Power couple

#Fitstagram stars Faya Nilsson and Zanna van Dijk have a half-hour workout to kick-start your new-year body

Incredible, aren’t they? Believe it or not, there was a time when these two visions of fitness — two of the hottest #fitstagram stars out there, with 150k followers between them — looked more like you and me. It was as students that both had their fitness metamorphosis. “I was drinking loads, staying up late,” admits Faya Nilsson, the 29-year-old London-based personal trainer and award-winning fitness blogger. At the time, she was (ironically) studying nutrition. “I put on loads of weight, felt dreadful and wasn’t happy with the way I looked.”

Sound familiar? It does to Zanna van Dijk, 23, also a London-based personal trainer, fitness blogger and fitness model (yup — a whole new subspecies of the fashion world) for, among others, Nike and Adidas. “I wasn’t into health and fitness,” she says. She was studying speech therapy. “My skin was bad, I felt tired.” As both set about changing their ways, it wasn’t long before the fitness bug bit and the chore became a passion. Nilsson became a personal trainer, van Dijk went on to study sports nutrition. The only difference between us and them is willpower. The rest — a full-body workout in only eight three-minute exercises, enough to sculpt limbs and get you fit — has been taken care of for you.

Running performance tank, £70, Adidas by Stella McCartney; harrods.com. Scallop shorts, £115, Monreal LondonRunning performance tank, £70, Adidas by Stella McCartney; harrods.com. Scallop shorts, £115, Monreal London (Lee Broomfield)

Look, none of us has much time. We need a workout that is short and sharp, which actually works and is realistic enough to be sustainable; a workout that is not just for January. Good news, then — half an hour a day is all this programme asks of you, because, says van Dijk, that’s all it takes “to get amazing results”. It’s high-intensity, combining cardio, to burn fat, and weightlifting, for lean muscle, but it works for any level, with progressions when you’re ready. It’s short, because there’s actually no point doing endless cardio, says Nilsson: “It’s not a good use of your time, and it’s bad for joints.” What will sculpt your muscles — and what Nilsson and van Dijk focus on — is weightlifting and body-weight training. “You’re not going to get bulky,” Nilsson says. “The muscles get denser, not bigger.”

Perhaps the big appeal of this programme, though, is that it’s designed to fit into your life — all the exercises can be done at home. You could invest in a pair of 3kg hand weights, but water bottles would work. Nilsson and van Dijk have broken up the programme into bite-sized chunks — eight three-minute exercises (plus warm-up and cooldown). You can even do it in ad breaks. “It’s adaptable,” says van Dijk. “You can do a full workout, or you can pick a few exercises. You can do it in 20 minutes, or 40 — it’s not going to cut into your day.” Used alone, it’s enough to whip you into shape, but it also works as a foundation for fitness: you’ll improve in whatever you do already, so you’ll be able to run/swim/row further.

Nilsson and van Dijk also advocate the concept of mindful movement — so every time you use your body is an opportunity for a mini-workout. The stairs can be your StairMaster if you bound up them two at a time. Turn a standing-room-only commute into a set of calf raises, and sitting down can always be pelvic-floor time (yes, give it a squeeze now). It all adds up when you think “fit”.

If you’re lacking in motivation, where else to turn but Instagram? Follow others on their fitness journey, says van Dijk, or, for more realistic sharing, look to Snapchat, Nilsson suggests. Finally, start your own hashtag, so that to save face, you need to keep at it. Track your progress and celebrate the inevitable improvement. l

Join the conversation at @TheSTStyle using the hashtag #fitnotthin

 Faya Nilsson and Zanna van DijkFaya Nilsson and Zanna van Dijk, right (Lee Broomfield)Lumi tank, £90, No Ka’Oi; harveynichols.com. Peformance leggings, £115, No Ka’Oi;matchesfashion.com. Running performance T-shirt, £75, and running tights, £100, Adidas by Stella McCartney; harrods.com

Faya Nilsson @fitnessontoast
Old self: “Apple”
New self: Soulful Swedish goddess
Star rating: 81k Instagram followers, winner of best lifestyle blog in the 2015 UK Blog awards
The beginning: “I launched my blog in 2013 to answer clients’ questions — ‘Will I get bulky?’ ‘What should I eat?’”
Fans of love: Advice, exercises, science and recipes. “It’s not about my love life”
Fitness philosophy: “I advise clients to be the healthiest version of themselves. It might not be you at your thinnest”
The workout: One hour, five days a week, of strength training. For cardio and HIIT, it’s a 20-minute run up Primrose Hill once a week, and power walks before breakfast. Weekly ashtanga
Personal best: Five pull-ups and deadlifts of 40kg. “But I’m not focusing on absolute power and pain. It’s more about reps”
Best bit of kit: The Apple Watch. “It breaks down my workout”
Food rules: Organic. “It’s a shame to eat chemicals when training”
Guilty pleasure: Gail’s Artisan Bakery cinnamon buns
Innocent pleasure: “My avocado chocolate mousse. It’s a healthy alternative to comfort eating”


Zanna van Dijk @zannavandijk
Old self: “Skinny fat”
New self: 6ft 2in blonde ice queen
Star rating: 69k Instagram followers, 8,500 YouTube subscriber
The beginning: “None of my friends liked my posts on food and fitness, so I started a fitness Instagram and it took off”
Fans love: “The bad bits.” The airbrushed photos alongside the originals; the tensed abs v the soft tummy
Fitness philosophy: “I believe in progressive overload — constantly pushing to new levels”
The workout: “I focus on lifting weights: it changed my body and makes me feel amazing.” An intense 45 minutes, five days a week
Personal best: Six pull-ups (her favourite exercise); she deadlifts 100kg and squats with 70kg
Best bit of kit: “The foam roller. I use it all over my body while watching YouTube to lengthen my muscles and release tension”
Food rules: “It’s very structured — I use a spreadsheet to track my nutrition and the weights I’m lifting, which goes up every week. It’s less about calories — I eat a lot — and more about ensuring I get enough protein and carbs to optimise strength”
Guilty pleasures: “I don’t do guilt. But I love my mum’s tiffin”
Innocent pleasures: “My salted-caramel protein brownies”


The workout

Warm-up (2 minutes)

Warming up prevents injury as it maximises joint flexibility and blood flow to the muscles. The last thing you want when getting into training is to fall out just as quickly.

