Fitness superstar Tracy Anderson, who has spent nearly 20 years studying the body and how to shape it into its most perfect (or “balanced”) form, is a beacon of well-being. Except for this week. Felled by bronchitis, she has spent the past few days in bed, which has not exactly been ideal, given her latest project—a swanky, 3-floor, 4,000-square-foot studio in New York’s Tribeca that opened on Tuesday, her best friend and business partner Gwyneth Paltrow’s birthday. “It’s epic,” she says, noting its men’s and women’s locker rooms, retail area, juice bar, café, and three workout rooms complete with the band system and bouncy, calorie-burning floors that she conceived herself. In-between coughs, Anderson also discussed why her Method is the most effective, the foods she will and won’t eat, and which celebrity she hates to train.
The first time I took one of your classes you were actually teaching it, and I was struck by the fact that you don’t speak—no one gives instruction. We just watch and follow along…
Everything that I do is on purpose; it’s all part of my strategy and based on formal studies that I’ve done over the years. Very early on in developing my method, I went to a place in San Francisco where they do a lot of sports medicine and testing and training, and we hooked up people’s brain activities to different monitors on treadmills. We would turn on the televisions and have them exercise, then we would switch to music and have them exercise, then I would talk to them, then yell positive things to them—and it turns out, we burn the most calories when no one is talking to us and there’s loud music on and we’re mimicking someone else. If I would start to speak, immediately the calorie burn would start to drop.
So there’s a method to the madness.
It’s funny because people are baffled by the no instruction. They have such a fixed mindset of the ‘80s instructor with a microphone and headset screaming out predictive movements. I did a project with Microsoft mainly to understand and have access to the research on the neuroplasticity of the brain, and in the video gaming industry, no one tells you what to do. When you’re playing Super Mario—and I’m dating myself—they don’t say, ‘Take 10 steps then jump up and down and hit the coins.’ You have to discover and learn the movements yourself. Studies show we learn the most by discovering things ourselves.
For people who don’t know, what exactly is the Tracy Anderson Method?
I didn’t start out to create a fitness method; it wasn’t like I’m going to start Sweatology, or something. I didn’t think to name what I was doing because I was just truly on a mission. When I was 19, I went to dance school and I gained 40 pounds dancing all day. It happens to so many people whose metabolisms change and hormones shift. And it happens a lot in the freshman year of college. I went on to do a 5-year study on 150 women where we measured their small muscle activity every 10 days and we personalized activity for each one. It was part of a controlled study to see if I could take any woman from any genetic background and turn them into what I believe is the most proportionate body. For me, I had this emotional vendetta to go back and say ‘Here you go, you fools—there’s a solution for women like me other than taking drugs or having an eating disorder. Here is an actual program that works.’ What the method consists of is a series of movements, sequenced in a specific order. This is based on 20 years of studying how to design bodies that are balanced. I create movements that create balance.
And you advocate doing it 6 days a week.
I believe that we should connect to our physical selves seven days a week—but in what form? That depends. Do I believe we should be doing an hour of cardio seven days a week? No. I don’t. I do my muscular structure program—if I don’t have bronchitis—seven days a week. I feel so much better after I do the muscular structure. It actually makes me cranky to not do it. But I only do 30 minutes of cardio, probably four times a week.
And what do you eat, or not eat?
Oh my god, I’ve had so much ice cream today. It feels so good on my throat! The doctor won’t let me workout or fly, so all I want to do is eat ice cream. Today I had a split pea soup and two pieces of gluten-free toast with butter. Then I had literally had a pint of that Talenti sea salt caramel gelato. I love that you eat healthy, but aren’t maniacal about it.
My only rules are: I try to eat all organic, and I don’t eat any gluten. I’m not allergic to it, but I know that there’s something off with the gluten in America. Really truly off, where all of our bodies think it’s toxic. The processed gluten that we consume actually causes depression, weight gain, all kinds of problems. I also don’t eat any farmed salmon—it’s really one of the most toxic things you can eat. But I eat a ton of fish, lots of veggies. Chicken is the only meat I eat—organic chicken. I eat eggs. I love cheese. I’m not afraid of dairy, but it’s got to be well sourced. There are strong studies of dairy and how it helps with weight control and metabolism. I’ll have coffee with steamed whole milk, a big salad, then a snack of Eden tamari almonds or an Alter Eco dark chocolate bar, then fish and vegetables and a glass of wine for dinner, then some ice cream. And I love french fries.
