Behind the Scenes of a Fitness Photo Shoot with Three Top Trainers

Think back to the last tough workout you did — the one where your quads were quivering and you were acutely aware of that one bead of sweat running down your face, and strangers stopped you on the street afterwards to ask if you needed to sit down.

Got that workout in mind? Good. Now, imagine having to do that workout for eight hours straight, under bright lights, and with a crew of photographers and creative directors watching your every lunge, squat, and crunch. Hey, no one said it was easy to make working out look, well, easy.

Fitness photo and video shoots are seen by outsiders as a glamorous part of the job; after all, how hard can it be to wear a trendy (and sometimes free) outfit and strike a few fitness poses with a full face of make-up and a fresh spray tan?

As it turns out, pretty.damn.hard.

I spoke with three of the nation’s top trainers — Betina Gozo, Gideon Akande, and Jenny Finkel — about what goes into preparing for a fitness photoshoot, what it’s like being on set, and the first food they reach for after a long day of shooting.

How Top Trainers Prep for Fitness Photo Shoots

The thing that makes the biggest difference to Gozo, a Nike Master Trainer and the 2017 Women’s Health Next Fitness Star, is her diet.

“With working out, there’s only so much you can do,” she explains. “I really clean up my eating. The week before a photo shoot, I’ll avoid desserts, bread, and vegetables that make me feel bloaty.” She also focuses on incorporating more protein into her diet to prepare for the intense day(s) of shooting.

Akande doesn’t set any strict rules for himself, but instead doubles down on being mindful about what he’s putting into his body and making sure to eat regularly throughout the day while limiting carbs and sugar.

Finkel, meanwhile, has a super-relatable “diet” before her yoga photoshoots.

“I cut out second dinner!” she laughingly says. “My husband loves having second dinner, usually a snack of cheese and crackers, or pretzels and hummus, and a couple of days before the photo shoot, I ask him to support me by not having second dinner until after the shoot.”

Otherwise, Finkel isn’t a big dieter.

“I obviously want to look like the best version of myself, but I want to look like myself!” she exclaims. “In the fitness industry, and yoga in particular, we’re in such a strange space of being aspirational and also preaching about self-acceptance. We’re selling an image, but we’re also telling people to love themselves and that their bodies are beautiful and perfect. I don’t fast or spray tan or paint on abs — I want the person you see in the pictures to be the person who you see in class.”

And aside from watching what they eat (or not, as the case may be), fitness pros do the little things to make sure they’re looking like the best version of themselves.

“My main things are tackling bloating and under eye circles,” Finkel reveals. “I make sure I have plenty of rest and that I have a leisurely morning so I have plenty of time to digest, if you catch my drift. I had a major photo shoot the day after I returned from a trip to Napa once…you can bet I was slapping on the White Strips the night before to counteract the Cab!”

Akande, who’s led several fitness video shoots through his roles with NordicTrack and Men’s Health, has also figured out that knowing what kind of workout he’ll be doing helps him prepare smarter.

“I try to specify my workouts to what I know they’ll be shooting and what my wardrobe will be,” so he can tailor his workouts to focus on those areas. For a video shoot specifically, Akande says it’s crucial that he knows his programming and his script inside and out so he can properly cue and transition between movements.

On Set at a Fitness Photo Shoot

During high-intensity cardio and strength shoots, trainers can expect a lot of repetition to nail the perfect shot.

“They usually tell you what you’re doing beforehand so you can prepare, but you have to be ready for anything,” shares Gozo. “At a recent shoot, I sprinted for 100m once every 15 minutes because of all the camera adjustments and light resetting — it wasn’t too tough. Other days, they need a shot at five different angles in five minutes, so I’m doing five minutes of split lunges.”

And when video shooting is on the menu, the pressure can mount even higher.

Video is tough because everything has to be perfect in that small amount of time. One drill in NTC app probably takes 30 minutes to do. But NordicTrack sometimes just does one take. It depends on what they’re looking for — it could be a library drill, or it could be more organic and personality focused,” explains Gozo.

Akande seconds Gozo’s experiences with photo and video shoots.

“You don’t just show up and take the picture and that’s it. Understand you WILL work up a sweat, and you will get a full workout over the course of a photo shoot. People think that when you change your wardrobe [in a workout video] it’s a new day — it’s not!

“Most of my video shoots have been one take, so you must be very comfortable with the material. I aim to know it inside out to avoid hiccups, but you also have to know you will stumble over your words every now and then and you have to be able to bounce back from that and keeping it rolling.”

However you’re shooting, Finkel emphasizes that communication with your photographer is key.

“One thing I’ve learned is that fancy, complicated yoga poses don’t always photograph well.  What’s more, you want to be really clear about your intention for the shoot.

“I did a shoot where I focused more on doing complicated poses, and while the pictures looked beautiful, my eyes were either down or closed in almost every single one.  When I went through the photos trying to find good images I could use to promote my classes and events, there weren’t a whole lot of ‘friendly’ images with my eyes up and a smile on my face!

“So I’ve learned from that to always make sure I’m connecting with the camera as often as I’m looking away from it. Communicating with the photographer is so important. You might be all like, ‘Watch me!! This is a fun one!! How does it look??’ And the photographer will say, ‘Um, yeah, it’s great, but it mostly just looks like your ass up in the air.'”

Finkel also makes sure she’s properly warmed up before she starts contorting herself into complicated yoga poses; similarly, Gozo and Akande keep plenty of recovery gear on set to help them stay loose and warm between takes (among their favorite recovery tools: Hyperice vibrating rollers).

After the Shoot

Gozo wastes no time as soon as “That’s a wrap!” is called — she beelines straight for the catering table, which is usually covered in less-than-healthy snacks, and grabs any Swedish fish that are available. The next day, she treats as a full rest day to allow her body to recover completely from the strenuous shoot days.

Akande will get back to his normal fitness routine if he’s feeling good, and if he’s traveling or participating in a multi-day shoot, stretching, massage, and recovery are key for making sure his muscles stay pliable.

Similarly, Finkel goes right back to her mat after a photo shoot, with one important addition.

“Second dinner comes back!” she laughs. “Or maybe a donut or a Bloody Mary, just a little indulgence.”

A post shared by Jenny Finkel (@jennyfinkelyoga) on

And, Finkel reminds us, sometimes the best shots are the ones in which you don’t look totally perfect.

“You might show up with hair and makeup done, looking your best, and feeling ready. But as you move and flow, you start to realize that fitness is messy, yoga is messy. As you’re going through the motions, you loosen up and start laughing, and you let go a little bit of perfection — those become some of the best shots, when you look like you’re actually doing something.

“It’s okay if there’s a little hair in your face or you’re sweating or laughing — the best shots are the ones that look like you’re working your ass off and having a blast.”

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.