman” is being subjected to a little narrative passive aggression. In The Worst Person in the World, a Gen X graphic novelist gets terminal cancer to offset the destabilizing effect of his ex-girlfriend/muse becoming an artist herself. In Triangle of Sadness, the modeling industry is symbolically freighted with all the many sins of late capitalism—perhaps because it is one of the few trades in which women are the first cause of everything.

Emphasis mine. Zadie Smith hates us!! I’ve never been so honored. This whole piece whips.

Romper published a whole fitness issue. I especially liked this piece on what it’s like to be a grown-up child athlete (relatable to me!).

Everyone check out Mercy above, who is 96 years young, deadlifting 65 pounds!! I would say “protect Mercy” except Mercy can clearly take care of her damn self.

“What’s the best way for a not-particularly-athletic barista-slash-wrestling geek to go pro? Act really weird.”

Emma Carmichael wrote a very in-depth profile of Selma Blair and her journey with MS.

The time to talk about fixing NFL player health care is now.


TikTok star Remi Bader went on the Not Skinny But Not Fat podcast (the combination of words that modern life demands sometimes!) and described her negative experience with taking Ozempic a while ago, before it was enjoying the ubiquity it is now:

@dearmedia @Remi Jo’s experience with #ozempic was a little different than others today 👀 #ozempicweightloss #hollywoodsecrets #weightloss #notskinnybutnotfat #podcastclips ♬ Flying (Two AM Music Global) - Oliver Stutz

Over the weekend, a doctor popped up in my feed addressing criticism that people gain weight back when they stop taking semaglutide (the generic name for Ozempic) to lower their weight, and described this type of drug as for a “chronic” issue, similar to high blood pressure medication. I dunno, if high blood pressure medication barely worked for most people, relied on interrupting your related habits in order to work (many people feel nauseous/unable to eat when they are on semaglutide), and made your blood pressure twice as bad when you stopped taking it—I think we’d be asking more questions about the high blood pressure medication!

I support everyone making individual, informed choices that are right for them. But I feel very suspicious of much of the positive press around Ozempic, given criticisms from people whose judgment I trust (Ragen Chastain and Marquisele Mercedes have wonderful, insightful, methodical writings on this topic). I'm also suspicious given our great nation’s tendency to capitalize on anxieties by enriching privatized systems (cf. methadone) versus more holistic and humane solutions, or even slowing down and questioning whether the problem is really a problem (e.g. whether all people qualifying as “obese” need as much acute medical intervention as doctors currently push on them, especially as it's finally dawning on us that losing weight is not always good), there is a lot to consider here.

Presented without comment: “Rich women are much thinner than poorer ones; but rich men and poor men are just as likely to be overweight or obese.”

The fastest milkshake-ducking I’ve ever witnessed: A startup guy did a thread on why the AI chatbot GPT-3 didn’t work for his mental health support business; then it turned out he was experimenting on people seeking help who were probably also children.


Very excited to try this recipe from friend of the blog Sara Tane, broccoli/spinach pesto pasta using frozen vegetables.

Roombas are taking pictures of people, and they are ending up on Facebook.

E-girls are e-girling being in the military.

The remarkable emptiness of existence. I try to explain this to people sometimes and it never comes out quite right, but I’m about to try again: People love the Contact argument for there being alien life out there (“It would be an awful waste of space!”). Contact is one of my all-timers (s/o my fellow physics majors whose dads suddenly died) and Jodie Foster is mother.

But I think often about how if there were no other life, it would speak to exactly how minutely rare this all is, how precisely conditions have to come together in order to have what is probably going to end up a flash-in-the-pan of relatively fruitful biological evolution. This isn’t a religious argument but a statistical one. There is no must be or must not be about life on other planets, there just is or isn’t. And if there isn’t, that makes everything we have more precious. Don’t do stargazing or you will have thoughts such as this.[1]

That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—

  1. However, it’s always important to make allowances for “life” we don’t meaningfully understand, non-carbon-based forms, etc. We only recently learned trees can talk to each other; we understand barely anything.