THIS is the woman responsible for Madonna’s arms.
Tracy Anderson pulls down on resistant elastic bands strung across the ceiling; dances around the room; endlessly circles her arms. She moves her torso back and forth and sideways to strengthen the abdominals, and then lies on her — of course — taut belly for a series of butt-toning leg lifts.
To spend an hour working out with Ms. Anderson, with an iPod blasting and the heat cranked up, is to get a taste of what it’s like to prepare for a grueling concert tour, striving for that sinewy muscle tone. Or so you can tell yourself.
Maybe this is how it feels to sweat like Gwyneth Paltrow, bopping around your blond-wood home gym in the Hamptons, losing the pregnancy pounds with Ms. Anderson’s mat exercises and dance routines. “You really are how you move,” Ms. Anderson said.
Ms. Anderson, 33, worked out with a reporter recently in a rented space in Midtown, demonstrating her signature muscle strengthening and cardio dancing, which have won her two devoted clients in Madonna and Ms. Paltrow. With those celebrity names lofting her reputation, she is preparing to open a high-end $900-a-month workout studio in TriBeCa.
But those who join probably won’t be grunting and lunging alongside Ms. Paltrow or Madonna — Ms. Anderson trains them privately — and her employees will lead most workouts, not her.
Looking as if she subsists on birdseed, the pixie-ish trainer said she actually has “a big appetite.” (Don’t all thin people say that?) She is partial to cupcakes — anything with butter cream frosting — and, while she is now very mindful of nutrition, maintains that when she started out in the fitness business she was still a junk-food junkie, dunking Oreo cookies in containers of Pillsbury icing. “I was kind of like a doctor who smoked,” Ms. Anderson said.
It was about three years ago, while running a studio in Los Angeles, that Ms. Anderson came to the attention of Ms. Paltrow, who then told her friend Madonna. Now the bulk of Ms. Anderson’s time is devoted to the two stars: she essentially moves in with one, depending on whose career is in higher gear, while working with the other through video chats and custom DVDs, or by dispatching one of her associate trainers.
When Madonna was preparing for her “Sticky and Sweet” tour last year, for example, Ms. Anderson lived with her for nine months and then accompanied her on the road. Last summer, she trained Madonna during the day in Manhattan and took the train almost every day to the Hamptons to put Ms. Paltrow through a workout in the evening.
“Tracy Anderson is my savior,” Madonna said in an e-mail message. “After two Caesareans, three hernia operations and one riding accident that left me with 10 broken bones, she was the only one who could pull my body back together into one piece.”
Both Ms. Paltrow and Madonna have publicly testified to Ms. Anderson’s results on her DVDs and in magazine articles. Ms. Paltrow is also a partner in Ms. Anderson’s new 4,700-square-foot studio on Greenwich Street, which is to open in mid-March.
“It’s fun because it’s not like you’re running mindlessly on a treadmill,” Ms. Paltrow said. “I guess she learned how to make the muscles do certain things — it actually works. It’s not like you’re chasing this dream.”
People with limited finances may have to keep on chasing. In addition to the monthly dues at the new studio, members must pay an initiation fee of $787.50 for six months or $1,500 for a year. Ms. Anderson’s publicist, Julia Cuddihy Van Nice, said that “the studio is not disclosing any numbers” but that the response has been positive.
CHARTER members — the first 150 people who commit to a year and pay three months up front — will receive a 30-minute consultation with Ms. Anderson. The other members will work out with her staff. Or you can spend $29.95 to watch Ms. Anderson on one of her three DVDs available on her Web site, tracyandersonmethod.com.
Whether this kind of a niche workout studio can succeed in the current economy remains to be seen. Big gyms like Equinox and Reebok (where membership is $215 a month with a $1,200 initiation fee) are hustling for new members. And people who join Ms. Anderson’s studio might come with outsize expectations: counting on looking like Madonna or Ms. Paltrow, when those stars are putting in two hours a day, six days a week and have Ms. Anderson personally pushing them to do yet another set of crunches or one more cardio routine.
Ms. Anderson is well aware that she lucked out in being catapulted to prominence by two such high-profile clients. “It’s been a dream, for sure,” she said. But she had her dose of struggles along the way. She was forced to close her first studio in her home state, Indiana, because of the financial mismanagement of a business partner, according to her Web site.
Ms. Anderson may weigh 90-something now, but at age 19, she was 40 pounds overweight and couldn’t slim down, she said. She had just come to New York from Noblesville, Ind., to be a dancer, studying at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
Later, at 23, she struggled with baby weight after giving birth to a son, Sam, now 10. (Ms. Anderson and Sam’s father, Eric Anderson — formerly of the New York Knicks — are separated but still live together.)
Her frustration at being unable to get back into shape prompted her to develop her own workout program. She studied the bodies of swimmers, volleyball players and classical dancers and sought to emulate Jane Fonda, for her hybrid videos of dance and aerobics. “She was absolutely dead-on,” Ms. Anderson said of Ms. Fonda. “You never saw her lifting crazy big weights.”
Ms. Anderson’s method involves focusing on accessory, or smaller, muscles and varying moves so that the body continues to be challenged. Her New Band System has eight elastic bands with different degrees of resistance that she uses for arm strengthening; her Hybrid Body Reformer — much like the machine used in Pilates — has a pulley system that works muscles from different angles. This equipment is not available to people exercising at home.
She said a woman should never lift more than three-pound weights. “Most gym programs overwork major muscle groups,” she said. “Repetition builds and bulks muscles.”
Not all fitness experts agree. “Once a person adapts to the light weight, they will not gain strength,” said Dr. Michele Olson, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University. “We should alternate between doing heavy weights with lower reps and lighter weights with high reps if we want our bodies to rest and continue to improve. But, there is no one single approach to exercise that can do everything.”
Charles B. Corbin, an emeritus professor in the department of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University, has seen one of Ms. Anderson’s videos and questions her emphasis. “Very high volume programs such as the ones on the video — with very difficult muscle fitness and flexibility exercises — are not for everyone,” he said. “In fact, for many, they can cause more harm than good” because of the possibility of muscle fatigue and injury.
Time will tell whether Ms. Anderson’s method ultimately works for an audience bigger than two celebrities. On her DVDs, she demonstrates everything, but she does not give much verbal instruction, so it can be difficult to tell exactly what she’s doing and whether a home exerciser is following correctly.
Just when you think you’ve nailed one of her dance combinations, the camera shifts from a full view to just her legs. You can lose track of the sequence and what comes next. And her counts for the mat exercises are all over the map — she lifts her leg back 32 times on the right side, then 26 on the left; does 23 back leg lifts on the right, then 37 on the left, and so on.
Jessica Matthews, the continuing education coordinator for the American Council on Exercise, said consistency in repetitions is important. “We want to make sure the muscles of the body stay balanced,” she said. “We should be doing the same number on each side.”
Asked about this later, Ms. Anderson wrote in an e-mail message: “Ha ha!! I am famous for my horrible counting! Don’t worry the results will be the same!!” (nytimes.com)