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Go-to model trainer Justin Gelband opens his first workout studio

The gorgeous studio space at ModelFIT (Photo: Lisa Elaine Held for Well+Good)
The gorgeous studio space at ModelFIT (Photo: Lisa Elaine Held for Well+Good)


Justin Gelband, known for training a long list of Victoria’s Secret and Sports’ Illustrated models (like Kate Upton, Miranda Kerr, and Irina Shayk) is bringing his workout and wellness method to the masses with his new studio, ModelFIT, which opened this week in Nolita.

For years, Gelband had been training his celeb clients in their home gyms and rented spaces, and he offered classes out of Mushin Mixed Martial Arts for a brief period. But ModelFIT is his first workout home, and it’s a collaboration with health coach Vanessa Packer, who will offer exercisers services like nutrition counseling to round out their get-fit routines.

We stopped by to check out the brand-new fitness digs, try a class, and find out more about Gelband’s fitness philosophy. Here’s what you need to know.

Light streaming in off the Bowery. (Photo Credit: Melisse Gelula for Well+Good)
Light streaming in off the Bowery in the front area, reserved for personal training (Photo: Melisse Gelula for Well+Good)

The space

ModelFIT is located in what was photographer Terry Richardson’s studio for 16 years, so model traffic in and out is run-of-the-mill. (They’ll just be fully clothed, and in yoga pants, now.) A wall of windows faces the Bowery, letting in tons of natural light, and the space is Soho chic, with whitewashed original tin ceilings, exposed brick, and a wall of mirrors with a ballet barre. A sliding door separates a personal training space from the class area, and there’s a small locker room with two showers. Bonus: a roof deck for outdoor workouts and lounging during warmer months.

The concept

Gelband’s workout program is designed specifically for women, and he says his goal is to help you “be the best you can be with the body you’ve been given.” That means a huge emphasis on personalization, based on your specific strengths and weaknesses. “You’re an individual. It doesn’t matter what the person next to you is doing, every body is different,” he says.

His overall philosophy is based on the idea that most workouts put too much focus on large muscle groups. He emphasizes the small ones and “toning, leaning, and lengthening” (plus balance and stability) over developing power, strength, and athleticism.

ModelFIT co-owners Justin Gelband and Vanessa Packer. (Photo Credit: Lisa Elaine Held for Well+Good)
ModelFIT co-owners Justin Gelband and Vanessa Packer. (Photo: Lisa Elaine Held for Well+Good)

But this is not CrossFit. For Gelband, “strength” is about body awareness and control, “not kettlebells, lunges, or push-ups. You’re not a man, you don’t need to be treated like a man,” he says. Gelband sees this approach as helping women get the most from their bodies, but it comes with assumptions that might make many women uncomfortable.  

The work out

If you’re used to HIIT or boot camp training, you’re going to have to calm the eff down before taking this class. Gelband is seriously focused on mindful movement and wants your (demure) squats and leg lifts to be small, slow, thoughtful, and controlled. Throughout class, he offered cues like “Take it easy” and “Slow down,” phrases we’re not used to hearing from trainers. The result is that you’re not using momentum or, say, hip joints rather than (weak) inner thighs to do the heavy, er, three-pound lifting.

Our Foundations class focused on small muscle targeting movements, but with less repetition than you’d find in a barre class. We did arm and core work with resistance bands and lots moves that worked tush and thigh muscles while wearing aforementioned three-pound ankle weights. There was no cardio, but Gelband says his early classes are just getting people used to his approach and later he’ll diversify the class offerings, including boxing and yoga.

Gelband’s real magic is in his care for and attention to each person in class (they max out at 10–15). He has a spidey sense for weaknesses and injuries, and never stops circulating, watching, correcting and helping you move in the way he sees as best for your body, even if yours isn’t hitting a runway anytime soon. —Lisa Elaine Held

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