It’s a Wednesday morning, and I’m in a state of distress. It’s not because I’m on my back with my butt raised an inch off the ground, squeezing some sadistic plastic ring between my thighs – which are awkwardly cantilevered off to one side – although that’s not helping matters. It’s how different my thighs look from those of the woman next to me. And the woman next to her. Oh, and also the woman next to her. It’s like a perfect little thigh parade. Until you get to me. And mine are ... not so perfect.
I’m here because I’d recently received a call from marie claire. “Would you like to spend a week going to ModelFIT and working out like a supermodel?” asked my editor. Why not? ModelFIT was a tantalising prospect – a gym co-founded by Justin Gelband, the so-called “model whisperer”, credited with sculpting the bodies of high-end babes such as Miranda Kerr, Elyse Taylor and Karlie Kloss. The latter’s Instagram and Twitter feeds are not only shrines to her fabulous, jet-setting life, but also her workout routines. (If you ever want to feel like you should go to the gym, and stat, check them out. Then maybe cry a little.)
Let me begin by saying that even though I agreed to the challenge, I’m not remotely crazy enough to actually envision “supermodel physique” as a goal. Not that I’m unhappy with my body – I’m not. But I also recently had a baby. If beforehand I'd been the lucky type who could eat steak and chips (mostly) with impunity, I had of late found myself in body image despair. For the first time in my life, I hired a personal trainer. Every few days I trudged to the gym and frenetically swung kettle bells or burpeed my way across the room and back. Still, my pre-baby figure eluded me. Something needed to be done: if I couldn’t look like a supermodel, then I hoped Gelband could at least help me look more like “me”.
Since February, Gelband has been imparting his wisdom to the masses in an airy downtown Manhattan studio once occupied by famous (and famously debauched) photographer Terry Richardson. So, you know, models were already used to going there and getting a little hot and bothered.
Also, newsflash: models care about how they look. And somehow they also now care about how they seem. In today’s zeitgeist, that means it’s no longer cool to claim to be “naturally thin” while subsisting on a diet of cocaine and cigarettes; no, it’s cool to be ft and healthy – and open about how you got there. ModelFIT certainly fed into this strong-is-the-new-skinny moment, and I figured that (a) the space had now been thoroughly sanitised and maybe even sage-cleansed, the better to rid it of Richardson’s naughty little pheromones, and (b) that at the very least, working out next to models would shame my body back into some version of its former shape.
With such humble aspirations, I showed up at ModelFIT, where a guy named Jason was heading up a 5.30pm Foundation class. The session began with Jason leading a handful of decidedly young, thin and pretty – but not necessarily modelesque – women through an hour of what essentially felt like a warm-up. We stepped from side to side, wearing one kilogram weights on our ankles. We lifted one-kilogram weights. We pulled resistance bands several centimetres in one direction and then several centimetres in the other. And all the while, Jason kept extolling the virtues of “functional movement, which means understanding the body in all three of its physical planes of movement”. “You don’t need to sweat to burn fat,” Jason assured me after the class.
Um, really? This did very little to dispel my belief that supermodels are born, not made. Maybe, I mused, it was a class designed for anorexic people, meant simply to keep their muscles from atrophying completely. I didn’t know. So I went home to eat a cookie.
No wait! Let it be known that these were Karlie’s Kookies, as in the cookies dreamt up by supermodel Karlie Kloss, which I’d made over the weekend in preparation for my week of physical exertion and virtuous self-restraint. Karlie’s Kookies are gluten-free and made with agave nectar and olive oil, rather than sugar and butter. “Everyone loves a healthy, wholesome snack,” she’d tweeted about them. Well, not everyone.
“They taste very ... healthy,” my husband said, eyeing his suspiciously. So I had a cookie and did some lengthening yoga stretches while imagining myself in a huge, pristine, multimillion-dollar apartment paid for by my extremely lucrative, fabulous and jet-setting career ... until the baby crawled under my downward dog and started chewing on my hair. Then, I took a long bath, the better to soothe all three of my physical planes. I figured the rest of the week was going to be a cakewalk (albeit without the cake).
But oh dear reader, how very wrong I was. Turns out that “Foundation” is exactly what it sounds like: an introduction to a method rather than an advanced practise of it. Which means that in my stupidity I dove unawares into the deep end with Justin Gelband’s ModelFIT Sculpt class at 10.30am on Wednesday morning. Not only were there definitely models there, but those same small, simple movements were now done over and over in various positions. The point, I soon realised, was not to break a sweat; it was to maintain the “burn” for the better part of an hour.
This same technique was applied to both strength training and yoga in the classes I attended on Friday and Sunday. And the Sculpt sessions I threw in for good measure. After the class, I met Gelband at a nearby coffee shop. It turns out that he cut his teeth helping severely overweight women. Then, based on his noticeable results, he started training celebrities, including Miranda Kerr for the 2007 Victoria’s Secret fashion show. After that, “the phone just rang of the hook”. Of his methodology, he tells me, “I was tired of seeing men train women like men. A woman is not made to do a push-up, or a dip, or a squat, or a lunge, or a kettle bell.” What a woman is made to do, Gelband believes, is to use “little motions, little movements that your body has never done before” to stimulate tiny “intrinsic” muscles that don’t usually get a chance to join the party.
In the end, though, it wasn’t Gelband himself who convinced me that ModelFIT might be the way to go; it was the women I saw parade in and out of the studio day after day. Most of them weren’t models. But almost all of them had the lean, healthy look I craved. By the end of the week, I felt slightly sore in places I’d never really “felt” before. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take out the loan it would require to do $40 classes five times a week, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to incorporate some ModelFIT practice into my un-ModelFIT existence.
I went on YouTube, found some Gelband videos and got ready to feel the burn.