If there is one instance in the world of personal training that should be considered the “Holy Grail,” it’s having one (or many) of your clients land the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. That, or having one (or many) of the women you train walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. If that’s not the ultimate in free advertising, I don’t know what is—and that’s how Justin Gelband, trainer and the co-founder of ModelFit, has become one of the most well-known fitness personalities in the fashion industry.
Gelband has a dedicated following of both commercial and high-fashion models—Abbey Lee Kershaw was walking out of a training session when we went to visit the studio—and has been teaching ModelFit classes to small groups in gyms around New York for years. But this spring, he and his partner Vanessa Packer, a holistic nutrition specialist, opened their first full-service boutique fitness studio on Bowery.
Gelband’s client list reads like the Maxim Hot 100 list, with women like Angela Lindvall, Miranda Kerr and Irina Shayk, all of whom have turned to Gelband to get into shape for their bikini-heavy photo shoots. While this sounds like a dream job, Gelband insists that many of his connections came from being in the right place at the right time. “I’ve been stereotyped since I started—I’m not going to lie, I got really lucky when I was working in Los Angeles,” says Gelband, who moved out West after graduating from Rutgers. “My first model client happened to be Kristy Pierce, who at the time was dating a guy named Josh Duhamel, who was on ‘All My Children.’”
Gelband ended up training Duhamel and Topher Grace for their 2004 film “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton,” which promptly set him on the path to training celebrities. Soon, he was working with the likes of Anne Hathaway, Elisha Cuthbert, Lindsay Lohan and Scarlett Johansson, taking care to work with each individual based on her body type, as well as on what her individual goals and objectives were. Then came the models that flock to him as a fitness guru.
“Angela Lindvall happens to be like my sister, I started with her in 2006 when she needed to lose some weight for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show,” Gelband recalls. “When we were at the after party, I was introduced to Miranda [Kerr] and to their agents and staff. Then I got a phone call from Miranda and Angela’s agents from IMG saying, ‘Hey, would you like to come to New York and try to train other people?’ Then I was introduced to Anne Vyalitsyna, Linda Vojtova.”
He credits one former Angel in particular for really helping to get his career to the next level. “Miranda walked the Victoria’s Secret show in 2007, that’s when my career took off —she looked so good. We had worked really hard for her to put some lean muscle on, and she eats healthy anyway. Then I started meeting all of the girls. I got calls from Behati [Prinsloo], and I started working with Candice [Swanepoel] and Lily [Aldridge] at the time.”
Another of Gelband’s crowing editorial achievements? The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover starring Irina Shayk. “That was seen on a really global scale. It was such an amazing cover, and it’s on newsstands for a year,” Packer adds.
“Between the Victoria’s Secret shows and Sports Illustrated, both of them have been really good to me in giving me the opportunity to be who I am, to work with their girls, and to be a part of their families,” says Gelband.
The fitness philosophy that Gelband employs is that, when it comes to working out, one size does not fit all. “When I moved to LA, I was watching all of these men training women like men, and it was driving me crazy because women’s bodies are 100 percent different than men’s, period,” he explains. “Your structure is different. Your physicality is different. Your minds are different. Your goals and objectives are different, so how are you going to be the best that you can with your own body if a man is training you just like he would a man?”
According to Gelband, there’s no reason for a woman to do push-ups, dips, lunges, squats, and other things that are not sport-specific to her body. “I wanted to take time and use the exercises that I’ve learned to get them into shape—on top of doing the right cardio and the right nutrition—and build them from the foundation. Give them the idea that if you use the smaller intrinsic muscles and use the movements by really feeling what you’re doing, you will be able to get the results that you want,” he says.
After being typecast as a celebrity/model trainer, Gelband decided that it was time to conceptualize a class for the public where people could come in and get familiar with his method first-hand. “Where I started is working with women and having them lose 10, 12 dress sizes for weddings, for the beach, or for whatever activity or event they were going to. It would take six months, eight months, or a year — it wasn’t a one-time thing. The public started hearing about it, but it wasn’t for enough for me. I really wanted my own space.”
The partners took great care to find a location with just the right atmosphere, and finally came across it after two years of searching. The bright, airy space—which Packer designed—can accommodate classes of up to 15 people. Interestingly enough, it was Terry Richardson’s photo studio before the duo took it over, which may or may not have scared a few of Gelband’s model clients away. “I would say that some of my supermodels have said stuff,” he says. “I heard a couple of girls say ‘I’m not going there.’”
“Sometimes they’ll come in and they’d be like ‘I’ve been here before,’” Packer chimes in. “It looks nothing like what it used to. It’s like a clean slate—a modern and beautiful space. The whole feeling is different. I saged in this entire space, cleansed it of every negative energy.”
Gelband and Packer say that ModelFit community is very close-knit, and there is plenty of individual attention given to each client. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of tough love, too. “One thing I have to stress to my clients is that 85 percent of the results come from what you eat, so nutrition has to do with everything. We have to instill in them an understanding that they have to eat properly. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how many hours they are in this place [working out].”
With so many boutique fitness studios popping up around the city, what sets ModelFit apart from the rest? “I’m so form-posture oriented, people have to do the exercise properly,” Gelband explains. “No one is perfect, but to do something totally wrong that’s going to hurt you, it just doesn’t make any sense. And I feel like that’s the lack of what it is in most classes, in most places around—not just in New York City—but everywhere. People don’t care about how to form or how the exercise is performed, and to me that’s more important than anything else.”
“We also don’t promote the idea that you can work out for two hours a day and eat whatever you want,” Packer adds. “We’re very much about being mindful about your body—like what you put into it, how you work it and the exercises you do.”
A large part of Gelband and Packer’s jobs is managing expectations: Coming in to a fitness studio that is famous for producing Victoria’s Secret-worthy results (at $40 a class) it’s easy for a client to expect too many results too quickly. “Irina, Candice, Erin, Miranda, Behati and Lily—all the girls that I have been working with over time to build my career—it took us three months to build their foundations and another three to six months to really get them on to be where they’re at,” Gelband says.
“So, to train Miranda for that one Victoria’s Secret Show, we started in January or February, and we trained until November for the show—and that’s when she really started to go over the top. I tell my new clients that if they really dedicate themselves and really want to make it, just expect it can be anywhere from three months to nine months to really, really feel the exercises the way you want them to feel.”
“People think that ModelFit or coming to Justin for training is best when you’re already 5’10” and skinny. It’s so not true. We have so many women coming here and losing dress sizes and changing their lives in just a matter of months,” Packer explained.
But, those who are willing to dedicate the required time to follow through with the ModelFit program—both the exercise and nutrition portions—can come out changed on the other side. “The people who have done both [programs] are literally different people from when they came in here,” Packer says. “It’s unbelievable to see. It’s really cool.”
For more information about ModelFit classes, which start at $40, visit modelfit.com.
Top: ModelFit's Justin Gelband and Vanessa Packer. Photo: Nina Frazier/Fashionista