Once Kate Upton discovered her love of strength training, she stopped worrying about the size of her clothes.
The model, 26, started focusing on her muscle gains in the gym about three years ago, and found that her priorities shifted.
“My whole mindset changed so much, instead of trying to fit into this perfect mold that I thought I was trying to be,” Upton tells PEOPLE. “As soon as I started caring about my strength, I felt healthier. I felt stronger. I was able to have more energy and be more active. And I was happier, honestly.”
The SI Swimsuit issue cover star has worked with trainer Ben Bruno for several years now, and after her success in the gym the duo developed the Strong4Me workout program — which launched in December — so people could do the exercises at home. Upton is now launching a new partnership between Strong4Me and SI Swim to find their newest ambassador, and she wants someone who also believes in strength over size.
“We’re looking for someone who puts an importance on taking care of themselves and being the best them they can possibly be,” she says. “And getting fit and strong for themselves — not just to fit into a certain dress size or a pair of jeans, but to be strong for everyday life, so you can be the best you, the best mom, the best business woman — whatever it is.”
That’s something that Upton is working on as well after the birth of her first child, daughter Genevieve, in November. She says that working out again “is so hard.”
“I felt very strong the whole pregnancy, and then you’re starting completely over again. It all disappears!” she says. “I did the Strong4Me workouts and I started at phase 1, which used to be so easy for me, and suddenly I was struggling so much. That’s why doing the workouts is so great, because Ben spread them out, so you’re easing into it and building that strength again.”
Upton said that she’s starting to see her body recover, though she tries not to put too much pressure on herself.
“I am definitely making progress, and there’s little wins,” she says. “I personally don’t love getting on the scale too much, because it fluctuates from so many things, like breastfeeding, or if I’m bloated or too hydrated or not hydrated enough. It’s kind of a buzzkill when you see that number. So I always try to focus on my weights — am I going up in weights, do I feel stronger when I’m doing lunges. I’m definitely getting stronger and feeling better.”
Plus, Upton says, her renewed strength is helpful when she’s taking care of Genevieve.
“I want to be a good example to her, to be healthy and care about myself so I can be a great mom,” she says.
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