At a time when most of the gyms are still closed closed have been closed for what feels like forever (March 17, 2020–a day that will live in infamy), many of us have been relegated to at-home workouts. After months of trying to find the best (ie most challenging) at-home workouts, I fancy myself an expert on the subject.
The best fitness influencers base their advice in science, administering legitimate and vetted nutritional advice, as well as truly effective and challenging workouts that garner actual results in terms of body composition, athleticism, and strength. By challenging, I mean that I’m dripping in sweat, huffing and puffing, muscles worked to complete exhaustion, and left sore the next day. I want at-home workouts that I find just as challenging as my usual gym workouts. The following influencers have done just that for me:
A former Iron-man competitor from London, Natacha Oceane is my go-to fitness influencer. I first discovered her in early 2019, and was incredibly impressed with her approach to fitness. (and, admittedly, her physique…I wish I could have abs like that!). Unlike many online fitness influencers who are geared towards beginners, Natacha’s workouts are intense and difficult for intermediate-to-advanced athletes. That’s not to say that her channel isn’t accessible to beginners, but I have found her channel and workouts to be inclusive for everyone, as she includes modifications, different difficulty levels, and demonstrates how to truly push oneself to advance physically.
I took to following her free workouts and workout guides in the gym, and never failed to feel challenged and increasingly stronger. In addition to her free workouts on YouTube and Instagram–ranging from HIIT workouts, bodyweight workouts, dumbbell workouts, kettlebell workouts, plyometrics, and functional workouts–Natacha also provides her viewers with scientifically-based health information, including her “Science Explained” series in which she runs a variety of experiments on herself and relays peer-reviewed findings from scientific journals. She also provides healthier, long-term nutritional advice, advocating for intuitive eating rather than restrictive and often ineffective diets. Instead deprive herself of her favorite foods, Natacha skillfully demonstrates how to eat in moderation and enjoy a variety of foods for what they provide on both a nutritional and spiritual level.
Her holistic approach to wellness sets her apart from other fitness influencers who promise fast results with minimal effort. If anything, Natacha completely rejects that mold, as evident in her videos when she physically pushes herself outside of her comfort zone, serving as an inspiration for her viewers. Furthermore, Natacha is true to her principles, leaving her partnership with Gymshark due to concerns over other Gymshark Athletes advertising dangerous, unscientific, low-calorie diets.
During the pandemic, Natacha doubled down on her focus on complete wellness, including the importance of mental health. She pivoted away from traditional “gym goals” towards enjoying movement in general, focusing on her emotional wellbeing, and sharing how she did so with her followers. Additionally, she released a variety of challenging at-home workouts on both her YouTube channel and Instagram page, cycling between bodyweight workouts, calisthenics, and HIIT workouts. What is more, Natacha released not one, but two at-home workout guides available for purchase. The guides, Home Reload and Home Zero, are both designed to challenge her audience, whether they be beginners with no equipment or hard-core weightlifters with a bevy of kettlebells and resistance bands in their arsenal. Furthermore, her guides come with a nutritional guide written with the help of dietician Rene McGregor, who worked with the Great British Olympic team, allowing Natacha to spread concrete nutritional information to her viewers.
These programs, along with her free workouts, have been a saving grace for me, especially early on in the pandemic when I was unsure of how to have intense home-workouts so as to not lose any progress I had made in the past few years. Natacha’s programs have not only helped me maintain my muscle mass and athleticism, but have also helped me maintain my sanity. Because of this, Natacha is among the best (and my favorite) fitness influencers out there today. My only critique for Natacha is that I wish she would put out more videos–they’re just so good!
A licensed physiotherapist and pilates instructor, Lilly Sabri is probably one of the most qualified influencers out there. Lilly has worked with a variety of high-level sports teams, including Chelsea FC, the English Women’s Football Team, and more. She brings her professional experience to each workout, serving as another solid example of how to challenge oneself through exercise.
