Dear Tracy Anderson: STOP

Barbells and heavier weights will not ruin a woman’s body.

I’m not in the business of making threats, but there are exceptions to every rule. So when a person with significant “power” in the health and fitness industry poses a danger by spreading incorrect information, I have two options:

Option 1: Do nothing and hope the damage is limited. The old line of thinking is that bringing more attention accomplishes the opposite of what you want — it allows more people to see the bad information.

Option 2: Challenge the authority and try to be the change. A bully doesn’t stop bullying unless you make them stop.

In this case, it’s time to draw the line. Call out the bully. And make sure everyone knows what’s happening and why it’s wrong.

This Is Why You Really Hate Diets and Workout Plans

Welcome to the fitness industry, where selling the myth is better than facing reality. When Well + Good published an article on Tracy Anderson’s fitness principles, I was bothered because the tips offered nothing “well” or “good.” In an age where anything can pass as journalism, the editors clearly forget a basic principle: the social responsibility of health.

That is, many people will read the article, take the teachings as gospel, and apply it to their own health. To anyone considering the information shared, please take this to heart:

Tracy Anderson does not know what she is talking about when it comes to fitness or nutrition.

I can already hear the angry emails in my inbox: “Have you trained Gwyneth Paltrow and J-Lo?”

No, no I have not. But I have been covering health and fitness for 15 years, won awards for creating trusted health content, and written best-selling books. Maybe most importantly, I work with real people every day, trying to help them overcome misinformation, body struggles, and the difficult battle of losing weight with sustainable, realistic methods. The type of information shared in the Well + Good post causes scars and leaves more people frustrated and confused.

If Anderson removed all of her sensational comments, there would be nothing to write. Just another person saying that she has a better method. But it’s her what, why, and how that make her ideas so dangerous. She purposely criticizes other effective methods and leaves many people believing they must follow her approach or suffer the consequences.

This is marketing 101: tell people what they need, and then make sure that your product is the only offering that fulfills the need.

Look around the fitness industry. From academics to mainstream publishers, there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence against what Anderson suggests. Her “workout rules” would only be praised if it were classified as “science fiction.”

Business is business, but certain lines shouldn’t be crossed, especially with something as important as health. More than one-third of the country is already suffering from being overweight or battling obesity. Spreading fiction only creates a bigger mess, so let’s begin the clean up.

The Truth About Fitness and Weight Loss

Sometimes you have to fight bullshit with cold hard facts. Here is what Anderson suggests, and how your body really works.

Anderson: “If you want to be longer and leaner you’ve got to stay away from 10-pound, 15-pound [weights] and calling to action the bicep, the quad, the glute — the very direct large muscles that know exactly how to work in very specific ways.”

Where do I even begin? The idea that you can “isolate” small muscles from big muscles completely denies the fact that the human body is a kinetic chain. That is, your joints, ligaments, muscles, and soft tissues are all connected. In other words, when you move it creates a chain of events that causes movement and activation in other areas of your body. Or as renowned physical therapist Mike Reinold explains:

The kinetic chain shouldn’t be just how the neck influences the shoulder, which influences the elbow, which influences the wrist. It should be all encompassing.

Believing you can “turn off” big muscles and only work small muscles would work…if you’re not human. Not to mention, it’s the big muscles the drive the most results. Your body is a sophisticated machine. For optimal performance, the main engines must be the strongest, and that applies whether you are gaining muscle or burning fat.

Anderson: As you age, the stronger you make your bicep, the worse your skin [under your arm] is going to sag. You can’t ever get to it because the [bicep] is too overbearing. It’s like your muscles get in an abusive relationship with themselves.

No, your muscles are not abusive. A better comparison would be saying they are more like your parents: always looking out for you, keeping you safe, and trying to help you have a long, prosperous life. That’s not an opinion, it’s science.

Research has suggested that muscle mass — not BMI — is a better predictor of longevity. Anderson criticizes muscle gain as something that is bad, even though we have a growing amount of research that shows gaining muscle helps you live longer.

So why would she tell people to lift tiny weights that would force someone into a plateau that wouldn’t allow them to challenge their muscles appropriately? [That’s a real question because I don’t have a good answer.] Working your muscles does not make you a bodybuilder. And yet, Anderson tries to perpetuate that myth, even though there’s plenty of evidence of the importance of weight training for fat loss.

