It’s the end of a work day for John Benton, and he’s about to leave his Design District studio and make the drive back to his home in Coppell. On the way, he will give an over-the-phone consultation to a model in London.
His phone rings and an unknown number pops up.
“Somewhere my phone number is online,” he says.
Benton is a personal trainer to more than 300 models, both in Dallas and around the world. He gained about 10,000 Instagram followers since Harper's Bazaar published an article saying he’s many models’ secret weapon. Now, he scrolls through his DMs and sees dozens of women offering their hip and waist measurements and asking if Benton has any open spots for personal training.
It all began a few years ago when a model needed to get her hip measurements down to land more modeling gigs. Her personal trainer at the time recommended Benton.
He says to help her lose inches, he stepped back and thought about what workouts he could include without building the model’s muscle too much.
"With a model's workout, it's a fine line between getting a really good calorie-burning, fat-burning workout and at the same time not building any muscle,” he says.
He was able to get her hip measurements down from 37.5 inches to 34 inches, which is the golden size in the modeling industry, he says. Now, she’s a model in Barcelona.
Benton's transformative work was so impressive, modeling agencies began recommending him to models, and soon, models from out of town were traveling to see him.
He says models come from Oklahoma, Kansas, Miami, London, and more. One model flew in from Toronto and saw results within a week.
“She had been trying for a year to get her hip measurements down and nothing was working, so I gave her nutrition tips and trained her, and in the six days, we got her hip and waist down each one inch,” he says.
Word traveled fast and today, he says he sees about 30 to 40 women each day, almost exclusively models, but definitely all women.
"I'm not about to have a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old model in here and then a random guy right next to them," he says. "... I don't like the creep factor. They love it here, too, because there's no random guys like over here staring at them."
The models do love it there. Kiersten Dolbec, one of Benton's clients, says she has been going to Benton for about six years and modeling for about seven.
"What the modeling industry wants from us is super unrealistic, but John goes about it in a healthy way," she says.
Dolbec and another model, Mollie O'Neal, both say Benton tailors each workout to the individual model even though they are often in a group setting. And although he's not a licensed nutritionist, he has researched food and talked to nutritionists about helping the models with what they are eating.
"A lot of times an agency sends a 15-year-old girl in here, and how does an agency know the trainer will train her the right way?" Dolbec says. "With John, they don't have to worry."
Dolbec goes to Benton about twice a week and credits his training with helping her through an eating disorder. She says a lot of the models are "'skinny fat,' where you just touch them and their skin is flabby, but they still look thin." But Benton helps the models look thin and get healthy.
"When you work out, your skin looks better, you have more energy, and you're nicer to be around," Dolbec says. "And everyone will say the models who are happier get booked more because people typically have to be on set with them for about eight hours."
O'Neal grew up with an athletic build because she played basketball for many years, she says. To be a successful model, she had to tone down her muscle.
"John refined my exercise," she says. "I couldn't do squats or lunges, and he understood that."
Katie Tull, another model Benton trains, has an athletic background similar to O'Neal's. She was a Division I basketball player in college and started modeling after graduating.
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Today she's a yoga instructor at the studio where Benton trains, and she says he's now more than her trainer — he's her friend and colleague. Tull describes Benton as a family man and believes that has a lot to do with the comfortable training environment he has created for the models.
"It has everything to do with him being an incredible husband and dad," she says. "It's hard to explain, but he's not threatening. He's a kind person, and there's a certain energy around him like you know he's rooting for you. There's never been a boundary crossed."
Not only do the models appreciate Benton's understanding of the modeling world, but both models say they feel like Benton is a friend.
"He's so supportive, and I really think Dallas looks better because of him," Dolbec says.