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- By Frankie Graddon
If there’s one person who embodies the sentiment of feeling good, it’s Tracy Anderson. The fitness pioneer, who counts A-listers Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham and Tracee Ellis Ross among her devotees, has built an empire based on the ethos of empowering people to be their very best selves, both physically and mentally, one endorphin-boosting workout at a time.
Having been at the top of the health and wellbeing industry for more than 20 years, Indiana-born Anderson shows no sign of slowing down. A forerunner in digital fitness (Anderson started putting workouts online in 2014), when the COVID pandemic hit, she began streaming live training sessions from her back garden in Pennsylvania, where she is currently living with her eight-year-old daughter, Penny, and 22-year-old son, Sam. In 2020 she also launched a wellness magazine, while the previous year saw her step into the role of CEO of her eponymous business.
For someone with so much on their plate, Anderson looks remarkably relaxed when we catch-up over Zoom. All glowy skin, wide smile and new Gucci jacket (’70s-inspired track style and printed with the iconic ‘GG’ motif), over the course of our call, she tells me about keeping upbeat during lockdown, the secret to longevity in business and why she isn’t just a celebrity trainer.
How has lockdown been for you?
Lockdown was one of those moments that screamed to all of us: “You’re guests on this planet, you don’t have any kind of entitlement to anything, remember that. We need to work together and get through this.” It really quickly put me in my place, and everything that was a priority in my life went to the bottom and my family’s safety, my safety and the safety of my community came to the top.
In terms of my business, this has been one of the biggest battles for me. I was presented with a moment when someone said I’d have to start letting employees go and cut pay if I wanted to get through to the other side. I was like, “Nope, I’m not going to do that.” So, I set up a concert stage in my backyard and started creating four more hours of content a week; every Saturday and Sunday, I do live classes for anyone around the world who wants to take one. Not only have I kept every single one of my employees fully employed, I’ve paid all of my leases and I’ve created a stronger community of togetherness. People have been feeling so disconnected, and knowing that they could come together at the weekends with me became a signal of hope, light and strength.
Figure out how to nourish yourself, and your beauty is going to shine.
You’ve been the name to know in the fitness world for more than 20 years. What’s the secret to your longevity?
The reason I have lasted is that I actually did the work and I continue to do the work. I’m not working on keeping celebrity clients, I’m working on the science behind how to create the best content for people. I’m reading The Dynamic States of Muscle Fibers, not who was at the Oscars last night. I’m here doing my job, so if a client who happens to be in the limelight needs my support, I know what I’m doing. If a woman down the street raising three kids needs support from me, I know what I’m doing. I don’t believe there’s anyone out there I can’t help.
Since launching your programme, Instagram and other social media platforms have boomed. How has that shaped your business?
I look at social media like a pop culture movement that is connecting us all. Everyone’s eyes are there right now, which I respect, but for my business, I don’t take it too seriously. I also see how careful I want to be with it, with my eight-year-old daughter. In every community everyone has a chance to be kind or to show they’re a real jerk and social media is just a really huge place for people to display what kind of community member they are. Like most things, it’s not all good or all bad, but it’s something we shouldn’t get overwhelmed by.
An element that really stands out with your programme is that you have cultivated a sense of community via the hashtag #TAmily. How important is this sense of community to both you and your followers?
One of the community members actually created the hashtag and it warms my heart to see how global it is; we have people streaming my online studio in every US state and over 50 countries worldwide. I love it when people are spirited and participate in each other’s lives, and to watch the community come together and help each other out is amazing. I care about all of my students – it’s like the Barbra Streisand song, People, which goes: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I need them and they need me, I will be there for them, just like they will be there for me. It’s the healthy way of being in life.
Thanks to fads and irresponsible messaging on social media, diet culture can be viewed negatively. But is there a way to incorporate dieting into your lifestyle in a sustainable and healthy way?
Dieting and the internet don’t mix at all. Everyone has a different emotional relationship with food and everyone’s body expends energy and reacts to food differently, so I really believe if you are going to tell someone how to eat, you had better have gone to medical school. Food is life-giving and vanity doesn’t belong in a food conversation. If you’re healthy, you’re beautiful. If you’re drinking yourself to sleep every night, if you’re eating nothing but fast food, if you punish yourself by food restriction, it’s not going to look beautiful because it’s not beautiful to treat your body like that. Figure out how to nourish yourself, and your beauty is going to shine.