1 Hip-flexor stretch
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. With your right leg, take a large step forward, keeping the left leg low to the ground. Lean into the right leg and feel the stretch in the left. Swap legs and repeat. That’s one repetition — do 10.

2 Alternating walk-outs
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bending from the hip and keeping your legs straight, put your hands on the floor and walk them out into a high plank (with arms straight), then walk them back again. Do 10 reps.

Two full-body exercises

1 Squat and press (3 minutes)
Holding a pair of hand weights, squat down from standing as if sitting onto a chair. As you stand up again, press your weights above your head. Do 3 sets of 10 reps (see @zannavandijk for a video).

2 Lunge and twist (3 minutes)
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold one weight with both hands. Take a large step forward with your right leg. Twist the dumbbell towards your right shoulder. Stand upright again and return arms to centre. This is one repetition. Do 3 sets of 10 reps for each leg (see @fitnessontoast for a video).

Two lower-body exercises

Working larger muscles boosts metabolism and burns more calories during and after training, so it’s worth giving legs, our largest muscle group, some dedicated time. Strength training of the legs stimulates bone recalcification and strengthens tendons, ligaments and joints.

3 Glute bridge (3 minutes)
Lie on a mat with bent knees. Squeeze and lift your glutes until your hips, shoulders and knees are aligned. Return to the start. Do 3 sets of 10 reps. Progression: single-leg glute bridge — as above, but raise one leg off the ground, then lower it, without letting it touch the floor. Three sets of 10 per leg (see @zannavandijk for a video).

4 Curtsy lunges with pulse (3 minutes)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step your right leg behind and wide to the left, then bend both legs so that your front thigh is parallel to the floor. At the bottom of the lunge, pulse your leg up and down again, then push up through the heel to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 10 per leg (see @zannavandijk for a video).

Two upper-body exercises

5 Push-up (3 minutes)
Start in a high-plank position, with arms straight (bend your knees if this is too hard). Lower yourself almost to the floor, then push back up to the start. Do 3 sets of 10. Progression: bring your hands closer together for a narrow push-up.

6 Triceps dips (3 minutes)
Sit on a mat and raise up onto your feet and hands. Bend your arms and lower your hips towards the floor (without touching it), then raise them again. This is one repetition. Do 3 sets of 10. Rest hands on a bench behind you if this is too hard (see@fitnessontoast for a video).

Two core exercises

7 Plank (3 minutes)
Planks are the new sit-up. Lie face-down on the floor. Lift yourself up by pushing on your forearms and toes. Your shoulders, hips and toes should form a straight line. Hold for as long as you can, and remember to breathe. Repeat three times. Progression: move from a high plank (straight arms) to a low plank (bending at the elbow) and back again, until failure.

8 Side plank – for the ambitious (3 minutes)
Lie on your side and lift yourself up into a straight line. Hold it for as long as you can. Repeat on the other side. Three reps each side.


A post-workout stretch is a must — it will reduce your risk of injury and improve flexibility. Stretch your back in the child’s pose, and by rolling up on your back, then rocking from side to side. Stretch your triceps by reaching your hand down your upper back, and the chest by holding your hands behind your back and moving them up and down.


Plyometric training
Also known as jump training, this allows you to make maximum effort in minimum time using explosive jumping movements. They sound scary, but a star jump is a plyo — and they’re fun. As are burpees, jumping lunges, box jumps and jump squats.

Jump squats (3 minutes)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and squat down as if to sit, then jump up into the air. Land and lower into a squat. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 10. Progression: jump up to a bench or box (see @fitnessontoast for a video).

If you do only one exercise…
Make it a burpee, as it works your whole body. It will get your heart rate up and make you sweat, while building strength and power. After a quick warm-up, squat down, jump your legs out behind you and do a push-up, then jump back into a squat. Finish by exploding into the air, arms up, then land in a squat. Intense. See how many you can do in 3 minutes, or do 50 as quickly as you can (see @zannavandijk for a video).

Make it sweaty
Squeeze in a sweaty cardio workout in minimal time by skipping. Keep a good rhythm with a strong beat such as Power by Kanye West. Step it up by alternating double-foot skipping with single-leg, high knees, side-to-side jumps and crisscross skips (see @fitnessontoast for a video). Or try HIIT. High-intensity interval training, or alternating short bursts of intense exercise (20 seconds, even) with rest (10 seconds), boosts cardiovascular fitness. You can apply the thinking to most exercise: cycling, hill sprinting, rowing, strength training…

Invisible exercises
Sculpting your body by doing small exercises throughout the day can make a huge difference.

  • When you brush your teeth, sit in a squat against the wall.
  • When waiting for a bus, balance on one foot, then the other.
  • Scrap the online shop and do it on foot; do biceps curls with your shopping bags.
  • Activate sleepy, sedentary glutes by squeezing them, both cheeks together and then alternating. Sitting at your desk on a mini stability ball (which looks a lot less silly than the full-size one) encourages muscle activity.
  • Stand up straight — it’s the eight glasses of water a day of fitness.
  • Don’t waste a good walk: push through your heels, pull your shoulders back and activate your glutes and abs. It kick-starts your body and gets your heart rate up.