We also know that your muscles need intensity to grow and be challenged. There are many ways to accomplish this, but inevitably “progressive overload” — the idea of using heavier weights (which is a relative term) is needed as your body adapts. Does heavier mean a woman has to lift 400 pounds? Of course, not. At the same time, there are plenty of women that do lift 400 pounds and look fantastic.

Which leads to another problem, Tracy: in an age of mindfulness, vulnerability, and body acceptance, how dare you tell any woman how she should look. Using heavy weights do not make you bulky. That’s more determined by someone’s genetics, body frame, and a host of other factors. Heck, research is even going so far to suggest that our genetic code predisposes certain people to be heavier. And yet, you insist your doctors and scientists know otherwise?

There are far too many women who lift heavy and look great for all different body types. And if you insist that the “long and lean” look doesn’t apply, please check out Ben Bruno’s Instagram account. He routinely shows his clients — including Victoria’s Secret models — squatting and deadlifting hundreds of pounds. Pink dumbbells sold separately. And apparently, so are your lies.

More to the point: if someone thinks that “bulky” or “muscular” or “strong” is beautiful, who are you to make them think that their preference is wrong with fear-shaming tactics? Making those people feel that their way of life is unhealthy and dangerous for long-term health is unacceptable.

Anderson: “In research, the number of muscles in our body keeps going up because [scientists are] starting to look at smooth muscle differently. We need to be connected. Everything needs to be called into action, and our brains — which remain one of the most mysterious objects in the universe to this day — have got to participate.”

What does this even mean? We know that exercise helps brain health. It’s not that you have to explicitly use your brain during exercise — that’s assumed. Just as you can’t shut off a big muscle, you can’t shut off your brain. Doing movements, listening to music, lifting objects….they all stimulate your brain directly and indirectly.

Here’s a clearer picture of reality: exercise — and weights in particular — helps your brain work better. A 2010 study in Archives of Internal Medicine found that women ages 65 to 75 who did heavier resistance training sessions once or twice a week improved their cognitive performance, compared to those who only used light weights. What else was surprising? Those “toning” exercises were actually associated with a slight decline in cognitive performance. while those who focused on balance and tone training declined slightly.

The reason isn’t surprising. Brazilian researchers found that strength training for 60 minutes, just 3 times per week can improve short- and long-term memory and improve attention as you age. The researchers propose that the technical aspects of the lift challenge your brain in different ways that can help brain health.

Anderson: The work I deliver is not something that is damaging the muscles; it’s something that is actually good for you to do each day.

Muscular damage is a good thing. During a strength workout, your heart contracts forcefully to push the blood out. Like all muscles, when the are challenged small tears are created in your muscle fibers. Your body then repairs those tears, and your muscles grow and become stronger. But the benefit is bigger than that.

Our hearts also function like machines. And some research suggestions that we only get so many heartbeats. If you’re interested in living longer, some scientists suggest that exercise can play an important role by helping lower resting heart rate. And weight training — the type that Anderson criticizes — makes your heart more efficient at pumping blood and can slow down the number of beats you have per day, and potentially extend longevity.

The benefits don’t stop with your heart. Working with weights can also improve your glucose metabolism, which can reduce the risk of diabetes (a growing problem worldwide). Strength training boosts the number of proteins that remove glucose from your blood and shifts it into your muscles. The result: your muscles have more energy and your blood has less circulating glucose.

Anderson: Or people flinging kettlebells — you don’t really know where the force is ending up. I see more people with injuries in my studios from kettlebells than anything. It seems like everything [has gotten] very extreme.

Well, Ms. Anderson, if you see people in your studios suffering kettlebell injuries, maybe the responsibility is on you to provide better instruction on how to perform the movements, right?

There is nothing inherently dangerous about kettlebells or any other weight equipment. Someone can get hurt doing yoga or bending over to pick up laundry if they do it the wrong way. Contrary to your suggestions, kettlebells can be a joint-friendly way to burn fat and improve cardiovascular fitness. In fact, research from the American Council of Exercise found that kettlebell exercises can burn calories at an incredibly fast rate, up to 20 calories per minute, or 400 calories in an intense, 20-minute circuit. For context, that’s the equivalent of running a 6-minute mile, but without any pounding on the joints and ligament in your knees.

