The Complex World Of Fitness And Athletic Modeling!

With the focus over the past 10 years on health and fitness, fitness modeling has sparked the interest of many athletes. Learn about modeling requirements, subjectivity, players, mother agents, managers, scouts, and more...

When I was asked to write an article about fitness modeling, I decided to write it from my point of view as a model manager. I started in the modeling industry from a clean slate with only my own ideas of how a modeling agency should be run, since I had never worked for an agency in the past.

I took my 10 years experience in the fitness industry and my six years experience in the software industry and applied them in a very unconventional modeling industry.

I had a very idealistic vision of what the modeling industry was without having a true understanding of the nature of the business. I was disappointed my first year as an agent because I quickly realized that the modeling industry has a dark side, actually many dark sides. I will get into some of those later.

I also realized that there were light sides as well, but they were harder to find. I'll bring to "light" the many facets of this industry and, hopefully, give you a better understanding of how things work and how to navigate yourself away from the dark spots.

With all the focus over the past 10 years on health and fitness, fitness modeling has sparked the interest of many bodybuilders and other athletes. Beautiful bodies are becoming more mainstream on TV, feature films and magazine covers.

High-profile professional athlete product endorsements and stunts like Brandi Chastain's rip-off-her-shirt and expose-her-sports-bra celebration at the 1999 World Cup has really brought more exposure to beautiful, fit bodies.

Brandi Chastain On The 1999 World Cup:
"Momentary insanity, nothing more, nothing less. I wasn't thinking about anything. I thought,'This is the greatest moment of my life on the soccer field.'"

You also can't overlook the popularity of actors such as Brad Pitt, The Rock and Vin Diesel, who all have amazing physiques.

The Requirements

The first thing you have to understand before getting into this business is that modeling is very subjective, although the requirements for fitness and athletic modeling are not as stringent as fashion modeling.

There really are no specific height requirements like there is in fashion modeling, and that's reflected in our men's and women's boards. We represent a female that stands only 5'2" tall, and we represent a male standing over 6'5" tall. It is preferable to have women between 5'6" and 5'10" tall and men between 5'10" and 6'2" tall.

It can also be tough to pin down other requirements as well. Body types can vary widely, but it's safe to say that you should be in-shape. Most people relate fitness modeling to the bodybuilding-type body, but it's really more inclusive of other in-shape bodies including strength athletes with thicker torsos and tennis players with thinner but toned bodies. Female fitness models should have nice abs and curves without being too ripped.

The most subjective of the requirements can be facial beauty. Face can sometimes be overlooked when the model is a star athlete, but for most male fitness models a nicely chiseled face with a strong jaw line is a big plus. For female fitness models, its important not to get so lean that your face sinks in.

The Subjectivity Of Modeling

The most important thing to realize is that modeling is a very subjective field. From my point of view, I have to figure out whether a prospective model has a marketable look that I can sell to my clients. Each client has different requirements, and that's why modeling agencies have varied looks.

If you're a prospective model, you may not get picked by one agency for various reasons but get picked by another agency for the same reasons.

The Players

The modeling industry is comprised of many different people. I'm going to provide a basic understanding of who they are and what functions they perform. The definitions below may be a bit oversimplified in some cases to give you a better understanding of the relationships and differences between these people.


An agent is generally responsible for procuring work in a certain part of the industry. This may include commercial print advertising, high-fashion, TV commercials, episodic TV shows, and feature films to name a few. The agent is entitled to keep a percentage of your pay for jobs he or she books for you. Agents also are responsible for grooming models for the type of work the model is expected to book.

It's extremely import to realize that most agents must be licensed in their state to perform the duties of an agent.

Mother Agent

In smaller markets, sometimes agents will bring their models to larger markets. These people, in most cases, are licensed agents in their state. Mother Agents should have a good track record for booking work in their area as well as placing top models with strong agencies. These agents are also responsible for grooming the models, and good grooming costs money and time.

When an Agent signs a model to another agency in a different market, they become the Mother Agent. They will then get a percentage of any jobs the model books with the new Agent.


Many managers, more often than not, first worked as Agents, so they have a lot of experience in booking work and grooming models. They are generally responsible for overseeing the entire career goals of the model. They have a heavy responsibility providing the right guidance and can make or break a model or actor.


A scout is an individual that has a good eye for talent. They know the different looks that different agencies require. The scout will generally get a few snapshots of the prospective model and submit them to one or more agencies. The scout is then compensated by the agency when the model is signed.

Getting Discovered

So, how do you get in with a great agency or management company? There are several different ways to get your face in front of the right people, and some are expensive and some are not.

Tip: It's important to know that you don't need professional photos before an agency picks you.

Submit Yourself

It's a lot easier than you think. Take some snapshots of yourself and send them into the agency. Many agencies now accept submissions through e-mail or through their website. Also, you can still send photos through regular mail to the agency address.

Use a good digital camera and take some snapshots of yourself outside or inside during the daytime. If you take the shots inside, then make sure to let in plenty of daylight. It's important to get a few headshots that show your facial features and include at least one smiling shot.

You'll also need some body shots. Women can wear some type of two piece attire such as a sports bra and shorts. Men can wear just shorts.

Open Calls

Many agencies offer open calls. An open call is a time when you can just show up at the agency. If you do it, come prepared to look your best. Wear clothes that make you look good, but don't go overboard. If you have a portfolio, bring it. The agency will take some snapshots and decide whether they feel they can market your look.

