How were you discovered?
I got into modeling when I was 16. I was walking around a mall in Florida, and this couple was following me. [The guy] ended up being a photographer. Next to him was a beautiful woman, [IFBB bikini pro] Ana Delia.
Any challenges to being a model?
I grew up doing track and cross-country, so I had muscles from childhood. I grew 10 inches in high school and fell into modeling because I was so tall and ethnically ambiguous [French and Vietnamese]. My agency told me I needed to not work out so much because they wanted me tall and skinny to do runway and fashion. I went back and forth between being a model and just needing to go out and run. Running was my sense of identity—running is my coffee. Don’t talk to me until after my run. But running made me have muscular legs. I really didn’t care, though, so I decided to stick with it. It took me a while to leave the fashion industry and be my own person. It was a decision in my head that I didn’t want to be another face on the wall.
What’s a typical training day?
It’s a misconception that I live at the gym. I work out anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half at least every other day. I start off with weights and then do HIIT. That’s my standard routine. I used to train my upper and lower body separately, but now I do full-body workouts all the time. My mantra is to do something active every day because of the high that it makes me feel. I chase those endorphin highs. I literally just train to feel good and to exert a lot of energy. I don’t go to the gym to do static movements.
Do 20-minute workouts actually work for you or can you get away with it because you’re already in great shape?
If you’re going 120% at very high intensity—burpees, jump squats, sprints—then you can get away with 20 minutes.
Karina incorporates myriad workouts from P90X and Zumba, but she brings it all back to bodybuilding, training at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, CA. “There’s tons of knowledge to soak up.”
What kind of role does diet play in your overall regimen?
I don’t count calories. I believe in portion control, cooking for myself, and eating simple ingredients like potato, chicken, broccoli, avocado, and eggs.
It’s a state of internal peace: treating and caring for yourself right, eating healthy, happiness. I don’t work out only for aesthetics. No matter what, even the most perfect person has an insecurity about body image. I go to the gym and have camaraderie with my friends and move and be silly.
What was it like trying out for WWE?
I tried out for Total Divas three years ago. I was there because I looked the part, not because I knew anything about [wrestling]. I went to the camp and did front flips and had my body slammed on the floor.
What about being strong makes you feel sexy?
I feel sexiest not necessarily when I’m strong, because what is strong? I feel sexiest when I’m sweaty. Sweat represents hard work. When I’m drenched in sweat I know I killed it.