OMG! I still have a saggy arse after my all-star Tracy workout
She's the alternative queen of Hollywood and Gwyneth Paltrow, JLo and Cheryl Cole all love her. Deborah Ross meets celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson.
To enter the world of fitness guru Tracy Anderson, as I do when I visit her studio in New York, is to enter a parallel universe peopled by teeny-tiny women with rock-hard tummies and perfectly toned arms. Anderson's training system, which is still associated with "the baby food diet", whether she likes it or not (and she doesn't), has already reshaped half of Hollywood -- "Tracy kicked my sagging ass into shape and I will be forever grateful," says Gwyneth Paltrow -- and promises "a journey to your teenytiniest point".
This is fair enough, but the trouble with these teeny-tiny women is they do get under your feet rather. Still, as I hack my way through them, I am, at least, considerate enough to issue a warning cry -- "Larger lady coming through! Ass-sag in evidence! Mind the bingo wings!" -- but suspect I flatten a few all the same.
I'm here to take a class, which I know will be quite a thing. The Tracy Anderson Method is based on more than 3,000 moves that work the small muscles rather than the big, with the aim of producing a "feminine and dancer-like" shape. Aside from Paltrow, who is also her business partner, Anderson's client list includes Jennifer Lopez, Stella McCartney, Donna Karan, Cheryl Cole, Courteney Cox, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, but not Lady Gaga ("She isn't technically a client yet") nor Madonna, since they fell out. ("She has no relatability to real women. She's like an alien.")
Keith, a former dancer trained by Tracy, is taking my class today. He is a dish and a sublime mover, but this is way out of my league. It involves a highly choreographed dance-cardio routine, plus pulling on resistance bands that hang from the ceiling like long strips of deflated balloon.
I bring shame upon the Method and myself, but, still, the exertion is phenomenal. I have never experienced anything like it. My face turns a violent, boiling red and the sweat transforms my hair into a deranged dandelion clock. After the class, I shuffle off sheepishly with another warning cry -- "Larger lady on the way back! Saggy ass and bingo wings still an issue! Hair gone mad!"
The studio is small, but so exclusive it won't quote prices over the phone. I later discover there is an annual fee (€1,072) on top of a monthly rate (€1,038) and personal training sessions are extra. A cheaper, more dignified solution for untoned arms, you're asking? Sleeves. They work for me every time and come in a range of colours.
Post shower, yet still sweating, I'm ready to meet Tracy. She is 36 and looks, with her blonde hair extensions, spray tan, false lashes and super-glossy mouth, like a pared-down Pamela Anderson. Her body is dynamite: minute, yet fantastically defined. Her thighs could crack coconuts and her arms are shapely but as solid as baseball bats. I am fascinated.
Will you ever get a saggy ass or bingo wings, I ask. "Never," she says. "I know too much. I know how to keep the skin close to muscle." But, surely, at some point, the escalator of ageing will be going up faster than you can go down? "Hopefully, my 60 will look like 40, but will I age? Of course."
Do you think it is right that the appearance of a woman's body can become her sole purpose? "I love that I've come up with a solution that helps and empowers women." Do you ever eat chips? "I don't cut out any food groups -- I had pizza last night. I love food. I love wine. And I believe in eating round the family table."
When Anderson arrives at the studio, we find a quietish corner, and I kick off by asking her to describe her celebrity clients. Gwyneth? "Magical. Gorgeous." Stella? "Brilliant." Cheryl? "Youthful. She's great. I like her very much." Could you understand a word she said? "No." Christy? "Elegant." Jennifer? "Total bitch." I'm joshing you. Ms Lopez is, in fact, "amazing" and "incredible".
These days, Anderson prescribes programmes for her clients, then one of her staff takes over.
So you don't personally train celebrities any more? "It depends," she says. "I saw Gwyneth this morning, for example, and Stella the other day. I still work with the girls I'm close to, but it's impossible to train regularly and also give this to women all over the world."
