Tracy Anderson on Aging Well—plus, an Ab workout!
Whenever January rolls around, we like to do a check-in with Tracy Anderson, GP’s business partner and our exercise go-to, to get her to answer some questions. Here’s a big one: As we age, how can we stem the loss of muscle? And more importantly, how to keep the skin attached to the muscle to avoid situations like saggy triceps and knees. Her answers, below. Meanwhile, her brand-new streaming program—which gives everyone video access to her weekly in-studio master classes—is pretty amazing. We asked her for a little snippet of one of the classes, and so she gave us an awesome ab series. Crunch time.
Why do women lose muscle as we age, and what are the negative effects of the loss?
I know we’re all programmed to think that turning 40 or 50 is a big deal, but ladies, our muscle mass decreases by about 1 percent per year starting at about age 30. Known as sarcopenia, the process of the loss of muscle strength and mass is associated with atrophy…and I’ve spent two decades trying to figure out how to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
Our lifespan, health span, and yes, our beauty span is an integrative function that requires more than lifting weights to increase muscle mass, or taking large doses of antioxidants to reverse aging. The key is delaying the effects of aging.
Believe it or not, the conversation has to start with our brain, which is one hell of a beauty tool: Not only can we not spot reduce problem areas (or try to strengthen, say, just our triceps), we have to keep our brains connected to the practice of exercise. There is something very interesting happening between the genes that regulate activity at the neuromuscular junction connecting our nervous system to our muscles. And it hinges on our brain’s participation in the process. You can’t just work in auto-pilot—you have to fully engage.
“If you spend your life nurturing your innate ability to move your body in a way that continuously sparks a new conversation—within the same philosophy—you will keep your muscles vital and engaged.”
Because we need our bodies to work for the long haul, we need to feel comfortable in them and we need to feel confident controlling them. And this involves working them evenly, rather than in patterns of overuse. Think about it like this: To allow movement at our joints, our muscles work in pairs: Your hamstring and quad work against your knee, your bicep and tricep work against your elbow. If we continuously call those muscles to work with resistance against the joint in the exact same repetitive way, we cause degeneration of the joints—particularly as we try to compensate for a loss of muscle mass. Too often, we associate working out our bodies with the idea of pushing heavy weights, rather than connecting to our bodies in a more collaborative, movement-based way.
When we over-strengthen certain parts of the body, we accelerate atrophy in others. It has to be integrated to be effective. What about the muscles in the thigh that laterally draw towards the body, or the one that crosses the thigh at the hip and bends the lower leg and rotates the thigh outward? What about the innermost hamstring muscles? To integrate these muscles you can’t just push weight around. For instance, I consistently have to create content with many options for working around a joint—and ways to use your own body to control direct force and momentum. You have to roll your body to a push up position and control the momentum of the leg to the side. You need to understand where your body falls in space and how to mimic movements. You need to be dynamic and available, like when you were a confident child bouncing around.
“Too often, we associate working out our bodies with the idea of pushing heavy weights, rather than connecting to our bodies in a more collaborative, movement-based way.”
If you spend your life nurturing your innate ability to move your body in a way that continuously sparks a new conversation—within the same philosophy—you will keep your muscles vital and engaged. By doing that, you will have a live working wire that doesn’t have atrophy-induced holes that create cellulite and sagging skin tone as you age.
We all need to wear gym t-shirts that say “later-life knowledge seeker” for our muscles, because for them to stay “young,” just like the rest of our system, they need to be fed and challenged regularly. That’s why I designed the Tracy Anderson Method—a vast collection of strategic muscle exhausting sequences—to utilize the brain and the body. It will take you past the noise and empty promises to a place where your body will consistently improve.
You talk about atrophy-inducing holes—how does that begin to happen?
