Candice Swanepoel: Train like an Angel

Do you have to be a supermodel to get your pre-baby body back in just a few months? No, says Victoria’s Secret Angel Candice Swanepoel. It takes a lot of hard work and self-care – just like for us mere mortals.

THERE’S A PERCEPTION that models are either genetically blessed with a lightning-fast metabolism, or they starve themselves to be able to fit into those tiny sample-sized clothes. While the former may be true for many of them (and the latter also true for some), it’s widely known that the band of Victoria’s Secret Angels who parade down the runway in diamond-encrusted bras, wearing giant angel wings on their backs, are equal parts genetic-lottery winners and some of the healthiest and hardest workers in the business.

After all, when your day job involves walking around in your underwear in front of millions of people, you’re going to make damn sure that your body is flawless – and that’s exactly what South African export and Angel of 11 years Candice Swanepoel does.

Model Citizen

Growing up on a farm in Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal, 30-year-old Candice began dancing at a young age. ‘I was a ballet dancer growing up,’ she explains, and although she always had an interest in fashion and beauty, her ambition was to become a pro dancer. She credits this lifelong passion as the reason she’s now so in tune with her body, how it works and what it needs: ‘It just gives you a different sense of your body. Your body is like a machine and everyone’s is different. I know mine quite well,’ she told The Cut.

At 15, her striking good looks and dancer’s figure got her scouted at a flea market in Durban. Before long she was off to live abroad and spent the next few years working between London, Paris, Milan and New York, walking the runways for designers such as Fendi and Tommy Hilfiger. In 2007, she landed the coveted role of a Victoria’s Secret Angel, which she says, ‘changed her life’. She’s now a veteran Angel, having appeared in 11 shows, including in 2018, only five months after giving birth to her second child.

Body of work

The blonde beauty has two sons, two-year- old Anacã and 9-month-old Ariel, with her partner of 13 years, Brazilian model Hermann Nicoli, whom she met in Paris when she was just 17. The model admitted backstage at last year’s VS show that being a mother helps keep her fit: ‘Taking care of two kids will get you in shape real quick!’ she laughed.

She combines running after her sons with her strict fitness regime, working out up to four times a week for an hour at a time, or every day when getting ready for a shoot or show.

Most of the Angels exercise with the help of personal trainer Justin Gelband, whose expertise lies in sculpting models’ bodies. ‘Models need to have toned arms and legs, and flat stomachs. To obtain this, we must develop the body’s foundation by strengthening the ankles, hips, butt, back, shoulders and stomach,’ he explains.

Justin has Candice focus on one body part per workout – legs, arms, butt or core – using a mixture of cardio, boxing, Pilates, circuit training, resistance work and weights to keep her body long, lean and strong, to not only be runway-ready but also be able to keep up with the demands of the job.

‘People don’t realise how physical modelling is,’ Candice says. ‘With all the travelling and work, being in shape and healthy helps me deal with anything that’s thrown my way. It’s part of my job, but I love feeling fit and strong and healthy. Life is better for me that way.’

Super mom

As with any new mom, Candice’s focus and priorities have shifted away from herself to her kids, so the model now prefers to adjust her workout schedule around her sons. Speaking to The Cut, she said, ‘I’ve been doing my workouts at night because I’ve had full days with my baby. I’ve been doing my own type of yoga. It’s not standard yoga, but I put on some music and mix in some Pilates and squat resistance stuff I’ve learnt over the years. It’s calm; I can meditate through it and get some flow with some music. It’s a little ritual for me. I do it every time I feel overwhelmed and stressed.’

And with all the changes that pregnancy brings to your body, Candice has incorporated more weight training to maintain tone as well as bulk up her naturally lean frame: ‘My body’s changing as I get older, so I’m doing a lot more work with weights to keep muscle tone.’

Candice not only ‘bounced back’ after five months to appear in the show in December last year, but told InStyle Australia that she was already carrying Ariel during the 2017 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show: ‘I did the show pregnant. I had to work out as much as I could. I would jog on the beach, but now [during my pregnancy] it’s more about long walks, swimming, something that’s fun.’

She’s not the first Angel to walk soon after giving birth – Candice is among modelling legends such as Heidi Klum, Alessandra Ambrosio and Behati Prinsloo who have all stunned with their post-baby bodies on the VS catwalk. But don’t think that she felt pressure to get back to her model ways so soon after having a baby:

‘It’s a process feeling “normal” again. Our bodies become a vessel and it’s a mind-blowing process making a human being. I am far from perfect and every mother should give themselves time to recover and not have to focus on what they look like. It’s how you FEEL that is important. You are important,’ she shared in a post on Instagram.

No shame in her game

This isn’t the first time the supermodel has shared what it’s like to feel pressured to get back in shape after pregnancy. Just 12 days after giving birth to Ariel, Candice was photographed on a beach in Brazil, looking happy and comfortable with a little postpartum tum. But the image drew some nasty comments. She posted the image in question on her Instagram stories with a message to body-shamers:

‘This is me 12 days after having my son. If you have something bad to say about it … check yourself. Beauty standards are sometimes impossible for women these days. I’m not ashamed to show my postpartum tummy, I am proud actually. I carried my son for 9 months in there, I think I’ve earned the right to have a little tummy.’

She signed off by adding a message of kindness to all women: ‘I don’t have to hide my stomach just because people have unrealistic standards for women. We create life … what can you do? Ladies, we are all in this together, be kind to each other.’

Get a leg up

Candice is known for her shapely legs and bum, which she achieves with the following moves (her trainer Justin Gelband makes her do them with ankle weights for extra burn!).

1. Plank leg lifts

12–15 reps on each leg

Starting on all fours, straighten one leg and do small lifts up and down, then repeat with the other leg. Next, bend your leg so your sole is facing up and do small lifts up and down for 12–15 reps. Repeat with the other leg.

2. Side leg extensions

12–15 reps on each leg

On all fours, extend one leg out to the side to make a 45 degree angle with the floor, keeping your knee bent and glutes tight. Repeat on the other side.

3. Leg circles

10 reps in each direction on each side

Lying on your side, your top leg extended, slowly trace a circle in the air with your foot in a clockwise direction, keeping your toes pointed. Switch directions for 10 more reps, then switch sides and repeat on the other side.

All about balance
Between juggling the many demands of being a globe-trotting supermodel and a mom, finding a way to de-stress and reset her body and mind is vital to Candice, which she does through yoga and healthy eating. ‘It’s all about balance for me,’ she says. ‘One meal in the day will be lighter than others. For lunch I will do something heavier so that my body has time to burn it off,’ she told The Cut. ‘Night-time is something lighter and I always have a big breakfast. I don’t like to restrict myself from certain foods that I want, or kill myself at the gym. It’s what’s comfortable for my body at the time and what’s best at that moment.’

Originally published in FitLife March 2019 issue. Illustrations courtesy of FitLife.

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