Giving, she continues, is what thrills her most because "there's a teacher in me and I've always been a big giver". She gives via her studios -- there is also one in LA and others planned for the Hamptons and London -- and via her books and DVDs, most recently Metamorphosis.
I did try the Metamorphosis DVD, but, alas, I failed to master one move. I also read the books but all diet and exercise books contain repetition and padding -- how many times can you repeat "Eat less, move more?"
I did try baby food, but, as I tell Tracy, the moment I opened the jar, my gag reflex kicked in. She says she has never recommended it -- "An adult putting baby food in their mouth? Ridiculous!" she exclaims. But Tracy, I say, I'm reading about the Tracy Anderson Baby Food Diet all the time. She says: "I know -- it's a nightmare."
She explains that, at one time, there was a fad for "juice cleanses", which are extremely unhealthy. Women would only drink juice for a week, lose a few pounds, go back to eating normally, regain the weight, return to the juice . . .
"That yo-yoing is a disaster for the body. It messes with your metabolic rate. But I did think, yes, there is value in eating highly nutritious foods in consumable quantities, so I came up with a diet that was more calorific and wasn't juice but purée, so it's still got the fibre in it. But it's not baby food."
How did it all start? Tracy grew up in Indiana, where her mother, a former ballerina, ran a dance studio and her father was an entrepreneur.
After her parents divorced when she was 17, her mother worked three jobs so Tracy could come to New York to train as a ballet dancer. But she did not make it. Put plainly, she got too fat and could not shift the weight. "I tried everything short of an eating disorder -- which I really wanted to have, actually."
So she gave up dancing, married Eric, a basketball player, and had her son, Sam, now 12. And that would have been that, had Eric not injured his back and visited a doctor who said that if he did certain exercises he could avoid surgery.
"If it weren't for that doctor, I wouldn't have stumbled on the way the muscular structure could be manipulated."
She discovered that exercising the big muscles, like biceps, is fine if you want to bulk up, but if you want to look "lean and fit", it's the small ones you have to focus on because they draw all the other muscles in.
She developed moves and equipment to do just this, transformed herself and then other women noticed and wanted her to do it for them. Word got out and, eventually, Gwyneth was on the phone.
"To be honest," Tracy recalls, "at that point, I had so many people relying on me, I'd turned down lots of celebrities wanting one-on-ones. But there was something about her. She was so down-to-earth and said to me: 'I'm a really hard worker and I've tried everything, but I just can't get the baby weight off after Moses [her second child] and I have to do this superhero film.' It was the first Iron Man. I really felt for her, you know?" It was Gwyneth who introduced her to Madonna. "After our first session, she texted Madonna to say: 'You have to meet this woman. You're going to freak out.'"
Initially, Tracy flitted between Gwyneth and Madonna, but then Madonna snaffled her up full-time.
"I lived with her for three years," she says. What was that like? What was her most irritating habit? Did she wash her mug or just leave it by the sink? "Madonna? Wash up? Puh-lease. But she was a very good student. For three years, six days a week, two hours a day, she did all I asked of her and did it well." She looks like she would, I say. "She's a machine," she says, "which is very far removed from what I am."
As I understand it, they fell out when Tracy, having accompanied Madonna on two world tours, decided she needed to leave so Sam could settle down in one place. And Madonna wasn't having it?
"It's tough when you know you've transformed someone and it means so much to what they do . . . But when you do that gig, you're expected to sign up for life. Period."
Tracy and Eric are now divorced. She says her new boyfriend is in advertising and is "an awesome surfer", but not so great at the Method.
Anyway, our time is now at an end. What you think of Tracy Anderson and the Tracy Anderson Method will depend, I suppose, on how much store you set by your body beyond keeping it in reasonable shape so it can get you from A to B.
I can only tell you that, as I leave, I do so with a wink towards Diana. Sleeves. They are not especially empowering, I guess, but they do the job. The high street offers a wide variety of sleeved items. Go on, treat yourself -- to a thin day.
Metamorphosis is available from tracyandersonmethod.com