We have become an increasingly sedentary society—which is compounded by the fact that we move less and less as we age. Just when you think you are too old to exercise is the time when it is most vital. If you want to keep your head in the game, your body must follow. Every day, week, month, or year that we take “off” from exercise, we are not nurturing our physical relationship with our bodies. When we are young, and have not yet come to the understanding that we can fall and hurt ourselves, nothing will hold us back from rocketing up a tree, all thanks to adrenaline, motivation, and accessibility to our muscles. Meanwhile, as our bodies work to get us up that tree, our mind is working out how to make it happen, too: The left motor cortex talks to the right hand and vice versa, firing billions and billions of neural connections. We are meant to move—to move well and securely in our own bodies. After we fall a few times we learn that we can get hurt, so we start to fear our ability to move in our own bodies and then we are put in school with very little focus on physical fitness. Before we know it, real exercise or movement becomes a chore, and our physical relationship with our body distances.
“Our bodies wear because they lose the ability to repair themselves.”
The evolution of fitness has swung to extremes, going from a place of being incredibly physical as we fought fiercely for our food and to protect our land, to where we are now. We are at a point where we have to make ourselves exercise three times a week for 20 minutes. We are meant to move and we are meant to know how to move. There is no pill, cleanse, or quick fix to denature us that is going to outperform exercise and its impact on our health span, beauty span, and lifespan.
As women age and our estrogen decreases, circulation becomes more and more important. What good is a quick “beauty” fix if our vigor and vibrancy has not been earned and nurtured along the way. Our bodies wear because they lose the ability to repair themselves.
So exercise is the way to stop this process?
Accepting the fact that how you move, why you move, and how often you move is the most powerful tool that you have in terms of how your body looks and feels: This is a fact that is never going to change. In fact, the anti-aging demands are being heard so loud and clear that this field of study is gaining more support and therefore the evidentiary support for the importance of regular, focused exercise continues to become stronger.
As women age, or lose significant amount of weights, why does the skin becomes disconnected from the muscle (I.e., chicken wings)? Is that a part of aging that we all just have to accept, or is there a way to combat it?
This is where finding your formula is really key and using all of your muscles in a balanced way is even more important. If you have a tight, strong, and healthy muscle design, and you are good at cardio, sweating, and detoxifying, then your skin will age much better. The connective tissue has to have something to pull the skin to that is an active support system. If the muscular design and strength isn’t present then as proteins and collagen are lost, the skin becomes thinned, weak looking, and uneven. Collagen is the main protein in connective tissue. As you age and your estrogen starts to decrease, it’s vital to exercise and have good circulation because when your circulation decreases so does your collagen production.
“If the muscular design and strength isn’t present then as proteins and collagen are lost, the skin becomes thinned, weak looking, and uneven.”
Please, please don’t allow any gaps in exercise. This practice will keep the body as engaged as possible: Our systems don’t like to yo yo. Our bodies crave consistency with just the right balance of challenge. Think of it like trying to co-exist with an erratic partner or mate. It’s not healthy for your body to never know what temperament of exercise you are going to put it through. It needs to have new content—but not with shock to the system. There is a real formula to the design of the body. I am a real stickler about the environment and content being perfect because I know that how you move is how you perform and age.
Talk to us about TAM streaming, which has been a longtime in the making. What are you most proud of?
I am so excited to launch my live streaming platform mainly because it’s a real pleasure to utilize the advancements in technology to help us support each other. If Gwyneth and I can let the world into our workouts, then that excites me. No hair and make up. No rehearsals. I have been doing this for almost two decades. My process moves fast and one of the things I always want to do is give people the here and now. I want them to have the most current information. Our CEO, Maria Baum, had the idea of just Go Pro-ing it. And we thought it was brilliant. We are interested in real relationships with the people we support and TAREALTIME allows me to not only deliver that, but it allows me to connect with each of you in a way where we can really be on the same page. Each week you are really in my Master Class as I make up a new sequence for you. Then one of our top trainers breaks down each of the movements for you to really understand them. You work out to that sequence for the week and then we change it on Wednesday. Obviously the workouts that I craft for you each week support all of the things we have talked about in this interview!