One of the things this past year has shown us is how precious life is, how little time we have and how we just have to go for it.
Last year, you expanded your business by launching Skin Sequence, a range of organic, all-natural balms for face and body. What was your motivation for moving into the beauty world?
Our skin is our largest organ, and what we put on it we absorb, but there are all kinds of disruptive ingredients in skincare. My mission is to create balance where there is imbalance, so I wanted to participate in making skincare that provided that. I teamed up with one of the smartest doctors in the industry, neurologist Dr Doug, and we created a collection of organic skincare products prescribed for your entire day and your total body, from post-workout conditioning treatments to anti-inflammatory formulations. I’m 46 now and I care about ingredients that work, I also care about my body as much as my face. This month, I’m launching MANDO, a collection of face and body exfoliating pads and serums in collaboration with dermatologist Dr Melanie Kingsley.
Your skin always looks radiant and glowing. What’s your secret?
I haven’t always had good skin, but my Skin Sequence balms have made a huge difference. Every night I layer on my serum, seal it in with a balm and go to bed looking like a waxwork! But it’s not just that: I eat a mainly plant-based diet, I drink wine, but I don’t get drunk, and obviously I exercise. I also think when you live a more honest life with yourself – and by that, I mean dealing with stress more honestly, dealing with difficult situations more honestly, being brave to journey through the mystery of life in a more honest way – it shows on your face.
What products will we find in your beauty cabinet?
I’m a product junkie; that’s what I splurge on. I am obsessed with Dr Barbara Strum’s Hyaluronic Serum, True Botanicals facial oils, serums from Auteur and masks from Valmont, which are really expensive, but I love them. I use my MANDO exfoliating pads, serums and all of the Skin Sequence balms. I also see my dermatologist, Dr Karyn Grossman.
Now the world is hopefully coming out of pandemic life and looking towards a brighter future, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?
One of the things this past year has shown us is how precious life is, how little time we have and how we just have to go for it. I can’t wait to see my friends again and I can’t wait to travel with my family – we’ve already planned so many trips. And I can’t wait to eat at restaurants again. I think I’m going to eat out every day in 2022.
What role has physical movement play in your wellbeing over the past year?
It was a huge part of me getting through the year and has been a huge part of getting through every difficult part in my life. When I do my physical practice, I process, I utilise all of the healthy hormones, I remind myself of my breath, my strength and the way my body takes care of my psyche, and vice versa. When we disconnect with ourselves physically, it affects self-esteem and it affects our ability to find joy and happiness in the small things. The world can knock you down quicker when you don’t treat your body properly.
The world knows you for your pioneering Tracy Anderson Method – a programme that has attracted fans around the globe, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Tracee Ellis Ross, Karlie Kloss and Victoria Beckham. Can you tell us about the ethos behind it?
When I was in my twenties, there was nothing in fitness that had been researched extensively for how to design muscles and make a person balanced; it was all about overdeveloped muscles as a bodybuilder or athletically training. How you go after muscles affects your joints, your hormones, your brain – it’s all connected. So, I wanted to create a fitness journey that consistently creates balance wherever there is imbalance in bodies and minds. That meant a five-year study on 150 women right out of the gate, before I trained a celebrity or opened a fitness studio. It’s really about providing the tools and experience for people to be all they are capable of.
Can you tell us about your own personal fitness journey and how you got to where you are today?
My mum was a professional ballerina and my father coached us in soccer, so I was very active when I was younger. I got a dance scholarship in New York in the early ’90s and while I was there gained almost 40 pounds. I couldn’t make sense of it – I was in dance classes for six hours a day and not eating junk food – but no one said, “This is how you get the weight off”, all they said was, “You’re really talented, it’s a shame you don’t have the body.” My parents went through a very difficult divorce right before I went to college and my mum had to work three jobs to put me through dance school, so I felt ashamed and like a failure. It was later on when I had my “aha” moment: my son’s father [Eric Anderson] played pro basketball, and while I was watching one of his games, I got talking to this amazing doctor who wanted to develop a programme to help players support their joints. I was like, “You care about these players, I care about all of the girls in dance school being able to dance without having to just eat lettuce or smoke cigarettes.” So, I put my hand up and said I wanted to learn how to help, and I never looked back.
