The calendar doesn’t lie.
I’ve been in the fitness industry for 25 years.
In that time I’ve worn many different hats.
• Front desk attendant and, “Please remove your weights from the Hammer Strength machine” guy.
• Fitness assessor.
• Lousy personal trainer, i.e., “Here’s how you use a Hammer Strength machine” guy.
• Weight training tech support, i.e., “Explain how to use a Hammer Strength machine over the phone” guy.
• Supplement sales rep.
• Bartender (don’t ask).
• A better personal trainer and strength coach.
• Ghost writer.
• A very good trainer, online coach, and occasional speaker.
The road has hardly been glamorous — and certainly not obscenely lucrative — however, it’s never been boring either. Now you can add another title to that resume:
In the adult film industry, a fluffer is someone whose job is to keep a male adult film star “aroused” on set.
A fitness fluffer’s job is somewhat less “involved,” although no less important.
My job was to lurk around photo shoots and make sure the models perform the exercises in the routines correctly, lest the magazine editors get inundated with thousands of emails from keyboard warriors complaining that the seated hammer curl in the photo didn’t match the incline DB curl in the article.
You know, the real heavy important shit.
I make light of it but it was a very cool gig. There was even the occasional brush with celebrity. I was tech on the Men’s Fitness cover shoot with Clive Standen, who plays the ass-kicking Rollo in the History Channel’s hit TV show, Vikings.
Clive was a trooper – we shot for 7 hours straight and he was nothing but enthusiasm and one-liners. He also throws one hell of a roundhouse kick (he’s a two-time champion in Muay Thai kickboxing) and is an all-around cool guy.
It’s not always a walk in the park though. It required the ability to make decisions on the fly, like when you show up on set and find very limited equipment options.
The program says, “reverse hyperextensions” and you have two dumbbells, a Shake-Weight, and a water bottle. What do you do? What DO you do?
Another curve ball is a model that doesn’t move too well and a program calling for serious athleticism. Asking a bodybuilder who’s been in a monogamous relationship with the leg press to suddenly bang out textbook overhead squats can be a challenge, albeit an amusing one.
Which brings me to the subject of this yarn, fitness modeling.
You Wanna Be a Model?
I’ve never fancied myself a fitness model. I tell myself it’s because I’m too damn big and jacked, though the fact that you can clearly read the license plate of the cement truck that slammed into my forehead doesn’t help matters. Unless you’re into that kind of thing. Hopefully my wife is.
But working this very New York fitness gig has taught me a lot about the industry, the shoots, the models, and what it takes to make it.
First, photo shoots are big business. You might think it’s merely a strapping model, a small pair of briefs, a photographer, and a camera. Hardly. On most shoots there is a:
• Photo Editor
• Assistants – one or two for lighting, one to grab stuff as needed
• Tech Advisor (me)
Shoots are also very long. An average photo you see in the magazine was probably one of two dozen that were taken. Shots are rejected for poor composition, bad angles, shadows, weird faces on the model, and yes, poor exercise form.
Shoots are serious. While the mood is light and fun, make no mistake that big time resources are being committed to getting just a handful of good shots. When someone knocking over a light or walking into frame spoils an otherwise perfect picture, that someone can expect to wear a set of goat horns for the rest of the day.
I’ve only tech’d on shoots with guys. I can’t tell you what a female fitness girl should do, though I imagine most of the requirements are the same. Except with boobs.
Be tall-ish. Guys, be at least 5 foot 8. I have yet to see anyone shorter than that, though I’m sure there are a few, especially in the more bodybuilding-centric magazines. If you think this isn’t fair then be thankful you aren’t in fashion. Five-foot eight in fashion won’t even get you a phone call.
Be really handsome and photogenic. There’s a big difference. Many guys are devilishly handsome in person but then on film somehow morph into Burgess Meredith.
If you’re unsure, have a decent photographer take your picture and offer an objective opinion. If the truth is you’ve got a face for radio, such is life. Blame your parents.
