The fitness evolution of VS Angels

How the iconic bodies relate to the fitness trends of the moment

This year, the Victoria’s Secret Angels turn 20. In that time, 37 different women have earned their wings as official Angels, including the likes of Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima, Sara Sampaio, and more. While 20 years may seem short from a fashion perspective, it’s a lifetime (or three) in fitness trends and body sculpting. Banks’ flamenco-style walks required a different regimen from Giselle’s leg-stomping prowess, which differs from Sampaio’s athletic build. To commemorate the Angels as they enter their third decade, here’s a look at their physical evolution through each era thus far.

Late 90s: The OG Angels, Built for Endurance

When Victoria’s Secret launched its Angels lingerie in 1997, the initial campaign featured five fierce supermodels: Americans Tyra Banks and Stephanie Seymour, Denmark’s Helena Christensen, the Czech Daniela Peštová, and the Netherlands’ Karen Mulder.

These original Angels—soon joined by four others, including Heidi Klum—were positioned as elegant, down-to-earth women. However, they’ve proven to be the most human of the bunch: The supermodels of the late 90s had softer, sometimes fuller frames than most of their successors.

Their curvier build was result of more cardio-intensive fitness regimens: “Lengthy, sweaty endurance sessions such as TaeBo and The Step gave them a softer physique,” says Los Angeles-based trainer Stephanie Vitorino, who also manages Equinox’s Southern California group fitness programs. She recalls the era as a time when “staying fit meant keeping up,” as opposed to some of the more spot-targeted fitness trends that would follow. Vitorino notes that Banks’ electrifying signature Flamingo Walk is evidence that she maintained an endurance-focused regimen.

The Long and Lean Aughts: Brazil Takes Over

Between 2000-2005, four of the six new Angels were Brazilian: Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Izabel Goulart. By this time, the fitness world had turned its focus towards yoga and Pilates, giving these models superb core stability and strength. This means tighter bodies (also a requisite for those Rio beaches) and more poised walks—perhaps thanks to the mind-body awareness that the workouts provided. Vitorino cites Gisele’s signature Horse Walk as a case study: “Gisele famously stomped her way down the catwalk. Her lifting of high knees and kicking out to step requires core stability and strength.”

But cardio was still—and always will be—a requisite for these models. The mid- to late-aughts is when the world started measuring heart rate as an indicator for workout success, thus indoor cycling classes grew in popularity. This gave models the strong, shapely legs that are now a standard for Angel wings. This low-impact full-body regimen might explain how Adriana Lima has spent half her life as a Victoria’s Secret Angel; she has had her wings for 17 (!) years. (Ambrosio and Klum tie for second, at 12 years each.)

The Modern Angel: Earning Her Wings in the Ring...

“The world of modeling today is very different from the 90s,” says Dr. Charles Passler, a nutritionist who coaches numerous Angels. “The competition is much more intense now. Models are easily replaced.” Because it’s so easy to garner attention on social media, there are more candidates lining up for the catwalk, and fewer “supermodels” relying on magazine covers or household name recognition.

Since the competition is intense, so are the workouts: “[In the current decade], models focus on functional training, for flexibility, core, balance, strength and power,” says Vitorino. The result is a more athletic build, noticeable in Angels like Lily Aldridge or Sara Sampaio. Vitorino prescribes strength training for this kind of regimen, which involves working multiple muscle groups at the same time, and varying the heart rate with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Boxing is one such workout, a favorite of Angels like Sampaio, Lima, and Martha Hunt. “Today, the empowerment of exceeding your own expectations of a workout defines how fitness relates to confidence, self-esteem, and pride,” says Vitorino. Go figure: These are all valuable components of working the runway. It’s also how the modern Angel rebounds her body after pregnancy; Behati Prinsloo and Candice Swanepoel both had babies this fall and skipped the fashion show, but like many Angels before them, plan to return in full sculpted form.

...And In The Kitchen

Passler puts his modern model clients on a nutrition program geared toward “staying lean but having enough energy to exercise, in order to maintain that physique.” It’s important that they consume high levels of protein to build and maintain muscle; fruits and healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and nuts for energy; and leafy greens to satisfy hunger and maintain regular digestion. Passler allows minimal carbs “especially close to a shoot or runway event” since they can cause bloating. Workouts are often preceded or followed with a shake—“typically either a vegan protein shake from rice or pea sources, or whey protein for non-vegans who prefer its muscle building quality.” And, no surprises here: He discourages them from consuming anything high in sugar. “It’s bad for digestion, skin appearance, and weight management,” Passler says.

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