DOES THE TRACY ANDERSON METHOD WORK? – It was 10 am in Brazil and a sweet voice thick with sleep answered. It sounded as if I had woken her up after a hard night and, of course, I had. As Madonna’s personal trainer on the star’s Hard Candy tour, Tracy Anderson had probably had a late one. This was 2008.
Now the trainer is a star in her own right. I was supposed to be interviewing her for The Independent newspaper, but even back then my editor declined because she was too much of a celeb. Shooting to fame after she sculpted Gwyneth Paltrow’s body, she now owns a chain of gyms, has designed a line of workout gear, masterminded a food programme and produced a fitness programme (The Tracy Anderson Method) followed by millions. She’s developed a workout machine, a workout for men, teenagers and pregnant women; there’s a juice line in the pipes, detox weeks, hair salons, wellness shakes; she’s far too busy to actually train celebrities herself.
Anderson always claimed that following her Method religiously would give anyone a ‘teeny tiny’ body (although now she’s a bit more PR savy and says things like, ‘recognise what is unhealthy and work to keep that in check’).
The question is, does her method work?
I have to say upfront that I am a fan, although I have some reservations. I started doing her dance cardio and mat workouts in 2007; in 2011 after I stopped breast-feeding my daughter, I did a post-pregnancy DVD workout followed by her 30 Day Method (I lasted 25 of them) and then I signed up to Metamorphosis. This is a series of DVDs, which are posted out to you. You are meant to do an hour of exercise six days a week, comprised of half an hour of dance cardio (the cardio changes every three months) and half an hour of mat work using 3 lb weights (the abs, arms and leg exercises change every 10 days). The idea is that your muscles don’t get used to the exercises and are constantly challenged. For the first two years the workouts are tailored to your body type; by year 3 it’s assumed you won’t have any problem areas (yeah, right!).
The philosophy behind TAM is that conventional exercise works large muscles and doesn’t create a lean and defined shape. Anderson concentrates on what she calls the accessory muscles – essentially smaller muscles responsible for stabilising the body during movement – she claims to target at least 400 of them. The arm section of the DVDs, for instance, usually lasts seven minutes – so it’s pretty tough, even with light weights.
Dance cardio focuses on these muscles too because you are moving in many different directions, rather than in the same plane as you would if you were running, or rowing, say. Anderson says she initially contacted scientists to help her develop her programme. She tested it out on about 150 women, following them over ten years. I asked her about the scientists she spoke to and she batted my question away defensively. Nothing has been revealed or published about the background research underpinning her fitness programme but there are hundreds if not thousands of success stories on her website.
My reservations are:
– the vegetarian diet that goes with it is too low in calories (the menus are in the 30 Day Method and in the first stage of Metamorphosis). It’s low carb (the only carbs are from fruit and vegetables) but it is also low in fat and it’s exceptionally low in protein (although Anderson does say this diet is not for life, only the bootcamp and the first phase of Meta).
– the cardio is boring. I listen to audio books whilst doing the mat work. I do other cardio exercise in place of some of the dance cardio (hence it’s taken me three years to get through two years of the programme) or I would have gone insane.
– you still won’t end up with a body like Gwyneth’s (she does 2 hours a day five days a week). There are no TAM studios here and the ones in the states are phenomenally expensive. The dance classes are held at a temperature of 26 degrees C and in high humidity – pretty difficult to attain in one’s living room in chilly Blighty. Plus in the studios they have resistance band workouts, personal training and customized pilates equipment, which most of us don’t have access to.
– after about a year, I plateaued because the dance cardio is not particularly intense (I was pretty fit before I started and I’m less fit now).
However, I do think it works. I lost the baby weight and toned up rapidly. Although I weigh the same as I did pre-pregnancy, my limbs are leaner and look more streamlined. I have always been slim and quite fit but when I exercised I would develop a ‘sports-specific body’. I had big biceps when I rock climbed but didn’t lose underarm fat; I had large quads when I trained to run half-marathons, but my inner thighs were no slimmer. No matter how much exercise I did or how fit I was, I did not have the streamlined lean physique I craved.
If you want to be healthy and fit for a purpose (say you want to run a marathon), then do the appropriate training. If you like exercising with other people, then join British Military Fitness or take up a team sport. But if you want to be fit, healthy and very slim, if you don’t mind exercising on your own, or you don’t like gyms, if your schedule is erratic, or you’re trying to cram in exercise round childcare, then this is the workout for you. Let me know how you get on.
I felt good in my wedding dress, a year after I started Metamorphosis! I’ll keep you posted as I crack year 3 – and attempt to up the intensity of the cardio!