Modeling Conventions

Modeling conventions can be hit or miss, and they can be very expensive. Even worse, some are complete scams. The way a modeling convention works is pretty simple. The company running the convention will charge each potential model a fee to get into the convention. In return, the model will be seen by agents and managers. The company will also pay agents and managers to attend. The scams will grossly overcharge people and will not invite the top agencies.

Getting Scouted

There is always a possibility that a model scout or photographer will spot you. They may see you at the mall, on the street, or even on a website. Model scouts will take some snapshots and submit them to agencies hoping to place you for a finder's fee.


Modeling websites on the Internet have really taken off, but they can be hit or miss. Sites such as and are scouted by many top agencies and are well maintained by the staff. One problem with websites is that people can submit photos of someone and assume their identity. It makes it difficult for agents and scouts to recruit real potential models.

Some websites will pay for content. They pay models for interviews, photos, video clips and more. Some of these websites are okay but many are not. You should be careful with what websites you associate your image with. If you associated your image with a website that does questionable work, you will be associated with that type of work. BE CAREFUL!

Agencies and Management Companies

Agencies and management companies exist to get you work as a model, actor or whatever your talent may be. If you sign an agreement or contract with the agency, it's their responsibility to procure work for you. The agreement generally covers just the area or region where the agency is located.

In addition, they groom you and mold you into a model that can get the type of work they book. For instance, they will help you become comfortable in front of the camera. If you're going to do runway, they will train you how to walk properly.

Agencies generally put a substantial investment into each model by advancing funds to cover the model's expenses including but not limited to test photographer's fees, comp cards, portfolio book, rent, and travel expenses. Smaller agencies sometimes can't afford all these expenses, but they certainly won't charge you anything to join the agency.

For the services provided by the agency, the agency will take a commission from each job they book for you. In addition, they will normally take back that money they advanced to you for the expenses discussed above.

Portfolio Development

Developing a portfolio doesn't have to start until after a model signs with an agency. Good agents and managers know what is best to put into the portfolio. The portfolio should consist of test photos, tear sheets as well as booked work such as advertisements or catalog pieces. To get a portfolio started, an agent will recommend one or several test photographers.

Test Photographers

Agencies will generally setup a new model with some test photographers. It's important for the model to get a portfolio started. Every model brings their portfolio to castings and auditions. It allows the client to see what the model has done and how well the model photographs. It also shows what they have accomplished.

This is where a good agency is important. They want you to look your best and in most cases will recommend the best photographers for your look. Good test photographers are not cheap, so a good recommendation can go a long way.


TFP stands for Time For Prints, and TFCD stands for Time For CD. Some photographers are willing to shoot you on a time for prints basis. This means that they will shoot you for free, so that they can add your unique look to their portfolio.

You get the services of the photographer at no cost as well as some prints for your portfolio. The photographer does not have the right to sell the images, and neither do you. A TFCD shoot is the same thing, except that you get a CD of images instead of the prints.


Modeling Contracts

If an agency wants to work with you, they may offer you a modeling contract. This is not always necessary and can be helpful or hurtful. A contract needs to be balanced and be fair to the model as well as the agency. Read it over carefully and make sure that you feel it's fair. Review the contract with family and close friends, or you may opt to have a lawyer review it.

These contracts may also be exclusive or non-exclusive. Exclusivity can cover different things including a region (i.e. New York City, LA) and/or a type of work (i.e. commercial print, high-fashion, TV commercials). If you sign an exclusive contract, make sure it's with an agency that can book you a decent amount of work. Otherwise, you'll be sitting around with your thumb up your you-know-what.

It's in your best interest to do some research on the agency or agent before you sign anything. Check references if needed.

Model Releases

This is where an agent or manager is crucial. A model release is a document where you sign away certain rights and allow a person or company to use images of you. You need to understand the intricacies of these documents so that you are getting what you expect out of the agreement.

This is so critical that it can be something that can be career ending if it's not done properly.

The Dark Side Of Modeling

Modeling is not as easy a job as many people believe. The perception of what a modeling career is leads many people to peruse something that is not achievable for them. These people can easily get themselves swallowed up by modeling scams as well as people looking to manipulate them for their own interests.

Modeling Agency Scam Example

Here's how a modeling agency scam works.

  1. The modeling agency recruits new talent.
  2. The agency tells the talent that they need a portfolio to get started. So far, this is not unusual.
  3. The agency tells the talent that they need to use the services of their in-house photographer, and you have to pay the agency for these services.

The easy way to spot the scam is that agencies don't charge models to be a part of the agency. Agencies don't normally have an in-house photographer either, and agencies don't charge models for photography or comp cards. These scams generally lure people in that really don't have the qualities to be a model but have a great desire to be a model.


Want to stop a mainstream modeling career before it begins? Well, a good way to do it is to shoot nude photos for a pornography magazine, or shoot nude scenes in a "lifestyle" video.

There is a difference between shooting pornography and artistic nudity. If you're going to shoot nudity, do it with a photographer that has a solid reputation for advancing a model's career.

In Conclusion

Modeling as a career can be a tough business, and it isn't for everyone. Some people have great bodies, and some people have great faces. For real modeling, you need to have both, unless you're a parts model. Having a great personality that is pleasant and professional is a major plus.

Lastly, do your due diligence when looking for an agency or a management company. Be smart about signing model releases. Are you giving away more than you should? If your shooting for a magazine, are you just signing a release for the magazine or is it also for the photographer?

You don't have to do this alone.