Why the Tracy Anderson Method doesn’t work

Question. What do former U.S. President Warren Harding and Tracy Anderson have in common?

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

If you aren’t familiar with Warren Harding, many historians consider him among the worst presidents in United States history. He wasn’t very smart and was known to have a taste for gambling, booze and women. He was ambivalent about politics. He 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, attractive, and likable, which 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 based on what a person looks like, instead of what they know. Gladwell coined this bias the “Warren Harding Error.”

Sadly, this particular brand of unconscious bias is 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 fitness cult of women with “dancer” bodies.

Anderson is the master of fitness buzzwords and will happily tell you exactly what you want to hear – even if it’s complete B.S. She’s conventionally attractive 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 long, lean muscles.

Unfortunately, it’s all a scam. The Tracy Anderson Method doesn’t work. Anderson doesn’t have a kinesiology-based education. Last I checked, she appears to hold no accredited fitness certifications, and everything she preaches and teaches defies basic science about how the human body works.

Anderson has been quoted as saying that lifting any weight over three pounds will injure you and give you bulky muscles. She also claims that you can spot reduce fat in trouble zones.  All of these 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 help from a qualified professional in the fitness and / or nutrition space.

With that, you might be wondering, if the Tracy Anderson Method doesn’t work, what does?

This is a nuanced answer that depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

If your goal is to build strength with less pain or fewer injuries, you’d be far better off strength training than doing fast paced bodyweight exercises with complicated choreography.

If your goal is to get “toned,” this would be required through building at least a little bit of muscle and oftentimes fat loss, because you’d need to get your body fat percentage low enough to see it.

To do this, you would need to do two things:

  • Start strength training to build muscle or at the very least protect against muscle loss, which may happen depending on the length and severity of a caloric deficit.
  • Find a way to achieve a moderate caloric deficit, which for most people requires reducing their caloric intake (though this doesn’t have to mean counting calories. This is something I often help my nutrition coaching clients with!) and increasing low grade activity – usually through walking at an easy to moderate pace.

Another note on pursuing intentional weight loss and caloric deficits. If you decide to do. this make sure you take lots of breaks where you eat at maintenance to reduce dieting burnout and allow your body to recover. Caloric deficits are stressful, not fun, and you shouldn’t be in one forever.

I could write more, but that’s the greatest hits. Getting “toned” is a somewhat mundane process if you do it thoughtfully. It doesn’t require ANY of the extreme measures that Tracy Anderson advocates. And frankly intentional weight loss isn’t a great goal for a lot of people – though I fully support doing what you want with your body. I just don’t believe it should come at the cost of your mental and physical health.

To put it another way, please don’t exercise for hours on end while eating a toddler’s amount of food in meal replacement bars. There’s a way to do this where you can exercise a moderate amount and continue eating foods you enjoy.

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.

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, which historically refuses to hire or cast larger bodied dancers. 

Yes, these elite dancers are talented and have worked really hard. Yes, their rigorous training schedule certainly will help them maintain some of their physical aesthetic. 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 that many of these people would still have a stereotypical “dancer’s body” – though I do feel a need to point out that this degree of thinness may also be due to unhealthy and extreme caloric restriction in combination with genetics.

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? Hundreds? Entire dance fitness franchises have made a killing selling this lie.

Are these workouts necessarily bad? Depending on the context, one of these workouts or methods *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, the 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. And that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or your body – despite our dumpster fire culture telling you otherwise.

Any trainer or studio owner who claims that their workout can give everyone the same body type is either lying to you or painfully misinformed. 

Maybe it’s overkill, but I want to point out that “body type casting” also occurs when fitness videos are made. The people who are hired are literally fitness models who are paid to perform the workout on stage, sending the message that if you perform the workout, you can look like them.

It’s an illusion.

These fitness models are at least in part genetically gifted as described above and / or they are probably doing a lot of hypertrophy and strength workouts 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 is most likely not responsible for 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 hiring someone for fitness or nutrition help.

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’ll be comprised of flailing arm movements better designed to give you chronic neck pain.

Things to consider when you’re ready to hire someone or purchase a program:

  • Does this person have a degree in the subject matter they’re teaching?
  • Who mentored them? What was their education? Are they certified? Granted a lot of certifications are bullshit.
  • Does what they claim make sense or has it been scientifically disproven?
  • Are they providing education to help you make informed choices? Or are they scaring you into buying from them?
  • Do they seem like an empathetic, reasonable human? Do you like them?
  • Is their advice practical? Could you easily introduce what they teach into your life without drastic changes?

