For those of us who would classify our body type as ‘distinctly bog standard’, Instagram can be a daunting place.

Toned legs, gym-honed arms and stomachs that definitely don’t require tucking into jeans dominate the app, thanks to the rise of Instagram fitness stars, who have gained legions of fans with their exercise tips and beautiful bodies.

But what does it take to actually be one?

Well, I got a glimpse of just that thanks to Lilly Sabri – a fitness trainer, blogger and hugely popular Fitstagrammer – who gave a HIIT class with Whitworths to mark the launch of its new Shots range recently in London.

The exercises included those Lilly does herself four to five times a week, so it was a good opportunity to find out just how much effort it takes to get that dream bod.

The short answer is: a lot. Although HIIT is great for getting solid results in a short amount of time, it is still BLOODY HARD and  despite being a regular exerciser, I can’t imagine gearing myself up to do that intense a workout nearly every day of the week.

We started off with seeing how quickly we could do 40 high-knee runs, 20 mountain climbers and 10 ‘military’ burpees (which is where you lie down on your stomach before jumping up), repeating the whole set three times in an effort to reduce our times. That pretty much set the pace for the whole lesson, which featured 45 second bursts of (sometimes agonising!) exercises interspersed with short breaks.


That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight.

Among the most effective were the ab exercises. Lilly told us ‘try and remember these, as this is the ab workout I do’ as she took us through the moves, so I desperately tried to store everything in my memory bank, because if there’s one thing I want even more than the funds to do all my shopping in M&S Simply Food, it’s that lady’s stomach.

The exercises included twisting from the crunch position using a water bottle as a weight, lying flat on your back and repeatedly scissoring the legs up and down from a vertical position to flat out on the floor, and holding a crunch position with the legs bent at the knees, before gently tapping the toes on the floor.

There was also a Chaturanga-based move, which is where I got completely lost and had to be like ‘LILLY HELP ME’ and she was like ‘I got you’, which shows that she’s a lovely person who still has time for the rest of us despite having perfect abs.

I’ve mentioned before that a lot of press classes are a bit lax, but Lilly’s class was hardcore all the way through. The only respite came at the end when we had a yoga-style relaxing lie down (I think the correct name is Shavasana?) and man, I really felt like I’d earned that privilege.

The take-out was that my muscles hurt for several days, but I finally understood how people get those amazingly honed bodies. I often wonder why – despite doing running, pilates and aerobics at least five times a week – I don’t have one of those sculpted bods, and I think the answer is more targeted, bodyweight-focused exercises like Lilly’s. That and not seeing cake as a God-given daily right, but that could be more of a struggle…

Meeting Lilly Sabri

I know, we’re basically twins…

Whether you’re fat, thin, have the body of Jessica Ennis-Hill or anything in between, fitness is for everyone.

However, a quick glance at the adverts coming from most mainstream sports and fitness brands would suggest otherwise – tiny, size 8 bodies are EVERYWHERE (or, for blokes, chiselled six-packs as far as the eye can see).

So it was totally refreshing to see that this week, Nike has launched its sports bra campaign – and HOORAY there is someone who’s bigger than a size 10 in the photos.

The snaps appeared on Nike’s Instagram page, offering advice on how to find the perfect sports bra. While the main point of the campaign is to guide shoppers through the minefield of finding the perfect boob holder, it’s undeniable that using plus size models sends out a strong message about body positivity – if a mega sports brand like Nike is saying the fitness world is a place for all body shapes, people sit up and listen.

In fairness to this particular brand, they do have a strong track record in representing women who are talented, tough and inspirational in their adverts – Serena Williams, I’m looking at you. But I can’t remember seeing many adverts featuring more curvaceous girls modelling sportswear – perhaps this the start of a shift many people would like to see.

serena williams nike advert

After all, there is clearly an appetite for more diversity – when a gorgeous plus-size woman was featured on the front of Woman’s Running earlier this year, there was hugely positive feedback for what is still, ridiculously, seen as a ‘brave’ move by the editor.

The problem with not showing people of all shapes and sizes working out is that it puts people off. I’ve always hated the thought that anyone would be scared to exercise because they feel embarrassed by their body and what other people might think – as if it’s a whole experience that’s just not ‘for’ them. And by featuring more diverse body shapes in adverts, it not only helps to quash the myth that just because you’re larger, it means you’re unquestionably unhealthy – it might also encourage some of those who’ve been put off exercise previously to get involved.

Well done Nike – now let’s hope the other fitness brands follow suit.

Clean Eating's Dirty Secrets
It’s not often you find yourself shouting at the TV like ‘Omg, I agree with everything she says!’ – at least not since Margaret left The Apprentice.

But that’s exactly how I felt watching Grace Victory’s Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets on BBC Three this week.

The show saw Grace investigate the momentally popular ‘clean eating’ phenomenon, focusing mainly on the bloggers and self-styled nutrition experts who’ve made a fortune out of plugging eating plans which they claim made them glowing and gorgeous.

It included Grace trying various diets such as veganism and ‘the starch diet’ (which is basically just eating a crapload of potatoes) in a bid to find out whether she could reach the same health nirvana being preached across Instagram (spoiler alert – nope).

The documentary was particularly timely for me as I’m currently trying out a vegan diet for a feature I’m writing at work, and despite what the health bloggers might say, I am NOT finding it a doddle.

I’ve been vegetarian for years without much hardship, but giving up dairy and other animal products such as honey has been a real challenge so far – and I’m only nine days in! Already, I feel an unreasonable annoyance with all the people on the internet who are telling me that being vegan is really easy and fun – something Grace agrees with in the documentary (a girl gotta have cake, right?)

Another important point the programme raises is the questionable credentials of those spouting out health advice in a tone so authoritative you’d think they were actual professors. In fact, many nutritionists just have an online diploma to their name. Nothing wrong with online diplomas of course, but when it results in people peddling advice that a trained dietitian labels as “nonsense”, the results are dangerous.

The serious side of all this dietary piffle was shown when Grace visited an eating disorder clinic. A shocking stat that stayed with me came from one of the clinic’s lead staff, who said that a third – YES, A THIRD – of high profile health bloggers had approached her for help with orthorexia and other eating disorders. While someone expelling the virtues of solely eating potatoes on YouTube might seem like a bit of joke, that stat is certainly not.

Personally, I’ve been at times uncomfortable with some of ingredients bloggers’ cookbooks have advised me to eat in the name of ‘keeping clean’. The whole issue of replacing certain sugars with others, for example, is a real dietary quagmire. Is putting a litre of maple syrup into a cake really that much healthier than adding a few spoonfuls of sugar? I just don’t believe certain self-proclaimed ‘nutrition experts’ have the deep insight to tell me yes or no to this question.

Others, however, take a more balanced approach. I went to a talk by Madeleine Shaw, who was name-checked in the programme, and was really impressed with her healthy attitude towards food. There is also the argument that anything that encourages us to lay off the junk food is a good thing.

That being said, I have to agree with Grace – the proliferation of so-called food gurus sharing their ‘expertise’ is worrying, particularly when it leads to obsessiveness with eating ‘clean’. What my vegan experiment has taught me so far is this – a life without occasional indulgence is a pretty miserable one indeed, and while we’d all like to have Instagram-worthy abs, it’s not worth giving up the sheer joy of a good meal for.