Keep size in check. The majority of guys looked slim, borderline “skinny,” in clothes. But when they got undressed, oiled up and pumped up under the lights, their physiques just came to life. Guys that we’re “stringy” in t-shirts and jeans suddenly looked like superheroes.
Be lean. Very lean. A little bit of muscle and next to no bodyfat photographs beautifully. A lot of muscle and even just a few extra pounds of fat just looks smooth and unaesthetic.
Keep Certain Bodyparts Small. To fit the clothes with ease (and look good on film) most guys were quite slim through the back, legs, and butt (basically the opposite of me, ha). Arms, pecs, and especially abs were the areas they all seemed to have attacked with vigour. Especially abs.
Interestingly, I had some guys ask me to write them out calf and forearm routines. So knock yourself out there.
Have great skin. Sure there’s make-up and Photoshop, but there’s no substitute for clear, healthy skin.
Be athletic and mobile. A stiff, internally rotated physique not only photographs poorly, it can be tough to achieve the correct positions.
Unless you to hear someone like me incessantly barking “elbows up!” while you try to hold the bottom of a clean grip front squat, do your mobility work.
Be lean year round. This is huge. I can spot a guy who bulks up and then diets down once or twice a year from someone who’s lean all year a mile away.
The physique and the skin just have a different look, especially around the eyes. It just looks more, well, stressed, like it’s been through a war.
Not to mention, it pays to be camera ready when you often have less than a week’s notice to prep for a shoot. Most of the guys said they stayed within 5 pounds of where they need to be so as not to miss out on any jobs.
Have a great attitude. I’m pleased to say I’ve yet to meet a male fitness model that wasn’t down to earth, funny, and extremely polite. Some I now even call my friends.
There’s a reason for that. I asked the photo editor if they ever encounter prima donnas. He said they do, on occasion – and they never get booked again.
Tips From a Pro
One of the coolest guys I’ve met is Chris Ryan. Chris is a former track athlete at the University of Florida and one heck of a model. Considering we’re both in NYC and both do PT we plan to go lift sometime. Shirtless.
Here’s some tips from Chris:
1. Train with Functional Compound Movements. Chris is all about the big compound movements. “I never do biceps curls or calf raises and I only bench once every few weeks. What you will see me do though is move a lot of weight in the squat (back, front, overhead), deadlift, clean & jerk, and snatch, and I do a ton of pull-ups, muscle-ups, and handstand push ups.”
2. Variety. Chris likes to switch things up daily. “Rep schemes, sets, weight – I always keep my body guessing.”
3. Mobility. Chris moves like a cat. “You want to be strong, mobile, and agile, not a big block of cheese. Nothing leads to more injuries than muscle imbalances and nothing looks more ridiculous on camera than a top heavy guy.” Chris says to concentrate on dynamic warm-up routines and movements that work with the biomechanics of your body, which circles back to his love of functional training.
4. Eat and Train like an Athlete. Chris likes to think training and nutrition, not diet and exercise. “The former is the way an athlete thinks and the latter brings about negative thoughts of deprivation and suffering. Athletes train and feed themselves quality nutrition — the everyday guy diets and exercises.”
5. Go Interval. Chris trains for metabolic conditioning as well as strength and power in a steady stream of intervals. “Sometimes short rest periods are needed and sometimes long rest periods are required. Interval training isn’t just for endurance athletes, but I use my experience from my days running the 800m at the university of Florida to transfer over to every exercise I do.”
6. Stay away from sugar and its artificial substitutes. Get your natural sugar from veggies and whole fruits, not sodas, juices, and processed foods. “Eat in color as well,” says Chris. “Many colors of veggies, a small portion of protein, and good low glycemic carbs like yams and limit alcohol — drink a lot of water!”
You may not have the genes to grace the cover of Men’s Fitness or Men’s Exercise (or even Field and Stream – some of those bass fishermen are jacked) but you can make yourself the best “you” you can be.
And if you’re confused or unsure, I can help you. Send me a message through the contact page.
Thanks for reading.
For more on Chris Ryan, visit chrisryanfitness.com