Tracy Anderson Answers Our Q’s
In a few short weeks, Tracy Anderson is launching a long-awaited Dance Cardio DVD, Unleash Your Inner Pop Star—and we, for one, couldn’t be more excited. Besides full sequences, she’s breaking all the dances down step-by-step (if you’ve tried her dance cardio before, you’ll appreciate the schooling). Here, an exclusive sneak peek at what’s to come.
Tracy Anderson Fields Our Questions
Why is your dance cardio different than other cardio programs? Why are you so opposed to swapping in long runs or spin class instead?
We are all unique, and we are all born with a variety of weaknesses, including physical imbalances and challenges. These tendencies to move and build muscle in a certain way are made more pronounced throughout our lives: We are how we eat, we are how we move, and we will continue to be challenged by what we neglect.
If something is out-of-balance with my health or in my body, I don’t believe in embracing it—I believe in fixing it. This is a tough conversation for all of us to have with ourselves, and a hard middle ground to find: It’s easy to alternate between wanting to accept ourselves as we are, full stop, and then becoming obsessive, or seeing this as an exercise in vanity.
It’s really neither: It’s about making our bodies strong, balanced, and cohesive. It’s paramount for our long-term health.
During my early years of research on the body I had many subjects who ran or cycled: The imbalances this created were noticeable in many bodies (not all). When you are trying to achieve balance, yet push the body to call upon the same muscles to fire in the same ways, again and again, it’s only natural that your body would respond by building those muscles up in an unbalanced way. Those physical achievements eventually wear.
The body responds incredibly well to consistency with strategy: Start your child at golf at three, and there’s a good chance he’ll become an incredible golfer if he follows the rules. The same holds true for our fitness. Trend-hopping with workouts leaves little room for design or achievement. It’s not negative, and it’s a wonderful thing to move with passion, but it’s definitely a free bird approach. If you backpack your way through life, you’ll have many great experiences; if you go to medical school you will become a doctor. It’s obviously a question of values, but I believe the dedication and consistency involved with the latter is probably a better life-long strategy.
I wanted to create a cardio component that involved calorie burn, mental connection, focus, and coordination. My specific dance aerobics program is incredibly challenging on all levels, without stop and go—it allows you to penetrate enough to fight real problem areas and control weight. And perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t interfere with the design of the body because you’re not firing the same major muscles, again and again. It’s very difficult for people to learn to move their bodies well, as most of us disconnect in college and find it hard to get it back again. My dance aerobics takes time to learn as the brain must participate, but it really does forge an incredible mind/body connection.
What’s the ideal amount of exercise someone should aim to get every week? And assuming that time is limited, what’s the first thing to prioritize?
Are you sure you want me to answer this?!? Nobody ever wants the truth when it comes to putting in the time. With my method, I really like people to execute four to seven days a week; I feel like six is the magic number.
It takes time to build cardio endurance, but that’s no excuse for not starting: I like to get people to a high-performance, low-intensity steady state of regular cardio where the brain is actively participating. This cardio formula protects healthy muscle mass and burns body fat stores instead. In time, the cardio can become more and more vigorous, with even better results.
Getting the right balance of cardio is sometimes tricky, as too much, or the wrong flow can increase cortisol levels, which burns muscle tissue. I’m always thrilled when I get a client to accomplish a good cardio routine, since the body reacts really well to it. When performed consistently, it becomes a wonderful compliment to all of my muscular design work instead of a confusing variable. In an ideal world, I like 30 minutes of cardio with 30 minutes of muscular structure work; if you don’t have a full hour, choose 30 focused minutes of one or the other.
Why do women generally keep weight on post-pregnancy? Are there any tricks for easing the transition from maternity jeans to normal jeans?
I find that there is very little support for women—and what happens to our bodies—during pregnancy. Every pregnancy is really unique and unpredictable, and while doctors and experts know a lot, trusting your own gut really begins when you find out you are pregnant. I believe that the best support for pregnant, and post-pregnant women is to support them, rather than steer them, with a very gentle and non-judgmental hand. New mothers need to feel confident and empowered—after all, it’s a beautiful process. There is no room for vanity in pregnancy.
