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Part fashion model, part athlete, the women you see posing in fitness magazines and activewear lookbooks are toned, tough, and somewhat anonymous to the average reader. Who are these girls, and how did they get to the top of the niche model heap? From a 22-year-old former cheerleader to a Fitness Magazine cover star who also dances for Prince, we talked to the most popular fitness models working today.
"My dad always tells me, 'Don't confuse effort with results.' So while I always work hard, it is the results that will distinguish me." Photos via Wilhelmina
Current city: Westchester, New York
For a toolbox-toting tomboy who stumbled into the beauty pageant circuit as a teen, a career in fitness modeling was pretty much inevitable. Former Miss Italia USA Christi Marraccini has been on the cover of Fitness, as well as in spreads for Cosmopolitan and Runner's World, and her secret to knocking out eight-hour-long fitness shoots is having played nearly every sport out there. "Knowing proper technique, form, and range of motion when it comes to executing specific movements is a bonus," she says.
Those grueling fitness shoots are a bonding experience, too: "You get very personal with people you just met very quickly, but it becomes normal. By the end of a day of shooting, you've become like a weird little family. When you think about it, having someone you just met adjusting your clothes or fanning away your sweat isn't normal, but that's what makes every day interesting and different."
"I try to put a can-do-anything attitude into my work. Why do you think they call me 'Jam'?!" Photo by Coty Tarr.
Current city: Santa Monica, California
Let's play a game called "Where Have I Seen Jam Murphy Before?" Perhaps it's in the pages of your go-to magazines—she's been a fitness model for Cosmopolitan, Self, and Shape. Or, if you've been in NYC or L.A. recently, maybe you've seen her larger-than-life GapFit and Champion billboards. You also might recognize her as a finalist in last year's Women's Health Next Fitness Star contest.
She's everywhere, for sure, but the in-demand model isn't doing it for the fame. "I love making pictures that other people can look at and find inspiration in," Murphy says. She is in it for the money...kind of: After a successful shoot, she assigns everyone on set a number and has them put five bucks in a cap; a winning number is drawn, and that person takes all. "Of course," Murphy adds, "we make that person buy us all drinks afterward!"
"I'm 5'11", and I've walked the runway many times before. But I'm also not 120 pounds, and I have muscles. Strong is the new skinny." Photos via Karina Lisenbee
Current city: Orlando, Florida
At just 22, Karina Lisenbee has already starred in fitness editorials for Self, Glamour, and Shape (as well as snagged the cover of that magazine's Singapore edition), and she recently shot the spring 2015 campaign for Skechers. But the modeling thing "just kind of happened" because of her height—she considers herself an athlete first. "Some models are really good at posing like a statuesque mannequin or being super elegant or sexy," says the personal trainer, runner, and former cheerleader. "My strength is that I bring a lot of energy to a set, and I love jumping around and busting moves. I often get booked based on the client knowing I'm physically capable of whatever look they're trying to capture."
We would book her simply for her kick-ass attitude: "I don't run 1,000 miles to be 'model skinny' or lift to be a body-builder pro or only allow myself 'this many calories a day' to have abs," she explains. "Nope—exercise has always been my instant inner remedy. There's no high like the one you get after a solid workout."
"Now that I'm incorporating my love for fitness with my job, it doesn't even feel like I'm working. I get to do what I do best and get paid for it while having fun." Photo via Nike
Current city: New York, New York
Damaris Lewis has quite the résumé: She lit up the June 2013 Fitness cover, has starred in three Sports Illustrated spreads, and is currently featured in Nike's Pro Rival Bra campaign. The multitalented beauty squeezes in fitness shoots when she's not doing cool-kid stuff like interviewing Nick Jonas for Modelinia, closing NYFW runway shows, and working with the NBA style team.
Then there's her other gig as a backup dancer for The Purple One. "Dancing for Prince is surreal," she says. "Not everyone gets to sit under the stage while 'Purple Rain' is playing, knowing you just left the stage dancing with the greatest living legend in music." Not jealous enough yet? Lewis was also in the Prince-centric episode of New Girl.
"I was an athlete my whole life, so I am able to do anything a client asks for, from pull-ups to backflips." Photos via Kim Strother
Age: "Oh, I have to tell you my real age. I'm 32."
Current city: New York, New York
No surprise here: Runner's World cover girl Kim Strother is a lifelong athlete and former personal trainer. Once she signed with a major modeling agency (first Ford, and now Elite), she started booking regular gigs, like Self and Women's Health spreads and campaigns for Champion. "My personal training clients got a little sick of me taking off for modeling jobs," she says. "That's when I knew something was changing."
Strother's job perks are pretty great. While on an Athleta shoot in Costa Rica and Argentina, she quite a little bonus on top of working with a stellar team and enjoying gorgeous backdrops. "I was shooting with a girl who was an amazing surfer, so when we finished early, she would take me out to surf," Strother says. "You can't beat that for a day's work!"