Why the Tracy Anderson Method doesn’t work

Question – What do former U.S. President Warren Harding and “Fitness Guru” Tracy Anderson have in common?

They are both prime examples of what happens when we assume someone is competent simply because they look the part, even if their actions and words prove otherwise.

If you aren’t familiar with Warren Harding, many historians consider him the worst president in United States history. He wasn’t very smart and was known to have a taste for gambling, booze and women. At best, he was ambivalent about politics. Harding actually missed the debates for the biggest political issues of his day  – women’s suffrage and prohibition.

Though he was better suited as a frat boy, Harding looked the part of a good president. He was tall, dark, handsome and had a likable personality. Despite his lack of political savvy, this was enough to get him elected.

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell discusses how we possess an unconscious bias that causes us to assume competency (or incompetency) based on what a person looks like, instead of what they know. Gladwell coined this bias the “Warren Harding Error.”

Sadly, it’s not uncommon and it happens a lot in fitness.

Enter Tracy Anderson. A tiny, tan, blonde fitness “expert” to the stars. She preys on the insecurities and desires of women and tells them that if they follow her program, they can join her elite cult of uber petite women with “dancer” bodies.

Anderson is the master of fitness buzzwords and gimmicks. She looks the part and sounds confident enough that if you don’t think about what she’s saying, you might believe that she holds the secrets to flat abs and a thigh gap.

Unfortunately, it’s all a scam. The Tracy Anderson Method doesn’t work. Anderson doesn’t have a kinesiology-based education. She holds no accredited fitness certification, and everything she preaches and teaches is scientifically wrong.

Anderson claims that lifting any weight over three pounds will give you bulky muscles and that you can spot reduce fat in trouble zones.  Both are fitness myths that have been long disproven. She also recommends eating as little as 500 calories per day until you reach your goal weight, which is dangerous and creates a breeding ground for disordered eating and eating disorders.

So if you’re here to find out if the Tracy Anderson method is worth it, I would say no. Save your money, protect your mental health, and seek out a qualified fitness, nutrition coach and / or registered dietician for help.

If your goal is to get strong and have fewer injuries, you’d be far better served strength training than doing bodyweight exercise with complicated choreography.

If your goal is to get “toned” or fat loss, you’d want to find a way to achieve a moderate caloric deficit. You’d want to make sure that you took lots of maintenance breaks to reduce dieting burnout and allow your body to recover, because caloric deficits are stressful and you shouldn’t be in one forever.

AND if your goal was to get “toned” for exercise, I would STILL  say you should still look into strength training to build muscle or at least protect against muscle loss, which may happen depending on the length and severity of a caloric deficit.

I could write more, but that’s the long short of it. Getting “toned” is a really boring, not super pleasant process if you do it thoughtfully that doesn’t require ANY of the extreme measures that Tracy Anderson advocates and frankly it’s not a great goal for a lot of people – though no shade if it’s something you’re pursuing.

TLDR: Tracy Anderson has packaged up a starvation diet with exercises designed to make you exhausted instead of strong. If you love her stuff, do your thing, but I think there are a lot of better ways that you could spend your time to actually improve your health, foster a positive relationship with food and exercise, and move closer towards your goals.

I also think that Tracy Anderson is just ONE example of a much bigger problem that exists in the fitness industry and that is where I want to devote my energy today. 

Tracy Anderson represents a lie that much of the fitness industry is built on – the idea that if someone looks fit, they will be a competent trainer with the ability to make you look like them.

Consider why someone might be able to look a certain way with little knowledge or effort. Part of it is genetics. Some people have genes that predispose them to looking naturally muscular or lean.

One example is professional dancers, who tend to have long, lean limbs and tiny waists. It’s easy to look at them and think that dance gave them their bodies, because they all have the same body type.

We have it backwards though. The reality is that we are only seeing the people who made it to the elite levels of dance. Yes, they are talented, and their rigorous training schedule certainly will help them maintain physical attributes. However, a large part of what got them to the elite level was that they had the ideal body type to be a professional dancer.

Even if they had chosen a completely different sport like powerlifting or they did close to nothing, with reasonable nutrition, odds are they would still have a stereotypical “dancer’s body”.

Bringing it back to fitness, how many workouts have we seen, including Tracy Anderson’s method, that claim to give you a dancer’s body?  Dozens? Hundreds? Entire dance fitness franchises have made a killing selling this lie.

Are these workouts necessarily bad? No. If they’re designed intelligently, they *might* change your appearance, but given that they rely on very light weights, it’s frankly unlikely – though they may help with muscle endurance, balance, or flexibility. However, reality is that if you’re built to look strong, curvy, or anything that isn’t a lithe ballerina, no workout is going to make you look that way. It’s just genetics.

Any trainer or studio owner who tells you otherwise is lying to you.

The same thing happens when fitness videos are made. Desired body types, be it men and women who are ripped or women who are very thin are type cast to perform the workout on stage, sending the message that if you perform the workout, you can look like them.

It’s an illusion. One of two things has happened to give them that body. Either they are genetically gifted as described above, or they are probably doing a lot of hypertrophy and strength workouts (aka not the workout they are selling) and have a very intense, difficult to sustain, diet plan to go with it that may include some very disordered behaviors around food.

Regardless, whatever workout they are selling probably didn’t give them the body that they are displaying. The models on the screen were hired because of what they looked like, not because they were knowledgeable.

We need to use critical thinking instead of our eyes when choosing a workout or a trainer. Fitness marketing relies on extrinsic motivation and half-truths. Just because a girl in a crop-top claims her workout is functional, safe way to lose belly fat doesn’t mean it is. For all we know, it will be comprised of flailing arm movements better designed to give you chronic neck pain.

Instead, investigate the person’s educational background.

  • Do they have a degree in the subject matter that they are claiming to be an expert in?
  • Who have they trained under?
  • Who are they certified through?
  • Is what they are saying make sense or has it been scientifically disproven?

I understand why much of the marketing in the fitness industry relies on sound bites and gimmicks. An ad that says, “Slowly alter your body composition and make gradual strength gains through moderate diet and intelligently applied exercise” doesn’t sound nearly as sexy as “Get shredded like a warrior!” or “Finally get that toned, dancer body you always dreamed of!”

Ultimately, there are many paths to fitness and some programs will work better depending on what your goals are. It’s important to keep in mind that what a person looks like may not tell you if they are a knowledgeable trainer or if they can get you results.

I didn’t write this to say that fitness professionals with the conventional “fitness body” aren’t knowledgeable and can’t be trusted. Some of them are brilliant, kind coaches and educators. However, it’s important to note that looking the part doesn’t always equate with competency.

Likewise, not all programs that rely on marketing gimmicks are bad, but some of what they claim may not be realistic and fitness is comprised of far more than what you look like. A little skepticism may save you from spending money and time on a program that could leave you injured or feeling frustrated and defeated.

There are 2 comments on this post

  1. CD
    13 hours ago

    I Loved her did her workouts for 5 years, I can barely walk now,RSI repetitive stress injury.So now I’m seeing a doctor to correct the problem.I have been looking for articles regarding sport injuries.Thank you for posting this.

    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      13 hours ago

      I’m glad you found the article helpful and I’m sorry to hear about your injuries. I incurred a lot of RSIs myself during my time in group fitness, so it’s definitely not exclusive to the TA method. Overall though, I really wish all of these styles of programming were better designed and more transparent in their marketing. Wishing you speedy healing.


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