Size matters: Tracy Anderson says every woman can have the body of a ‘teeny-tiny dancer’
Madonna and controversy have never been parted long. Once it was her body of work that sparked both criticism and praise. In these less shockable, but no less critical days, it’s her body itself that draws comment.
Last year, the 52-year-old completed a year-long world tour. She played 85 shows in 32 countries, performing with the energy of a woman two decades her junior. Her fans watched with awe; her critics with grudging envy.
And each night in the wings, one petite blonde enjoyed the show, basking in the knowledge that she was the woman who built Madonna. Or, more accurately, the woman who rebuilt her.
Tracy Anderson is the most successful celebrity trainer around. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson and Shakira are just some of her many devoted clients. But it is not a job description with which Tracy is entirely comfortable.
This is not false modesty. It’s because the 34-year-old single mother knows that most of us are convinced a ‘celebrity’ body is something we can aspire to but never have.
And according to Tracy, who has just released the first of a series of six fitness DVDs, that’s just not true: ‘Whatever your genetic background, whatever your shape, I can change you. I can give you a teeny-tiny dancer’s body.’
Her secret is her patented ‘Method’. And it is a health and fitness heresy. Most trainers say you cannot change your basic body shape.
Tracy is adamant that you can. And, as with so many women, for her, looking good is about the accessories.
She explains: ‘Your muscles are the only part of your body you can change. Instead of overusing the major muscle groups, I focus on the smaller muscles around them – the accessory muscles. When these are developed they pull in the larger muscles, creating a smaller body structure. This is how you reshape your body.
‘Muscles get smart fast but they get stupid even faster. So you work out and they’ll strengthen and you’ll get fitter, but they are lazy and get bored so they stop working – which is why so many people plateau with fitness regimes.
‘This doesn’t happen if you hit the accessory muscles from all different angles. The sequencing that’s in my Mat Workout is all about muscular design. It’s strategic and there’s a science behind it.
‘I’m not a pop star jumping about in a DVD and this isn’t just a fun thing. I’ve done 11 years of research and development.
‘This is a real solution. But this only works if you do it. I’m not Tinkerbell.’
Yet at just 5ft with her blonde hair and the ‘teeny-tiny dancer’s body’ she promises everyone, Tinkerbell is exactly who Tracy resembles, albeit one more likely to wield a whip than a wand.
‘You have to work out for an hour a day, four to six days a week for the rest of your life,’ she says, batting her long lashes.
‘Women don’t want to be buff and manly, we don’t want to be too skinny, we want to have sexy lines, we want our skin tone to be good. We don’t want cellulite or bulges in the wrong places. We want to see results.
‘So we have to exercise – but in the right way. I go to a gym and I’m like, “Yikes! Get me a studio with mirrors and a ballet bar.” Everything there is bulking. You’ll burn calories but you won’t get the body you want.’
Star performers: Tracy Anderson has trained celebrities including Madonna
This was Madonna’s problem when she was first introduced to Tracy three years ago. ‘Madonna had worked out all her life and she had huge muscles. Our aim was to give her more feminine lines for her tour and I think we achieved that.’
Tracy no longer trains Madonna. After nearly three years working with only her and friend Gwyneth Paltrow – Tracy’s first celebrity client and the woman who recommended her to Madonna – they parted company.
Tracy dismisses reports that the pair fell out over Tracy’s romance with Philippe van den Bossche, head of Madonna’s Raising Malawi charity. He resigned his job to move from Los Angeles to New York where Tracy is based.
‘It’s just not true. Philippe and I are totally happy and she is totally happy for us. I stopped working for Madonna because I promised my 11-year-old son Sam that this year there would be a “home”. She understands. She’s a mom too.’
She adds: ‘We worked out two hours a day, six days a week for almost three years. You can’t do that for ever. As an example of what I do, Madonna isn’t really a very good one. She is unique.
‘When she’s on tour she is like an athlete. I built this machine for her – The Cube – which is a suspended hollow hanging cube. I’d make her do tons of reps of sequences, suspended and in all sorts of directions. Outside of touring, though, her workouts were more tame.’
‘More tame’ still entailed using the Hybrid Body Reformer – a resistance machine Tracy has developed – installed in her London home. For every 60 reps a mere mortal would attempt, Madonna would do 100.
‘Madonna does like her cupcakes – the red velvet ones,’ Tracy says after struggling to think of a single indulgence enjoyed by the star. ‘She’s a pretty good student in every aspect of her life.
‘Some of my clients are foodies – Gwyneth is an amazing cook. Her buckwheat pancakes are to die for and she loves pasta. She’s more like me. She works hard but she’s fun. She’ll down a glass of wine.
Satisfied customer: Gwyneth Paltrow recruited Tracy Anderson to help her get in shape for Iron Man
‘Madonna is very disciplined. She was, without question, my most diligent student and when we were working she never, ever questioned my authority as teacher.’
