Fitness modeling is a fun job, but it's also a really hard one.
So, you want to be a fitness model? Apparently, you're not alone. According to Google's recently released data on what the world is searching for on the Internet, there's a lot of interest in becoming a fitness model. You know, as in those people who make deadlifting their body weight and doing pull-ups look absolutely effortless. From the outside, it doesn't really seem like that hard a job, especially if you're already really into fitness. But we decided to talk to some real fitness models to find out what it's like to work in the industry. You might be surprised just how much hard work goes into it. (Related: I Make a Living As a Fitness Model On Instagram)
How to Get Discovered
The first thing you need to do to work as a fitness model (just like any other model) is to get discovered. While some models go to open calls or contact modeling agents directly, the two fitness models we talked to had much less traditional paths to starting their careers. Alex Silver-Fagan, NYC trainer, yoga teacher, and Wilhelmina fitness model actually got discovered while she was training for a bikini competition. "At the end of my senior year of college, I started to prep for a bikini competition, which is a bodybuilding show," she told us. "I trained and dieted very intensely for three months. Part of this process usually includes a photo shoot, to create images and memories of how your body looks—lean and shredded." Long story short, after Alex had her photos taken, the photographer she worked with insisted that she send her photos to an agent in NYC. "The rest is history," she says. "Along with studying to be a trainer and a group fitness instructor, I began doing photo shoots to build my portfolio and eventually began booking jobs." (You've seen her modeling workouts like this one in the pages of Shape!) But she didn't make it big immediately. "I spent a year with a smaller agency before Wilhelmina finally offered to sign me. What people don't realize is that sometimes you have to start small and work really hard, before being recognized by some of the bigger-name agencies," she explains.
Suzanne Cover, who is also signed to Wilhelmina, has had an even more unconventional path to the fitness modeling industry, and her story has everything to do with social media. "I never thought I'd be a fitness model! I was 'discovered' on Instagram by a smaller fitness agency just a year ago," she says. "I was honeymooning in the Caribbean and in my post-wedding loopiness, posted a photo of myself wearing a bikini bottom and a real-life starfish bra. As in, I came across some live starfish while snorkeling and just went for it. The photo was reposted by the bikini brand I was wearing, and a handful of fitspo accounts. The next thing I knew, a modeling agency reached out to me." So basically, it was fate. But the confidence to move ahead with the idea didn't come immediately. "It took nearly three weeks for me to even work up the courage to make an appointment, but I finally did and went in for an interview. It was 100 percent conversation: no measurements, bikini appearances, or photos, which was what I had been fearful of those foolish three weeks I didn't respond!" Since Suzanne didn't have a portfolio, the agency recommended that she book some test shoots to build one up. "I booked my first job right away, and after being pressured to sign a contract I didn't understand—something everyone should be careful about—I asked a friend of a friend for industry advice. She suggested I reach out to Wilhelmina Fitness before signing anything, which I did, and was offered a contract by them shortly after."
The Day to Day of a Fitness Model
Once you get signed, the hard work really begins. Shoot days are fun, but they also can be grueling. On days when you're not shooting, you may be working another job, like Alex who is a trainer and teaches all kinds of awesome classes in NYC, or Suzanne, a former Wall Streeter who is a sommelier and runs her own wine consulting business. But on a shoot day, what can you expect? First, an early call time. "I typically get a workout in early in the morning before my call time," says Alex. "This is simply because shoot days are very draining and I know that by the time 'wrap' is called, I will just want to go home and go to sleep! Sometimes I also have to head to the gym to teach a class or train a client after the shoot, so I like to know that my own sweat session is done for the day."
Next comes hair and makeup. "Every shoot starts with hair and makeup, which still feels like a treat to me and is a nice way to decompress from the must-arrive-on-time transportation hustle," explains Suzanne. "At some point, the creative director or trainer stops by to walk you through the shot list for the day. Then you'll visit wardrobe, have another hair and makeup touch-up, and you're in front of a camera."
Now, the real work starts. "As a fitness model, more often than not 'shooting' involves some sort of exercise and is typically pretty physically taxing," says Alex. Suzanne agrees, saying, "I recently shot a campaign for Technogym's new stair-stepper and must have run two long flights of stairs, full speed, no less than 50 times—all for a five-second clip in the commercial!" Yep, that's a lot of stairs. "The finished product was a full two minutes in length to give you an idea how much work goes into it. I couldn't walk normally for days afterwards!" Ouch.