Thinking about getting into your skinny jeans should not be an early thought or pressure after giving birth. Human babies are completely reliant on their mothers: A newborn baby would have to stay in the womb for 21 months to emerge at a developmental stage comparable to a chimpanzee. So, to put it all in perspective, those early months post-pregnancy are not a time when you can easily think of yourself first—your baby needs you desperately. And you need the support of your family, partner, friends, and experts.
When it’s time, the good news is that I have developed tools to get women’s bodies back to a better-than-pre-pregnancy-place—with ease. It’s like a brand-new cooperative blank canvas, all thanks to the protein hormone relaxin, which is released in the body during pregnancy to increase the size and elasticity of the muscles so the body can deliver the baby. It sticks around for about six months postpartum: While relaxin can make you prone to sprains (be careful), it also creates more pliability.
But before we get to that, there are a few more things happening in your body. If you are breastfeeding, your body releases oxytocin, which signals the uterus to contract while you are nursing. Oxytocin actually helps regulate food intake and has anti-metabolic syndrome effects. The first few weeks are very encouraging, because you lose so much fluid, and the uterus starts to retract—but then most women begin to plateau, as nature stops helping out. Women have been taught to “blame” pregnancy for the condition of their bodies after, but the truth is, nature is very well thought out: We are designed to have more than one baby, so why should our bodies come all the way back in, only to expand again.
Bringing your hips back in—and if desired, to a smaller point than they were before—requires smart and strategic exercise. This is actually my favorite time to work with women, because you can really take advantage of what’s possible. I designed very specific postpartum workouts to give women their dream mid-sections, because the design of the butt and thighs stems right from that. While it’s the perfect opportunity to actually get what you want, it’s still a challenging time, as you will feel awkward and disconnected, and likely very tired. This is all while trying to balance being a new mom, navigating hormone shifts, and finding time for yourself. These can all be obstacles for finding the focused time to exercise: It becomes very easy to push your health to the side. But it’s essential that you ask for the support, understanding, and tools you need so that you get the chance to put the DVD in, or make it into the studio. You can’t make the changes in your body and get your skin tone back without proper focus.
Getting yourself back on a real program will allow you to connect with your brain, and your new body in important ways: If you focus on your accomplishments, and position the program in a place of loving competition, you can actually increase those oxytocin levels in your body. Exercise will also decrease your levels of cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone—so long as you don’t make exercise too stressful, mentally and physically! When you train like an endurance athlete, or fling testosterone around like a man, you can actually suffer from over-trained high cortisol levels commensurate with someone who lives a very stressful life. Healthy exercise increases endorphins, and releases adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. It becomes a happiness cocktail, and even more of a reason for a new, multitasking mom to get her exercise in.
What’s the path to defined abs? And defined arms would be nice, too.
I don’t recommend compartmentalizing the body in any way. Workouts should always be complete, both in thought and execution. Think of how valuable your body is, and how valuable your time is: You need to set yourself up for now, and for the future. To do that, creating balance and consistency is essential. The reason I’ve developed such a vast and comprehensive Method is so you can stick to a long-term plan and strategy that ensures ongoing balance: You will never plateau.
The brain maps muscle movements, which means that muscles get very smart, very quickly. Performing new patterns that have the same outcome but different ways of getting there is powerful. Performing new patterns of movements that all have different outcomes is messy. Performing the same patterns while adding weight leaves room for weaknesses and builds strength in an unbalanced way. New patterns have the ability to rewire neural pathways in the brain. If your brain is on during your workout, not only will it help you design your body, but it will improve your mood, sex drive, and passion for life.
Stretching doesn’t seem to be a core part of your method—why is that? Are there stretches that we should be doing on our own to increase flexibility and stave off injury?
The question isn’t whether to stretch, it’s how and when. The word stretch means to extend, to reach—throughout my entire method, there is technically always a stretch happening. All of my workouts are designed around executing movements that extend and reach in opposing directions with control, calling on muscles to work in a highly collaborative way.