Using them as a scapegoat is not the answer. If people are hurt by an exercise it almost always means one of three things:

  1. The exercise was performed incorrectly, and proper form should be taught and mastered
  2. Too much weight was used causing a breakdown in form and increased likelihood of injury.
  3. The exercise was fine — technically — but the person doing the exercise had a weakness that led to injury. Strengthen the weaknesses, improve movement, and then retry the exercise.

Blindly stating that a piece of equipment — one that offers so many benefits, can be done in any range of motion, and has been successfully used for a long time— is a dangerous and careless accusation.

Full Disclosure: The Real Anderson Method

Let’s be clear about why people probably see results from following the “Tracy Anderson Method.” It’s not the “fitness rules.” It’s her diet approach. The same one that she highlighted in books like The 30-Day Method. The same one that works for a very simple reason: starvation.

Many people have shared their experiences following the plan, which routinely tells people to eat 700 calories per day. 700!

That’s not a diet. It’s punishment. And that’s just the beginning. The diet also spreads more lies about healthy vs. unhealthy foods.

To quote a passage from The Cut, your diet advice includes gems like this:

I can’t even eat yogurt, nor can I have a tomato or a strawberry! They all cause allergies!

False. People have allergies or food sensitivities, and eating those foods trigger the allergies. The foods are not allergen-creating.

Put another way: there has been a lot of talk about wheat and gluten. If you have a gluten allergy, you definitely need to stay away from it. But if you don’t it’s fine to eat. Same goes for dairy, tomatoes, and strawberries. Having people stay away from those foods is insane. Take dairy, which can be part of an effective weight loss plan.

Anderson is committing the same crime as so many other diets: offering magic bullet solutions, using buzzwords like “superfood,” and making people terrified of foods that are perfectly healthy.

If research has taught us anything, it’s that lots of approaches work to achieving better health. This study looked at different diet protocols, and showed that they all work. And that the deciding factor is what allows for more compliance.

Draw the Line: Health or Hype?

Before her army of followers and fans come to her defense, I’m not just picking on Tracy. I’ve taken issue with a Harvard researcher’s theory on belly fat and obesity, revealed the big lie in the detox industry (so bad I addressed it twice), and also dissected Tom Brady’s diet plan. I care about helping people by making sure they are not weighed down by the stress of bad information.

I’m also not suggesting she hasn’t helped people lose weight or even created a “fun workout.” I’m a big believer that people should do the activities they enjoy. And Tracy wouldn’t have studios, DVDs, and celeb clients if some people didn’t see results or enjoy the process. (At least, I hope they enjoy it.) I’m not here to debate that because I can’t.

But I can make it clear that her theories are irresponsible and inaccurate. That’s her responsibility when she shares her thoughts with millions, and it’s something she has so recklessly ignored and used to take advantage of people who blindly accept the advice of “celeb trainers.” It’s time for everyone to know the truth, and it’s not something any testimonial can protect.

Good Information or Deceptive Marketing: You Decide

Exercise physiology and nutritional sciences are complex topics that are oftentimes boiled down into sound bites. And it makes sense: you’re not a scientist. So you need information you can use. I have no problem with this, as long as the information is accurate, safe, and helpful for long-term success.

By those measures, Tracy Anderson is more problem than solution.

She is offering opinions with no scientific backing other than her own ideas. Respected exercise scientist, Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D, went as far to post on Facebook that,

Pretty much everything that’s wrong with the fitness training profession summed up in one fallacious article; it’s “exhibit A” why we need a required set of education standards to be a fitness professional.

Hero worship is a dangerous act. I don’t care if you’ve been training Gwyneth Paltrow or Hercules himself. (The real one, not The Rock.) Bad information is bad information. There is a social responsibility to protect the health of people you are trying to help. She’s selling a false representation of how the human body works to support her style of fitness — a style that is so different, that if people were to follow her advice they would probably only have one option…her boutique.

Enough is enough.

Tracy: Run your studio, work with your clients, and do what you feel is best, but you can’t continue to hide behind your celebs.

This isn’t a game. And it’s bigger than your business. This is the health of others, and your careless comments are now part of the problem. It’s time to stop.

Tired of lies in the fitness and nutrition industry? We’re discussing the nonsense and offering better solutions here.