I understand why fitness marketing often relies on sound bites and wild claims.

An ad that says, “Slowly alter your body composition and built strength through moderate changes in your diet and intelligent programming over several months to years” isn’t nearly as compelling as “Get shredded AF!” or “Finally get that toned, dancer body you always dreamed of FAST!”

There are many paths to fitness. Some programs will work better that others depending on your goals and how your body responds to exercise.

I didn’t write this to say that people with “conventional fitness bodies” aren’t knowledgeable. Some of them are! However, looking the part won’t always equate with competency.

Likewise, not all workouts with questionable marketing are bad, but the claims may not be realistic. This knowledge may prevent you from spending money and time on something that would other leave you feeling frustrated and defeated.

There are 10 comments on this post

  1. CD
    5 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.

    Reply
    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      5 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.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous
        2 hours ago

        I am so glad I found this article. I wanted to get into an exercise routine that reminded me of dance class so I started doing the TA Method. I have never felt so exhausted in my life and it’s only been a week of working out. Her workouts leave me feeling so tired I can hardly do anything the rest of the day and the headaches-ugh. Then I started looking at strong looking female celebs like Chelsea Handler and Jessica Biel who still look feminine doing strength training and I realized the TA Method is a joke. Now I’m looking forward to learning strength training workouts.

        Reply
        1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
          9 hours ago

          I’m so glad my post offered some perspective. Frankly, this is why I love strength training. Sure, you may be a little sore if you really challenge yourself in the lifts on some days, but you’re not trashed AND you actually see results. Cheers to getting stronger and let me know if you need any resources in that realm. I can probably point you towards some helpful links 🙂

          Reply
  2. Channing
    3 hours ago

    This is a great post. I tried TA for a month and was appalled at so. many. things. I thought I was hallucinating when she said in a recent weekly class something like: you can’t get injured in these classes because the moves are so close to the ground and if you lose balance you’ll just fall to the mat and be fine. I think my mouth dropped open.

    The mere concept of flailing my arms around with weights (albeit 3 pounders) in my hands makes me feel injured. I never bought the weights. I was embarrassed to buy tiny 3 pound weights and thank goodness the ones I found at Target were a weird, sticky texture and I didn’t get them. I’m from the school of good form, slow and steady weight-lifting, no flailing allowed.

    The concept that cue-free, music-only classes help center your brain is absolute nonsense, while I’m in my living room twisting my neck around like the Exorcist trying to keep up with her. Is there a thrill in knowing you’ll never quite catch up to TA, like restaurants whose waiters treat you badly and it’s a treat?

    Hmm what else felt insane? Oh, the idea of doing literally the same workout 5-7 days a week. Then, the next week a “new” workout is released that is only slightly altered from the last one and still essentially goes in the same sequence. Every. Day. Of. Your. Life. Nothing about this makes logical sense.

    Yet, you’re so right. All I remember is being in a celebrity trance and thinking TA and I are around the same age and she is hot and I want to be hot too and, sure, the $90 is a completely revolting amount of money to pay for 30 days of basically the same workout … but she’s so lean and toned! and I want to be like her … and if she has gotten to the point in life that she can charge this extraordinary amount of money for her services then there must be some magic or secret or fountain of youth that will be revealed during the classes!!! No. Nope. No.

    The Malcolm Gladwell theory is so solid. Because of it, I convinced myself that magic exists and that TA workouts are worth their weight in gold because of the luxury price tag.

    I clicked the “Request Cancellation” button on Friday, which led me to a “Before you go!…” buy my DVDs page. The cancellation never went through because apparently there is a confirmation button buried at the bottom of the products that I couldn’t find. I sent an email telling them the user experience was terrible. They just wrote back to confirm the cancellation and proceeded to include a full paragraph about the DVD collection. An idea that will keep me up tonight: who still owns a DVD player?

    Thanks for letting me pour out all of the things here. I’ve basically just written an entire blog post, which I may now post to my blog because people need to know lol. #themoreyouknow Now going to check out your workouts. I must replace the flailing with something awesome.

