Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal
Training Like the Celebrities
At the moment, a really good anthropological study in New York City would be the people who work out at Tracy Anderson’s studio in TriBeCa. Ms. Anderson is the toned and—at 5 feet tall and change—petite fitness guru who has trained such fit and fabulous contemporary icons as Madonna, Shakira, Courteney Cox and Gwyneth Paltrow. Ms. Paltrow is also Ms. Anderson’s business partner.
Women everywhere, it seems, follow Ms. Anderson’s DVDs. This summer, she set up a pop-up workout shop in the Hamptons, where she lives most of the time with her son, Sam, to teach her method. The method includes leg and arm work, band exercises and extensive dance routines that are terrifying or exhilarating, depending on whom you ask. Likewise, the method is revolutionary or nothing special, depending on whom you ask.
The Hamptons experience was the first time Ms. Anderson had sold classes on an individual basis. That created a greater fervor for her facility downtown and, by extension, sticker shock. To become one of about 200 members in TriBeCa—if there is room to become a member, that is, individuals must pay a $1,500 initiation fee and then $900 per month. Supposedly there is a waiting list. (Prices are lower at Ms. Anderson’s location in Los Angeles.) This staggering fee includes access to all classes, a customized individual program every 10 workouts, a consultation, measurements and pictures.
Ms. Anderson has just published a book titled “Tracy Anderson’s 30 Day Method: The Weight-Loss Kick Start That Makes Perfection Possible” that can be had for $25.99, or cheaper online. It includes routines that focus on “the smaller accessory muscles,” a workout DVD and a foreword, of course, by Ms. Paltrow.
For those wondering if a $25.99 book will solve your problems, think again. “People want me to be Tinkerbell,” Ms. Anderson writes. “But there is no fairy dust. Only you, your commitment, and the workout.”
On a recent morning, Ms. Anderson took some time out to put a reporter through his paces. (Most of her studio’s clients are women, but, she said, about 5% are male. A toxic bachelor’s dream!) She prepared a smorgasbord—a pu pu platter, if you will—of a typical “Tracy Workout.”
First: leg movements, which involve intensive repetitions to the point of fatigue. Then it was on to leg and arm work with elastic bands that rest on the ceiling. Ms. Anderson quickly transitioned to two hip-hop inspired dance routines. (The reporter could follow along thanks to some practice in the Hamptons.) This cardio portion involved some bouncing around to Usher’s “OMG” on the custom bouncy floors.
“You have the It Factor going with the movement,” Ms. Anderson praised the reporter. “It often takes a lot of extra work to undo that block. People have to let go of their inhibitions.
Do her male clients tend to enjoy the dance work? “Matthew McConaughey dances,” Ms. Anderson said. “I haven’t seen Jake Gyllenhaal dance, but he’s got rhythm. I’ve got to make him try it. Sean Avery is very open-minded.”
Next, Ms. Anderson and the (now extremely sweaty) reporter moved to an adjacent room to work on what her acolytes affectionately call “Tracy Arms.” This involves continuous Fosse-like movements that, by this point in the morning, were a lot harder to execute than they would appear. Finally, after some contortions on a metal structure, the reporter felt like throwing up. Instead, he cried “Basta.”
“You’re a champion,” Ms. Anderson said.
In her tiny office, Ms. Anderson explained that she had gained a lot of weight while studying dance in New York at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. “My teacher told me that if Disney stayed on Broadway, I could be the Teapot,” she recalled. “I knew I was not being complimented, but I knew that I couldn’t starve myself.”
Over the next several years she developed her method. The goal: make its practitioners “skinny ripped.” “Even men,” she added.
Ms. Anderson said she wrote the book because people can be “so intimidated by the videos.” “I was in Malibu and I was talking with a woman from Russia,” Ms. Anderson went on. “She said, ‘I put the DVD in the player and then I grab a glass of vodka and I just watch.’ They think they can’t do it, that it’s not for the average person.”
“I wanted to write a book that’s doable,” she said. “I want to empower people, to get them moving, to help them fight aging and overeating. I’m not in the business of making millions of dollars.”
Write to Marshall Heyman at email@example.com
You know that the apocalypse is near when everyone is playing God. When it comes to our lives, and the things we deem most important, we’re always looking for doctrines and methods to surf on in the ocean of life. Our deepest fear is to be stuck in an ocean of unknown, making every day and hour a survival struggle. It’s the real sacrifice most people won’t accept to be fit. When I mean fit, I mean minimum body weight. I mean the “skinny-ripped” gibberish Tracy Anderson mentioned in the article. Still, just like in every walk of life, the most independent individuals are the most successful. In fitness, it’s no different. There’s a great deal of money in herding people toward a fitness method like a sweaty, pinky-ringed preacher herding inner city families into a church to fill the offering tray.
Exercise isn’t religion though, but it is important. Just like when life is going terribly one may flock to religion, or a change in religion, declines in attention, energy, and appearance will all force a person to a new exercise method. They’re never actually pushed toward understanding the decline in the first place. A lull in discipline is usually the reason, and the only things we can really stay disciplined with are things we pay for. So a whole lot of personal trainers and athletes out there decided that branding themselves and the way they exercise is the way to herd their own congregations. They were all already great athletes, dancers, yogis, or just trainers, so they knew themselves how to look the way they wanted. But just like with religion, you’re free to believe what you want. You’re also free to explore similarities and basic principles of all religions. Even deeper than that, we might all agree that there is a basic way that humans should behave based on things we all as a society don’t want to happen.
We also know what we’re not supposed to eat, and how often we need to exercise to be “skinny-ripped. No one applies it though. So they buy P90X or give away all their money to Tracy Anderson to hear it again. The truth is, the same way that no matter what amount of money you put into a preacher’s pocket, all he can do is give you poignant advice-not lower Christ from the sky to solve your problems directly, no trainer or fitness method can transform you into someone else. You have to be willing to change your life long before you pick a method. You have to be willing to be a disciplined individual and treat this fitness process with great importance. You’ll realize after soon after that it was all about the discipline anyway, and not about the method.