Lilly’s workouts are probably some of the most challenging I have ever done, especially in terms of home workouts. These workouts satisfy my inner masochist, as they have me yelping in pain, dripping in sweat, and barely able to move the next day–just what I like. In addition to noticing improvements in my stamina, I’ve noticed a difference in my physique after following her workouts for a few months–something that I haven’t noticed so significantly since I started wight lifting four years ago.
Lilly uses the progressive overload principle, pilates, HIIT, and weights to give her followers a variety of consistently intense workouts. Her expertise as a physiotherapist is particularly impressive, as her emphasis on form and core activation are helpful in preventing injuries; I was particularly impressed by this, as much of the information I received in physical therapy last summer was repeated by Lilly, helping me maintain the improvements I had made in those sessions. Additionally, Lilly puts out detailed, free workout programs on a biweekly basis for her followers, which helps in choosing what videos to follow throughout the week. Lilly’s live workouts, which she later uploads to her YouTube channel, often feature a Q&A session in which Lilly can further educate her fans on all things nutrition and training. As Lilly is an Optimum Nutrition athlete, some of these Q&As feature Optimum Nutrition experts.
Similar to Natacha, Lilly’s follow-along workouts on her YouTube channel demonstrate her physical prowess, while also serving as a positive example for her followers. Lilly continually encourages her followers, aiding in their ability to push themselves past their perceived limits and improve their athleticism. Particularly helpful is her variety of modifications for beginners, as well as ways to help intensify the workouts she presents. Her workouts are accessible for all levels and do not fail to challenge anyone who tries them.
What truly sets Lilly apart, though, is her online community. Lilly goes above and beyond with her fans, often calling them out by name in her follow-along workouts, giving shout-outs to those who review her channel, and even creating a guide with one of her biggest fans. Her online community allows people looking to improve their body composition, mental health, and confidence to do so with the support of thousands of others. This is particularly helpful amid lockdowns, as many of us have had to continue or start our health and wellness journies on our own.
Now, Bryan Kest is not really an “influencer,” but his online yoga classes are probably the best ones out there. Bryan, a world-renowned yoga instructor, has been recording and posting his in-person and live-streamed yoga classes for years now. Prior to the pandemic, I attended some of Bryan’s in-person classes, which were a game-changer for me. His classes are physically demanding, yet chock-full of wisdom. For someone who is prone to feeling anxious, Bryan’s classes have been a vital tool in my mental health routine.
Amid the pandemic, Bryan’s classes on poweryoga.com have been particularly helpful amid the stress of the pandemic. His philosophy of using yoga to practice engaging in stressful situations with calmness is the perfect message for the modern-day. Each class leaves you feeling better than when you had started, and sets a positive tone for the rest of your day. By practicing yoga in this way, I have personally felt calmer and happier, even amid the craziness we’ve all experienced in the past year.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that these are yoga classes–while they may be slower paced than other workouts, they are just as (if not, more) challenging. Bryan consciously incorporates a wide variety of aspects of fitness into each class, while emphasizing the importance of listening to your body, remaining present, and leaving all of your mental baggage at the door. Each of his nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout each class will surely change your outlook for the better.
Although I am attempting to describe the beauty of PowerYoga classes, words cannot do them justice–you simply must try for yourself.
Bryan’s classes are available online at poweryoga.com. The website includes free classes, pre-recorded classes accessed through a subscription (which is well worth it, in my opinion), or via livestreams.
Now that I’ve covered the best fitness influencers, it’s time to go through who I consider to be the worst.
Based on my criteria, the “worst” fitness influencers–simply put–are the ones who are not for me. These influencers lack challenging workouts (or, at least, workouts that I find challenging), and lack the depth of my favorite fitness influencers. The following influencers may be helpful for beginners, but after gaining some more experience and athleticism, you may find yourself outgrowing them. As a disclaimer: This is simply my opinion/ranking of some of the most popular influencers. The following influencers are quite popular and are doing a great job of motivating beginners and providing resources to people who may not otherwise exercise. I simply do not feel fulfilled with these influencers.