The Challenges of Being a Fitness Model
Aside from the physical challenges that fitness models face on set, there are some other obstacles they're constantly dealing with. Number one? Always having a camera-ready body. "I would obviously stay in shape year round regardless of if I was a model or not, because I'm a trainer, I love fitness, and I also love treating my body well," says Alex. Even so, there's "basically just a constant pressure to always have abs and to always look a certain way." Plus, being compared to others at castings based on your physical traits takes some getting used to. "Sometimes you just simply aren't right for the role or the particular job and you have to be okay with that. It's not just a job, it becomes a part of your entire life," she says. Plus, confidence is key, even when you know you're being judged. "There is so much more to modeling than just being pretty in front of a camera, and I didn't fully appreciate this coming into the industry," says Suzanne. "Body awareness and, more importantly, confidence, is essential. If you don't step in front of that camera not just telling yourself, but actually believing you are Sasha Fierce, it's going to show and you're not going to get the job."
In addition to looking great, you also need to be able to execute at a high level physically. "People don't understand that most fitness models are hired because we can physically perform a lot of exercises and have endurance for what is required on shoots," Alex explains. It's not just that fitness models look stronger than regular models, they actually are. "We'll be able to do the 20 push-ups necessary for the perfect shot, or run around your set for almost a mile just to get the perfect running image. It's not just about having abs, it's also about being fit and being able to move well."
Another tough aspect? You're always on call. "The last-minute nature of the industry can be very challenging," notes Suzanne. "I rarely know my schedule in advance, which can make it difficult to make commitments in my personal life. There is often same-day notice for castings and sometimes only one-day notice for job bookings." And then there's the fact that as a model, you're basically a freelancer. "Until you've been at it for a while, the paycheck is not consistent," says Suzanne. "Sometimes you kill it and sometimes it's crickets. Fortunately, my wine consulting company keeps me pretty busy, which makes it easier to take slow periods in stride." Sounds like having a side hustle is pretty essential in this line of business.
The Perks of Being a Fitness Model
Though it's a tough job, the doors that fitness modeling can open are undeniably awesome. "Fitness modeling has introduced me to a lot of amazing people who work behind the scenes in the fitness industry, and thus gotten me more modeling jobs as well as 'contributing' jobs as a trainer," Alex says. "One of the coolest things for me is being able to provide fitness content, whether that be tips or even a workout, and then being able to model that myself. [For example, our 30-Day Squat Challenge!] I hope that modeling continues to help me network with more people and really brand myself as a trainer first, and as a model second." Suzanne notes that while she's not too sure how it happened, modeling has accelerated her career as a wine expert. She says she has more opportunities than ever before, and may even be venturing into other forms of media, like television.
The Bottom Line Advice If You Want to Become a Fitness Model
If you've made it this far and you still want to be a fitness model, here's the advice our girls have for you: "Take care of your body and try to keep in mind that even though your job is to look a certain way, fitness in general isn't all about aesthetics," says Alex. "Keep the joy in your movement." And if you're trying to get signed to an agency, reach out to local photographers and start to build your portfolio. "You have to have some sort of baseline before an agent will consider you. It's also good to gain experience behind the camera and figure out what it's like to move for a photograph and to work with different photographers."
More than anything, Suzanne says you need to "just get out of your own way and do it. Start your portfolio. Go to an open call or submit your photos to an agency. Send those emails! You're already fit enough, pretty enough, toned enough, tall enough—you already have everything. I really think the fitness industry is trying to become more representative of all types of bodies these days." Don't be afraid of rejection either. It's just part of the deal. "No one books every casting," she says. "If you let 'no' stop you before you're even in the door, how can you ever expect to make it as a model?"
And one last thing: "Find a buddy with a camera and go shoot together. Practice. Again and again and again. Those glamazons that look fabulous no matter what they're doing are experienced, not gifted freaks of nature who woke up perfect. A good model really knows what poses and angles look good on their body and is not shy about working it," Suzanne says. You've got to practice to get to that level, just like anything else.