Becoming fully balanced involves unlocking and moving pain-free, and with ease and control. That said, traditional stretching isn’t always the best support for achieving this. There are two types, dynamic and static. Before a workout dynamic stretches open the ranges of movement that are involved when you pick up the intensity. Static stretching involves opening, holding, and pushing ranges of motion.
Research shows that static stretching before your workout actually inhibits your ability to connect and control. My warm-ups are designed to stretch you enough: I created the free dancing arm patterns to start pumping the blood through your body and warm up your brain, which is essential for anyone who likes to multitask and needs to be forced to focus. As counterintuitive as it may sound, easing off on the stretching actually reduces the chance of injury. We need to foster circulation, focus, and connection in order to execute a workout at our full potential.
If you’re injured, how can you maintain results without maximizing the amount of time needed to stay out of the gym?
There’s always a process to achieve something that has real rewards—and if you have an injury, there’s a process involved with healing. Unless you’re working with someone who has the proper skill set to design a workout around your injury, you’re better off following your doctor’s orders and giving your body the time it needs to fully heal. Moments like this are a great time to lean into improving the foods you put into your system, as improving your health from the inside out can be very powerful as well. Use this down time to eat only organic, and take the baby step to cut all processed foods from your diet. Pay close attention not to over-consume during this inactive time—when injured, people can really pack on pounds fast.
You’re a proponent of lighter weights—why? Is there ever a situation where you would propose using heavier weights?
That is actually not true! The primary arm series that I designed for my workouts should be executed with three-pound weights for women. This is because the accurate execution of these movements creates a beautiful design and activates key muscles in the shoulder girdle and arms. During my years of testing, I found that three-pounds was ideal for these very specific movements. That does not mean that my method never calls for heavier weights.
The progressive overload principle to break the body of plateaus is valid—and I use it—but only in ways that don’t compartmentalize strength. I believe in creating balance where there is imbalance in the body. That belief and its supporting scientific principles are why I’ve created such a vast collection of workouts. Some of my routines involve swinging a 75-pound cube, or wearing a 40-pound weight vest; I have a leg series that requires the distribution of 10 pounds on the leg while pressing against an elastic form of resistance to build strength—and length—with control. In my bank of muscular structure work, thousands of the exercises are the equivalent of a 130-pound person lifting approximately 65 to 70 pounds of their body weight. When you just lift heavy weights with your limbs as a lever against your core there is a depletion, which causes micro-tears in your muscle fibers. Training muscles by lifting heavy weight creates a cycle of repairing, rebuilding, and ultimately, muscle growth. Yes, this creates strength—but in isolation, and in a compartmentalized way. I pair certain resistances with certain movements for certain people very carefully—after all, our muscles are tools to create incredible art with our bodies.
We know crash dieting isn’t ideal, but is there a safe and effective way to speed up the loss of 5-10 pounds?
Of course there is, but I’m not a fan of this, as I really want people to learn how to plan. Everything you choose to put your body through has a direct impact on your health, appearance, and mental function. For example, I do not advocate people juicing to drop a quick five pounds if they cannot yet show up regularly for their workouts. Otherwise, you will lose five pounds and then gain eight to 10 pounds back the next week. The body craves consistency. That sort of stop and go on your system does not lead to an operating system that can give you any kind of ownership in weight loss.
I do like for people to have a sense of control or calorie restriction when they have been doing my muscular structure work regularly and are trying to build up to a healthy, steady, cardio performance state. During this time, giving your body permission to drop unwanted weight by controlling food choices is healthy. This is why I like to give a lot of supportive options when it comes to nutrition, as not everyone has time to cook or the same budget. I created a pureed menu years ago as an alternative to juicing so that people could have access to more nutrient-dense, freshly-made foods that are pre-digested but still fiber-filled. Pre-digested food slows the digestive process without stopping it. In addition, my favorite way to drop weight when you’re exercising every day is to replace breakfast with my wellness shake, which you blend with a pitted date, ice, and water in a Vitamix. Then, have another shake for lunch made with fresh nut milk, spinach, and two scoops of my wellness shake, followed by fish, steamed vegetables, and purple rice for dinner—along with a glass of red wine and an organic chocolate bar.
