By Rory Winston
‘State-of-the-art,’ ‘scientifically tested,’ ‘personally tailored…’ Let’s face it; these have become no more than high-fiber phrases for the selling of dietary products and fitness programs. Whether it’s a Nautilus-evangelist soaked in steroids on the shopping channel or a spiritual healer sharing a long lost Mesopotamian weight loss diet on the Morning Show, there is always that point in the broadcast when self-improvement starts to smack of pseudo-science. Our zeitgeist has made it commonplace to hear terminology that had once been the domain of MIT graduates coming from the mouths of overdeveloped bodies espousing underdeveloped theories. Although many of these trainers are about as cutting edge as Charles Atlas, their misuse of terms like ‘paradigm shift’ lends them a false air of credibility. In a field that subsists on hyperbole and misinformation, how savvy are we in noticing that rare instance when the Real McCoy – a truly scientific program – presents itself? And where does all this background noise leave someone like Tracy Anderson, a genuinely exceptional trainer whose visionary approach to fitness demands to be heard?
Having devoted 5 years to researching physiology, metabolism, sports medicine and fitness and then an additional 9 years into developing a unique methodology capable of helping anyone achieve their optimal physique and health, Anderson is the exception to the rule: she is the brain and body behind a uniquely interdisciplinary approach to fitness and wellbeing – one that eschews self-mystification. Did the former dancer create her program by randomly juxtaposing exercises from otherwise disparate fields? Though hybrids of this sort are quite fashionable, Anderson’s process was a lifelong journey. As the stunning and smoky voiced Miss Anderson explains to the Resident, “it’s not like I said, ooh, I know a lot about dance and then there’s Pilates so why not fuse elements from both and voila: Dancilates! I mean there are so many motivational trends in fitness today where they really have no idea what they’re doing with people’s bodies.”
As for people whose respective bodies have gone through Andersons’ metamorphic method, the prestigious list includes: Madonna, Nicole Richie, Courtney Cox, Shakira, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhall, Ashley Greene, Jennifer Lopez, Bethenny Frankel and Gwyneth Paltrow – the last of whom not only had the benefit of Anderson as a personal trainer but was so taken by the all-encompassing approach that she decided to partner up with Anderson in an effort to make the program accessible to the population at large.
Paradoxically, the long list of notables whom Anderson has trained has become a double-edged sword. While her career exponentially took off by word-of-A-List-mouths, she is aware that her ability as a trainer occasionally undermines her credibility as a forerunner of highly evolved fitness program.
With a ballerina for a mother - who had settled into a marriage and opened a dance school instead of pursuing her ambitions – Anderson was highly motivated and driven from an early age. Leaving the Midwest behind, she came to NY in the hopes of forging a career as a dancer. “But by the time I was 19,” admits Anderson, “I had gained nearly 40 lbs. There I was working out regularly - not gorging -having a strong work ethic, talent… so why wasn’t I losing weight? Since I wasn’t the kind of person who turns to drugs nor did I suffer from an eating disorder, I began to objectively evaluate what was wrong. Hormones? Metabolism? One thing was certain: my own metabolic rate wasn’t functioning at a very high level. What was even sadder was noticing that nearly all the advocated means of achieving that ‘healthy look’ were through measures that were extraordinarily unhealthy. Furthermore, none of them would help in the creation of a dancer’s body. Emaciated – maybe; healthy, strong and sustainable – certainly not.”
Shortly after getting pregnant, Anderson noticed that her son’s dad – a professional athlete who played for the NY Knicks – was undergoing a unique rehabilitation program for his back, one that was being run by a doctor who was wholly committed to keeping athletes in the game long-term rather than just finding quick fix cures. Though her own husband was reluctant about the doctor because he was – in his words – “a bit off”, Anderson instinctively felt that the bit that was off was precisely what made him brilliant. Meeting up with doctor, Anderson learnt that athletes were regularly misdiagnosed and sent to unnecessary surgeries. Rather than training their bodies in a smarter and more varied way, they were undergoing countless short-term procedures. To quote Anderson, “the man was ahead of his time. He was studying the brain’s connection to muscles and how athletes create compartmentalized imbalances by overusing certain muscle groups. This lack of a holistic approach is what led to many of the most debilitating injuries.”
With her thoughts in full throttle, Anderson continues: “I mean, taking his ideas one step further basically means we all really do have the ability to do whatever we want with our muscles but we just don’t have the content in fitness techniques to teach us how. And yes, I had always been good at content… and so at this point I became pretty obsessed. Suddenly all of it made sense: ‘there was something lacking across the board when it came to fitness’. And it was then I decided this would be my life’s focus - my mission, as it were… to create balance for imbalance. If one were familiar with the areas that were not in sync, one could compensate in strategic ways and build precisely the body one wanted. Of course, at that stage it was only an idea, a concept. It took years of research to come up with a precise and effective system.”
For Anderson, knowing that a solution existed was like a premise for a screenwriter, a theory for a scientist. Proving that it worked would take years of execution, honing, editing and fine-tuning. Her system demanded continuity, it would have to stave off boredom and entice the participants by being enjoyable. This would demand a new kind of system – one that was non-repetitive and unlike any other. It would have to empower its participants and create interactivity more than a simplified superimposed structure. Anderson had come full circle. Regardless how new the idea, the ancient Greeks had one thing right: sound mind in a sound body. In Anderson’s case, the two were inseparable. You needed to activate and engage the mind creatively in order to get genuine results, and in like, getting physical results would further energize the mind and create a greater need for inventiveness. The longer Anderson worked to perfect her methodology, the more she also realized that no program could work without taking into consideration the unique attributes of each individual. It would have to be catered to the person and you could not reshape a body without in some way reshaping the given person’s life.
“Sure,” Anderson confesses, “if I had my choice, I like getting someone in the studio to create a customized approach – it’s optimal since each person is totally unique.” In Anderson’s vocabulary this ‘uniqueness’ is not some politically correct rant about ‘each one of us is so special in his/her own way’; rather, her allusion to ‘unique’ is made in a very measured concrete sense: “I mean people really have their very own biological blue print: tolerances, abilities, histories, coordination, connections to the brain.” In a sense, the point of view is as simple as it is brilliant: for a program to be successful on a given individual, it has to interact with the totality of who that person is. The associations must be personal. The clients must become an integral part of creating the process in which they will participate. Yes, for the first time in years, it was accurate to use the term ‘paradigm shift’ in fitness.
With locations on both coasts, specially invented machines, DVD’s, a supplement line, exercise apparel and a series of books, Tracy Anderson is finally beginning to receive the worldwide attention she has long deserved. More importantly, she has managed to find a way to transpose a highly individualized program into something that works on a mass scale. State-of-the-art, scientifically tested, personally tailored – for the first time in a very long while the terms are a perfect fit.