Much like the fashion industry, the fitness world is always looking towards what’s new – there always seems to be a new craze to try out or a new expert/celebrity-endorsed trend. What have been the challenges of building a brand in this environment?
Early on in my career, I hated the way everyone wanted to do my workout because they wanted Gwyneth Paltrow’s legs or to dance like Madonna. The industry loves a celebrity trainer, so if I wanted to have a conversation with anyone it was about how to get Jennifer Lopez’s butt in three moves. It had to be lying to the consumer, which is exactly what I never wanted to do. I made a point in my career to not be hired by any celebrity because I didn’t create a life’s work to be a celebrity trainer, I created it to help people and make a difference in their lives. I invented a fitness experience built off of original research, and I continue to lead, but unfortunately, most follow irresponsibly in my industry these days, with everyone on social media posing as a fitness/wellness expert.
The past few years have seen the emphasis of working out shift from being purely about physical appearance to how it can benefit mental health. What role does wellbeing play in your approach to fitness?
So much of my life’s work is about mental wellbeing, so it’s really exciting to see people ready for this conversation. Most of my research was done looking at the brain’s ability to connect to muscles; someone with a lot of willpower can reach their muscular contractions through their nervous system in a much more powerful way than someone with low self-esteem. It takes a lot of time to nurture self-esteem, and it happens subconsciously with my workouts. People don’t realise they’re going to be bettering the neuroplasticity of their brain and opening up new neurological pathways. They don’t realise that they can connect the way they feel to a song, to a place where they were once hurt, and work on their PTSD. When you’re working on yourself, you participate better in the world, and part of working on yourself is physically moving through your body and processing. People need to take the totality of their own wellbeing more seriously and realise that it’s in their own hands.
What other wellbeing rituals can you not live without?
My takeaway from this pandemic is that everything was too loud, and I need the quiet. I really like to slow down and do things, like planting in my yard, playing with the animals, watching my daughter run around without the TV on. Working on myself is also a huge part of my wellbeing. I have sessions with my long-time therapist Dr Karen Binder-Brynes, to make sure I am honest with myself and being the best parent, the best partner, the best friend I can be. And making sure I am really loving the people that count on me and my love.
The past year has highlighted the convenience of at-home workouts. What are the essential items of exercise apparatus for this?
You need a cushioned mat – not just a thin yoga mat, something with proper padding, as you’ve got to protect your joints. Then I’d say a set of 3lb weights and two sets of ankle weights: one small 1.5lb and one larger 2.5lb. I could do anything to anyone’s body with those four things.
The activewear market is huge and there are so many options when it comes to making a purchase. What should we look for when investing in a kit?
You should be training in something that does not disrupt anywhere in your body, meaning there’s not a tight band around your waist or your boobs, sucking you in. You don’t want anything that is a disruptor to your circulatory system or to your body’s ability to make micro transfers between muscles. I like soft and seamless – it needs to feel comfortable. If you can’t take a nap in what you’re working out in, it’s not right.
For many of us, the past year has had an effect on our motivation levels. What would your advice be to those looking for a reset?
I think we’re going to have to have gratitude for coming out of this alive and well, and also a sense of saying yes to life again: yes to the friend who wants to go for lunch, yes to taking a walk on a beautiful sunny day, yes to the job interview. It’s saying yes to health and new opportunities, and no to what didn’t serve you well during this time. People are going to have a lot of PTSD from the past year, and everyone will have personal angles as to why, so I would try and lean into just how strong we really are: I got through this, I can do this, I can rebuild, I am resilient.
What is your go-to feel-good workout?
If I just had to pick one thing to get my mood up it would be to turn on a song that me and my daughter love, and dance. Dancing always makes me feel good; it gets happy hormones going and you can do it anywhere. Taylor Swift’s last album was spectacular and I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers is one of my all-time favourite songs.
Not having enough time is often a barrier for getting in a good workout. If we only have five minutes a day, what should we be doing?
I would say you are worth more than five minutes and you have to do better than that for yourself. On a cellular level, your body can’t do anything in five minutes, you deserve 30 minutes to actually make something happen and improve your body’s longevity. We are miraculously fascinating creatures, and we haven’t always treated ourselves that way, but we need to get back to it. So, take that five minutes and redo your schedule so that you can give yourself half an hour of exercise a day. Someone can do my beginner class in 30 minutes and make a big difference.