Food Lie #6: It’s not just genes: What it’s like to work out like a Victoria’s Secret model

by Jari Love

Food lie #6 says that being thin is all about your genetics. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not the “skinny gene” that gets passed down from one generation to another, it’s the lifestyles that support being the “ideal” weight. If your parents tend to be overweight or obese, your chances of being overweight or obese are also high. But not from the genetics, but from the lifestyle that is modeled for you. Speaking of models, read this article from a fitness blogger and re-evaluate your perception of the models.

Fitness blogger Poppy Cross found out first-hand what it takes to look like a Victoria’s Secret model.

Victoria’s Secret models don’t break a sweat as they glide down the catwalk – and it’s hard to imagine they’d ever need to. Didn’t they just drop from the sky, all slender and sleek with a whisper of a waist and divinely sculpted thighs?

Not quite. The truth is that looking like an “Angel” (the brand’s upper echelon contract models) takes serious slog. Behind the lace is a “military mind and athlete’s performance”, says one blogger who has laid the truth bare.

After four months on the same “relentless and intense” exercise regime followed by the models, London-based fitness blogger and journalist Poppy Cross wrote about her experience in The Mail on Sunday.

The 29-year-old said nothing could have prepared her for the mental and physical challenge that lay in store.

“There’s a reason the VS models are known as athletes,” Cross told Stuff. “They have to have lean muscle as opposed to the regular rake-thin catwalk model. It’s about sexiness not skinniness.”

From lifting weights and running to boxing, ballet and pilates, all manner of methods are employed to get those rock-hard abs, she says.

Adriana Lima’s workout routine includes HIIT training, boxing the bag, yoga and capoeira – a type of martial art. Photo: Victoria's Secret/Instagram

“VS models all have different routines. Three months pre-show, they all increase their workout intensity. Adriana Lima admits she trains twice a day in the run-up – favouring boxing and jumping rope,” says Cross.

On her blog, Cross quotes Victoria’s Secret creative director, Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou, saying: “It’s really like being an Olympian – they have to be in peak condition.”

And as Cross learnt for herself, looking like a past or present Angel, such as Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Adriana Lima, Gisele Bundchen, Helena Christensen or Miranda Kerr, is no stroll through a meadow.


Genetics do play a role, says Cross. “Victoria’s Secret requires all its Angels to be 5-foot 9-inches tall and have 24-inch waists.”

But that’s just the beginning. To be a Victoria’s Secret model, you also need 18 per cent body fat or lower, says Cross.

At 5ft 9in with a 26-inch waist, Cross already had the fundamentals when starting the programme, but at 22.2 per cent body fat, she had a way to go before reaching Victoria’s Secret standards.

She was told by personal trainer Dan Roberts, who works with the models, that she needed glutes “as solid as concrete”, sharply-defined obliques, muscles in her skinny arms “to get the Gisele-esque lines” and more definition in her thighs.

Before starting the programme Poppy Cross was already very slim, but afterwards gained more lean muscle. 

That meant a lot of weight training, including dead-lifts, weighted lunges, tricep dips and press-ups. After one month she was physically and mentally exhausted, but by month three she was deadlifting 72kg.

One of the brand’s most famous angels, Alessandra Ambrosio, has said “you put all your mind, all your everything” into the role.

She tries to work out at least once a day, alternating between a lot of weights and then no weights at all. She throws in some ballet, and is a huge fan of pilates, spin classes and yoga. She also spends time running after her two kids and playing with them in the pool.


Foodwise, Cross was put on a calorie-restricted high-fat, high-protein, low-carb diet, which meant chicken, fish or beef with almost every meal. Sugar was out, including fruit. Vegetables were allowed initially, but on the pre-catwalk diet, it was all proteins and fats, she wrote in The Mail on Sunday. “Extreme low-carb diets push the body into a state called ketosis, which means that it primarily burns fat for energy.”

Her diet, devised by nutritionist Dr Charles Passler who also works with the models, ensured she had the nutrients required to be healthy.

By the end of the programme, Cross got down to 17 per cent body fat. Because she’d garnered so much lean muscle, she didn’t lose weight, but dropped at least a dress size and shrunk her waist.

In her blog, she says even her cholesterol levels came down marginally. Coupled with her lower glucose levels, that meant a healthier metabolic profile.


At the end of her challenge, Cross felt “healthier, fitter and firmer, which is a positive result”.

She’s also learnt how much time and effort is needed to build lean muscle. “Anyone who thinks that the VS models rely solely on starvation and genetics is wrong,” says Cross in her blog.

So then, given the hard graft, should any of us look on in envy when the Angels strut their stuff, or rather count ourselves lucky as we scoff our chips and dip?

“If you want to make it your career then you could train like them! It’s actually a privilege to look after your body on that scale and feel so physically fit,” she told Stuff.

In her blog, she says the hours and dedication required to be VS catwalk-ready would be impossible to maintain if you have a job, family or want an enriching social life (ie. where you can eat whatever arrives on your dinner plate).

Cross says even Adriana Lima claims to only do strict diets before a show – “after the show, I become normal again” – whatever “normal” may constitute for the likes of a super-being like Lima. Via

Jari Love – original creator of  Get RIPPED! DVD series and group exercise classes. The hot-selling and critically acclaimed Get RIPPED! series enables individuals of any fitness level to burn up to three times more calories than the traditional weight-training program, and has received rave reviews from fitness critics throughout North America since the first title debuted in late 2005.

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