Like Lilly Sabri, Cassey Ho is also a registered pilates instructor and is hugely successful as an internet fitness instructor. However, her workouts are more geared towards people who have never really worked out before, making her workouts less challenging for people like myself who are used to working out at least five times per week. Unlike Lilly, Cassey’s workouts are primarily bodyweight-based and are not structured in the same way Lilly’s are (circuit based), making the exercises less intense.
My biggest gripe with Cassey, though, is not her workouts. I used to enjoy her workouts when I first started working out on my own (outside of sports) in middle school and high school. She does indeed give valuable resources to her audience, many of whom are beginners. The biggest issue I have with Cassey is her nutritional advice.
Unlike Natacha and Lilly, who both advocate for intuitive eating, Cassey has been known to demonstrate less-than-ideal eating habits. This is not to say that Cassey has any sort of eating disorder, but some of her diet recommendations sometimes toe the line between appropriate calorie restriction and crash-dieting. Her series “Cheap Clean Eats,” for example, touts recipes with tiny portion sizes with only a few hundred calories per meal. In her own fitness journey, she’s bounced back and forth between various types of diets and has even struggled with orthorexia in the past. Even though she’s been open about her struggles, it still concerns me that she is giving nutritional advice to her impressionable audience, most of whom are young girls who may take Cassey’s word as gospel. This is especially true with Cassey’s blanket approach to nutrition, as she recommends less personalized diets, rather than more realistic, personalized eating trends for individuals. Her continual oversimplification of nutrition is in full force on her Instagram page and TikTok (which I personally find really annoying–but that’s neither here nor there). Perhaps what is most frustrating about Cassey’s approach to nutrition, though, is her claim that she rejects “diet culture,” despite being a prominent part of it and promoting the very ideas she claims to disagree with.
Now, obviously, I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian or expert of some sort, but I do a lot of reading and research on nutrition in my free time. I do know that Cassey’s nutritional advice never jived with me, even in my ignorant adolescence. For a more clinical view of Cassey’s nutritional information, check out this video:
Note: I have my own disagreements with this video, but I think Abbey Sharp does a good job of discussing diet culture and deconstructing how Cassey contributes to it.
Deemed the Quarantine Queen last spring amid the original (and in LA, the neverending) COVID-19 lockdowns, Chloe Ting is perhaps one of the most popular fitness influencers, particularly on YouTube. Like Cassey, I do believe that Chloe provides her followers with valuable resources for getting into fitness and exercising. But, again, like Cassey, Chloe’s workouts are definitely more geared to people who are just beginning to exercise and are not used to moving their body on a regular basis. This is evident just watching one of Chloe’s workouts–she seems to barely exert herself doing body-weight workouts that only really “work” if you push yourself to your limit; this is demonstrated in her burpees, in which she barely hops an inch on the ground, or in her push-ups, in which her elbows barely bend. (I’m not sure how she can call herself a fitness guru with such atrocious form…). Her lackadaisical image in her exercise videos can give the impression that you do not need to push yourself in order to “see results” that she promises, when that’s clearly not true. In order to meet goals, challenge yourself physically and mentally, and do things you’ve never done before, you must push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Doing workouts as lazily as Chloe does will not get you anywhere, no matter what she promises in her video titles.
While her workouts aren’t my cup of tea, I can appreciate Chloe’s influence. Not only has she inspired many people new to exercising to start their health and fitness journey, but she has created a fun community for those individuals. In addition, unlike Cassey, Chloe actually seems to have a healthier approach to food, eating a balanced diet that she shares with her followers.
On the whole, these two “worst” influencers probably have a net positive impact on the world–however, if you are an experienced athlete looking for more concrete nutritional advice and workouts routines that can bolster your already active routine, save yourself some time and go for the “best” influencers instead.