Are there any reliable go-tos lunch-wise that aren’t too terrible in your book that don’t require cooking?
My grab and go’s are my wellness shake as a meal replacement with fresh nut milk and, yes, chocolate syrup; Chipotle’s bowl of rice, chicken, cheese, sour cream, and all salsas; in New York City, I love Mulberry and Vine’s protein bowls and kale salad; in Aspen, I like the Spring Shake or The Highland Bowl at Spring Café; and I like to get the in-house turkey at Whole Foods.
Obviously, diet plays a big part in all of this, and you’ve put out various diet plans, particularly for jump-starting weight loss at the beginning of Metamorphosis: How important is it to count calories?
A true lack of awareness of calories is a huge problem—it results in obesity. This is a very emotional topic for people because many want to believe that we need more calories than we actually do to be healthy.
What’s really the issue, though, is the focus on numbers rather than getting a good handle on portion control and nutrition in general. Eating well, and pairing that with getting our energy usage up is paramount. If we’re mindful of being in control on a daily basis, then a decadent dessert will not derail us.
What can derail us is fixating on one standard number, rather than the education behind it. If someone told me that the only thing that matters is the number and that I could eat 1,500 calories a day, I would carve out that number with French fries and milk chocolate. People want to have what they want, and if you choose to live inside a number of calories you will likely skimp on nutrition. Counting calories often leads to a very stressful relationship with food, rather than a healthy lifestyle. It’s far more productive to focus on the quality of the food you’re ingesting, and whether you’re spending real energy working out every day.
That said, I do think it’s important to weigh yourself every morning with a digital scale: Knowledge is power, and not something to run from. If you get yourself into a healthy routine, stay mindful of what you’re eating, and move toward your goal weight with baby steps, you will find long-lasting change. This is a much more powerful mechanism than reoccurring dates with juice cleanses. It’s also much less stressful, which is good for disease prevention, aging, and real weight loss.
When this happens over a long and consistent period of time, the occasional treat becomes a moment of celebration, rather than a point of derailment. Which brings me to another important point: Calorie counting and incorporating the negative word “cheat” into your diet on the day you’re supposed to be enjoying something isn’t positive. Cheating isn’t enjoyable on any level.
Is gluten bad for you? Is that something that we should cut from our diet? What else is on the no-no list?
I’m passionate about two things when it comes to food: Eating organic, and getting a blood test to check for legitimate allergies. Why cut something you love from your diet if you don’t actually have a sensitivity? If you don’t have a dairy sensitivity, for example, don’t stop eating it—just up the quality of what you buy and consume. Always go as close to nature as possible! Highly-processed foods, or foods that are produced and packaged with low-standards are bad for our health, on every level.
There are remarkable studies linking Schizophrenia and gluten: If you have a sensitivity, it’s essential that you change your lifestyle. That said, the lack of education—and good options—that come with sweeping food trends often cause people to swap in greater evils. If you grab a box of gluten-free cookies at the grocery store believing you’re choosing something healthy, you are likely doing the opposite. If you’re going to grab anything packaged, choose items with as little processing as possible—find a short ingredient list that you can actually pronounce.
I often see people take a nutritional nosedive when they lean too heavily on sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners. They may be calorie-free, or low-calorie, but that doesn’t mean that they’re useful for controlling weight: In fact, it can be the opposite, as they can create an addiction to “sweet,” which manifests as an increased consumption of other sweet food.
But if you do anything, get a blood test: We each have our own biological blueprint, and I am passionate about people having access to it. Having a food intolerance is a deeper dive than having a food allergy. Some foods cause a low-grade inflammation in people’s bodies, which has a lot to do with why 64 percent of adults are overweight or obese.
Think of it this way: If you have a cold or virus, your body fights the inflammation and it goes away. If you eat avocados every day—super food or not—and your body has a sensitivity to avocados, then the inflammation never subsides. Just a little bit of knowledge goes a long way in being able to navigate your health, and your body’s operating system.