Do you take any supplements?
No. Sometimes I take OptiZinc because I’m really against Accutane and I used to suffer from adult acne. If you take two OptiZinc pills, it will make your skin perfect. I sometimes take zinc or fish oils and probiotics. Sometimes I take magnesium. But I really believe in getting most of your nutrition from food. I don’t believe in messing with our systems too much. You’ll never see me doing a juice cleanse and popping a bunch of supplements.
What else are you into wellness-wise? Well, this not because I’m the face of it, because it happened so much more organically than that, but there’s a skincare line that’s been a little tiny hidden superstar all of these years. It’s developed by this genius woman who only cares about saving animals and the planet but she was so smart about it because she said ‘I’m not going to save animals if the skincare doesn’t work,’ so she put everything behind this animal cruelty free line called Ecco Bella. The day moisturizer is the most beautiful primer I’ve ever used in my life. I do a newsletter called Rockstars for your Health. This week, I wrote about Dr. Ramsey, who’s written books like “50 Shades of Kale.” He and I have a very similar philosophy—and we’re both from Indiana. He was a psychologist in New York and he was seeing lots of patients for depression and poor self-esteem—the same kinds of issues that show up in my office as well. People are disconnected to their physical selves and they are not feeding themselves properly, but they are constantly drinking the Kool-Aid—doing juice cleanses and taking all these different pills, and all these kinds of things that offer a faster fix. He’s cured so many patients just based on changing their diet. I also love Dr. Habib Sedeghi who speaks a lot about doing the hard work and showing up for yourself. Really poignant topics that need to be chased.
Switching to a very non-poignant topic—your workout outfits. I’m obsessed with the strappy bodysuit and sweatpants look.
Haha! Well, this summer, I just wanted to be able to come home from teaching and be able to jump in the pool with my kids. So I started wearing swimsuits with sweatpants. One-piece swimsuits, because my son, who is 18, doesn’t like me wearing bikinis when his friends are over. So I started getting all these one-pieces. I’m a community shopper and I live in Sag Harbor year-round, and there’s an adorable lingerie store here that has these epic suits. My sweatpants are Aviator Nation. Every once in a while I’ll find a thin pair from them and that’s a golden pair to me. Or I wear this one style from Monrow.
I also love the music in your classes—it’s sort of all over the place, but always really good.
I can’t create if I don’t have good music. Right now, I’m really into Green Day’s new stuff. I also love Tove Lo. “Notorious” by Malaa—that’s a great workout song. So is “Panda” by Desiigner, “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd, “Lost and Found by” Betsy. I’ve also been going back to some early stuff like Goldfrapp’s “A&E.”
Who would you love to train?
I purposely took myself off of training celebrities years ago. I have a lot of celebs who go to my gyms but they can’t hire me. But I will train with Jennifer Lopez because she’s got so much going on and she’s so physically connected to her body and it’s such a part of who she is that I have to make sure I move with her so I know what’s going on with her body.
Well whatever you’re doing to her, she looks amazing.
She does! When she plays this character Harley, who’s a cop on TV, she gets a little more beefed up. So we let that happen and then we take her back down.
Who’s the most difficult person you’ve worked with?
Miss Piggy. It was one of the toughest sessions I’ve ever done. They are no joke about those puppets. Obviously with Gwyneth we have such a great friendship—it started from me training her, then we became business partners and best friends. It’s more like a sisterhood, we’re so close. But I can’t stand training her! She yells at me and makes me cut my music off! She likes to work out to her own playlist, and she has very specific taste in music. She would listen to every remix of Justin Timberlake’s “LoveStoned.” She’s fine just playing it over and over!
Who are your favorites? Lena Dunham. We became such good friends through the workout. She’s so talented. Also Drew Barrymore. I loved her growing up so much—I loved her whole career. And when I met her she was so positive, so lovely. She literally has rainbows coming out of her. And Jennifer Lopez is a true triple threat. She’s such an incredible performer on so many levels, and she never complains and she’s such a beautiful mom. Whenever any of her kids walk into the workout, everything stops. Also, Robert Downey Jr. is one of my favorites—he’s been doing the method for a long time. I’ve been really lucky. I work with so many great people.