    Reply
    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      23 mins ago

      Hi Channing! I gotta say, your post made my day. Thanks for the honesty and the laugh. You’re welcome to vent here any day. 😉 I think we’ve allll-llll fallen for this in some way. My TA moment was buying a dumb dumb monthly pass to this terrible barre studio in the mid 2000s. Definitely did not get more tined and my hip flexors still hurt thinking about all that pulsing. lolz. Nice to (virtually) meet you and don’t hesitate to hit me up if you are looking for a specific type of workout. I have a ton of videos on my YouTube channel, so happy to link up anything that might meet your needs. xx Nikki

      Reply
      1. Channing
        8 hours ago

        Haha yay my life goal is to make someone laugh. I’ll def check out your youtube!! 🙂

        Reply
  3. Pam Jones
    13 hours ago

    Hi Nikki, thank you for this article and glad I found your website. I hate TA and her method SOOOO much. What would compel any logical person to try her ‘method’?? Well, you may be logical, but also be out of shape and that could lead you into a danger zone. Especially if you’re a woman (I doubt men are doing her workouts!).

    Her claims of body changes and weightloss mean FA to me. You mean, starving yourself, exercising 10000 hours a day and drinking ungodly amount of green tea are going to make you lose weight?? WOW!!! What a revelation!!! Third-degree burns cure acne, but don’t go pouring acid on yourself!! I hope there’s a disclaimer to not do this on days where you have to go to work, because you’d have to dash to the toilet every 10 minutes – and not just for peeing!!

    I absolutely could not care less what celebrities claim her as some kind of miracle worker. Gwyneth has always been tall and thin. Yes, she’s had two kids, but her body shape is clearly ectomorph. Madonna went to college on a full dance scholarship, so it’s not like she’s not aware of movement and training. Sally Pressman is a trained ballerina, and Shakira is also known for her dancing, so the same applies to them. I just don’t understand why these women who have actual background in dancing would go to a fraud like TA and claim that SHE is the one who made them slim and in shape. What total BS!!

    I’m no stranger to workouts. I’ve been active and athletic my whole life and have competed in gymnastics, martial arts and weightlifting. I’m 5ft 6 and weigh between 132 and 140 lbs and have absolutely NO desire to be thin, because I can lift 250 pounds over my head – take THAT, Tracy Anderson, because that also means that I can easily lift YOU over my head and throw you across the room!!

    I always tell women – especially young women – to do strength training and lift heavy weights and not be afraid of it. I’m in my mid 40s but still have a tight body, and that’s thanks to weight training. I may weigh more than a lot of women my height, but I have good bone density and still a size 4-6, so I’m fine with it. It’s not hard to be thin when you’re young, but once you get to my age, you absolutely cannot skip weight training.

    I do confess that when I was younger I DID want to be thin, and never reached my ‘goal weight’ – probably because I didn’t follow Emily Charleton’s diet of not eating anything and only eating a cube of cheese when I felt as though I was about to faint! If my shift started at 5am, I would wake up at 2:30 in the morning and exercise for 2 hours. I would run during my meal break instead of eating and exercise for another 2-3 hours when I got home. I don’t need to tell you just how unhealthy that was, and also so unnecessary!! That’s what I mean – people like TA fks with your mindset and takes you to somewhere extremely unhealthy.

    I remember watching a wedding special video with Sally Pressman and she said that if she has a 6am call, she would wake up at 4:45 and get an hour of workout in just before, or she would exercise after work. This was when she was on Army Wives, and we know that those 1-hour television shows require the actors to be on set for 16-18 hours, so that is especially unhealthy. She still does TA workouts unfortunately, and even more unfortunate, refers to TA as one of the best people she knows. Sally, aren’t you a Yale-educated and classically-trained ballerina who was a member of Manhattan Ballet Company??? Your abilities and intelligence far surpass anything TA has to offer, so you should aim higher, or get better friends!!

    I know, I’m sounding so jealous and petty, but if there’s one thing I can’t stand is someone telling women to basically starve themselves and to be skinny. STFU and FO. Who tf do you think you are?? Also, I have absolutely no qualms about saying all of this to TA’s face, so I’m not a troll from my parents’ basement who can only speak my mind when online!

    Anyway, for anyone who actually read through my post, thanks so much and please be healthy!! Thanks again to Nikki for your article, it’s a relief to find other women who feel the same about TA and refused to join her cult of skinniness (or made their escape!!).

    Reply
    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      4 hours ago

      Hey Pam. I’m glad my post resonated. I completely understand why women feel a certain level of desperation to be thin – goodness knows I’ve done some wild things to myself in the realm – but I think that preying on these pressures with what can ultimately be dangerous advice is pretty deplorable. I’m glad the message that strength training is valuable and it’s important to eat enough to sustain ourselves is slowing getting out there, but I don’t think grifters like TA are going away anytime soon.

      Reply
  4. Pam Jones
    15 hours ago

    Sorry for the links above, I don’t know why they got posted. I just wanted to save your site address, and my cousin saved other links on the same document about The Hills!!

    Reply

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