Tracy admits, however, that she is more able to ‘own’ her time now than she has for the past three years. She has more celebrity clients than ever, but all of them together demand less of her time than Madonna alone.
‘I never wanted to focus on just one person,’ says Tracy. ‘Even when Gwyneth first called me I was uncertain. But I had to get myself out of a financial mess so I decided I didn’t have much choice.’
Born in Noblesville, Indiana, the eldest of three children, Tracy originally aspired to be a ballet dancer.
She explains: ‘My mom has owned a ballet studio for 30 years and from the time I was three I wanted to be a ballerina. People look at me now and think I’m naturally tiny. My father’s built like Danny DeVito – he’s obese. I share his genes and his love of food. I have to work hard to stay this shape – it doesn’t just happen.’
Tracy studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, New York and Juilliard, one of the country’s most prestigious performing arts school.
Then, aged 21, Tracy met and married professional basketball player Eric Anderson after meeting him on the set of a B-movie in which she had landed a bit part as a cheerleader. She was pregnant with Sam when Eric injured his back and went to Puerto Rico to rehabilitate.
‘He was under this amazing doctor, who explained that he could manipulate his accessory muscles with certain exercises and re-engineer his body so he could go on to have a career,’ says Tracy.
‘Out of a few conversations with him, I started my entire mission. It’s been 11 years and I haven’t deviated.’
Trade secrets: Tracy Anderson’s fitness DVD
But Tracy’s route to A-list trainer has not been smooth. She and Eric returned to her home town with their newborn son. They set up a ‘multi-million-pound performing arts and sports facility’.
‘It was a financial disaster,’ admits Tracy. ‘We put everything we had into it and we lost it all. Eric was a famous basketball player so it was big news.’ The marriage was also ill-fated, though the two remain close.
Tracy then focused on teaching and developing her method at a small studio. She recruited 150 local women, of all ages and shapes, willing to submit to her research. She designed a prototype for her Hybrid Body Reformer (her take on a Pilates machine) and persuaded local engineer Glyn Barber to build it.
He wanted to partner her and open a studio in Los Angeles. But, Tracy says, that also ‘turned into a nightmare’. The business was in his name when he went bankrupt.
In 2006, Tracy got lucky. ‘I was working in LA and one of my clients was Gwyneth Paltrow’s agent’s wife. She recommended me to Gwyneth, who’d just had her second baby. I got this call saying, “I cannot get this baby weight off. I’ve tried everything and I’ve got this film coming up [Iron Man]. Can you help?”
‘The first day we worked out, she called Madonna and said, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If this is for anyone, it’s for you.”‘
From that point on, Tracy muscled her way into the A-list.
Today she has 50 trainers teaching her Method. She and Gwyneth own a gym in New York and she has so far developed 3,000 sequences in both dance aerobics and mat work.
‘That will get you far,’ she says. ‘But it’s a constant process. Once you master the DVD you have to move on to the next.’ (Five more DVDs are in the pipeline.)
Every ten days Tracy films a new sequence and sends it to her celebrity clients. Later in the year she will launch a website offering a similar service to the public: ‘You’ll be able to fill in your profile, then every ten days download a new 15-minute webisode.’
But she warns that it is not for the half-hearted. ‘I’m not going to lie,’ she says. ‘You’re not going to be able to do this method and change miraculously for ever.
‘It’s the Cinderella effect – you own it for a given time, in this case as long as you work at it. You will get results. You will love them. But if you stop, it’s back to the pumpkin.’
• Tracy Anderson’s Mat Workout is on ITV DVD at £19.99.
How the accessory muscles work
‘Skeletal muscles are divided into the major and minor muscle groups,’ says physiologist Chris Hughes, senior lecturer in Biomechanics at the University of Worcestershire.
‘The major muscles are the big, obvious ones you can see, used in common movements – the quadriceps and hamstring muscles of the thighs which extend and flex the hip joint. We use them for walking, squatting and jumping.
‘However, surrounding these large muscles are a whole series of minor muscles – which Tracy Anderson calls accessory muscles – that mainly provide stability and allow the body to carry out a range of less usual movements.
For instance, on the inside of the thighs are the adductors and on the outside are the abductors. These allow outward and inward movements such as walking sideways, crossing the legs or the splits.
‘You might notice on a body-builder there are all kinds of lumps and bumps that most of us don’t have – these are minor muscles.
‘Because they are used less, these muscles are not well developed in most individuals.
‘If you attach a heavy weight to the foot you will no doubt find it easier to lift your leg forwards than you would to the side. This is because the muscles that move the leg forwards are naturally much stronger. But everyone has these muscles, and they can be trained.
‘Often when exercising, people focus on major muscles. This can cause the minor muscles to become “lazy” – the technical term is atrophy – or shrink.
‘To keep improving your fitness, you have to challenge the muscles in different ways – by including a range of natural movements that use both minor and major muscle groups.’