Last week I strutted down the catwalk for Paws for the Cause, an inaugural people/pet fashion show to raise money for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I wasn't required to wear a bikini; although, outfitted in a custom Roots ensemble, I did end up showing some (sheep)skin.
I would never trade my day job for the life of a model. But for the past month I have been training like one. Yes, even the luckiest winners of the genetic lottery need to work at getting - and keeping - their bodies in top form.
I learned about Chris and Marty Smits just prior to Toronto's LG Fashion Week. The brothers are Toronto's go-to guys for getting models magazine- and runway-ready. They don't have a monopoly on the market, but their client roster is pretty impressive - from sculpted beauty Yasmin Warsame to attenuated stunner Amanda Laine, who looks straight out of a John Singer Sargent canvas.
Most often, the Smits Brothers design programs for young girls who don't know a burpee from a bent-over row and believe that the proper model diet consists of baby carrots.
You do not need to be an aspiring Victoria's Secret Angel to derive benefits from the brothers' workouts. You do, however, need to be committed. When your agent has said you have to be ready for a shoot in four weeks, there is no luxury of chitchat between sets of hamstring curls or cheat days fuelled by hamburgers.
As I did not need to lose weight and already follow a largely vegan diet, they cut me some slack on the nutrition side; they make some model clients keep food diaries and create a plan when necessary.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, the Smits encourage frequent meals, consisting of whole foods and healthy fats (my molten chocolate cake dessert two Fridays ago was a major no-no).
The brothers certainly were not pushovers when it came to my workouts. After one session devoted to determining my baseline fitness level - heart rate, core stability, squat and lunge techniques - they introduced me to what would become my model routine: 10 exercises performed as a circuit, initially done twice, then three times, each time slightly more challenging than the last.
We didn't use much weight - the goal for models is to firm and tone muscle, not build it. I would do walking lunges with upper-body twists while holding a medicine ball, push-ups with my hands on a stability ball, back extensions that engaged the core, seated oblique work with the medicine ball again - and all without breaks in order to keep the heart rate up.
"We shape their hips and waist and posture," says Chris Smits, who not only has an extensive athletic background (football, track and field, speed skating, bobsleigh), but has also modelled professionally. "We spread the exercises throughout the whole body, alternating muscles groups, and we work on a series of exercises in higher repetitions that will basically get most bang for buck and not stimulate muscle growth."
He points out that models can have trepidations about training, even though they're prepared to spend hours doing cardio. That often means a weak core, which can affect posture. "There's no core strength there," Chris Smits explains. "If they're used to long running or walking, or starving themselves, they can be scared to get into a gym because gym means muscle."
While some models need to enhance their feminine physique, others need to trim down to fit sample sizes. The trainers can only do so much, even when there's no imminent deadline. You can only lose so many inches before hitting bone, and we all know that's not attractive.
My deadline was not pegged to a swimwear shoot and I do not get paid to have a perfect body (thank you, Globe and Mail). Yet having always joked about being "skinny fat," I definitely felt less, how to put this, fleshy, after four weeks. I did not go on a scale or take measurements before or after.
Ryan Greenwood, an agent at Elmer Olsen Model Management who sends many models to the Smits Brothers, says he can always tell when they have been sticking to their program: The camera doesn't lie. "We encourage [models]that this is part of their lifestyle," he says. "Girls that are a success get to learn to love the gym."
The ultimate message the Smits Brothers drill into their model clients is one of health.
Says Chris: "This is a business [for them]and we hope they can continue doing it for a long time, and the only way to do that is a healthy lifestyle. Smoking, not eating and maybe abusive drugs - that doesn't work. It will burn [them]out."
Actually, the way I see it, Chris and Marty Smits are less interested in making their clients supermodels than super women.