Saturday, November 30, 2013

Don't Judge a Workout by it's Covergirl

The other night I happened upon a stranger's fitness blog while I should have been doing the dishes. The blogger is a huge barre fan from another part of the country and had reviewed a host of far-from-me studios I'd love to try. I was grooving on this blog, thinking I had met a soulmate, until I read something along the lines of the following: "Instructor X had a smokin' hot bod and wow, is that inspiring. Anyone who tells you she doesn't judge a workout by the instructor's body is lying. If you see the instructor is overweight, you instantly ask yourself, am I wasting my time?"

Oh, Stranger Blogger, we were so close to workout synchronicity... then you lost me. Now, I don't mean to pick on Stranger Blogger (even though, let's face it, I am), but really, I couldn't disagree more. Maybe years ago I would have nodded my head in assent to the above statement, but I can now honestly say that I do NOT judge a workout by the instructor's body. Especially since I met Tracy Anderson.

Half of you are wondering who is this Tracy Anderson? And the other half are thinking I must be way cool and connected to have actually met Tracy Anderson. No, I have not met Miss Tracy. No, I'm neither that cool nor connected.

Tracy Anderson is workout guru to Gwyneth Paltrow. (Return to the rock under which you have been living if you haven't heard of her.) These days it seems fitness people need to have a celebrity in their pockets if they expect to make it in this cut-throat world, and Gwyn is firmly installed in Tracy's pocket.
Gwyn and Tracy on one of Tracy's contraptions.
I always work it in heels and a cocktail dress. Don't you?

Gwyn claims that her body had gone to hell in a handbasket after she birthed her second child.  Apparently the lovely, statuesque, thin-as-a-rail Gwyneth looked just awful under her designer clothes, so much so that when Tracy saw her saggy bum she wishes she had taken a picture to show the before-and-after transformation. After a few months of hopping around her posh London home and contorting herself into crazy positions in which she did endless repetitions, Tracy totally transformed Gwyn from beautiful-film-star-with-saggy-bum into beautiful-film-star-with-perky bum.

Gwyneth was so enamoured with said transformation that she went into business with Tracy, whom she calls a 'genius.' Tracy went from kind of a crackpot with a history of shady business dealings to fitness superstardom. Now you can find Tracy's stuff everywhere--from Target to BJ's Wholesale, of all places.

I know some people who absolutely love Tracy's workouts. In case you can't tell from my snark tone, I tried her method after I had Darling Son #2, and let's just say she isn't for me. But if you like her stuff and can do it without getting shin splints, plantar fasciitis, back injuries or triggering an eating disorder, then super. Really, I mean that. There are many types of workouts, and if Tracy clicks with you, awesome. I will say that Tracy's workouts are definitely different, and that can be a nice change if you've been doing more traditional workouts for a while.

But there are really so many bones that people can legitimately pick with Tracy. She says some really insane things. For example: "women should never lift weights heavier than three pounds," "you can defy your genetics," and, my personal favorite, "Some people experience a stage of feeling mushy doing my method. That's just the new muscle schmooshing the fat to the top, then the dance cardio will carry it away." Ok, I'm paraphrasing on the last one, but really, she said pretty much that. She insists that she did really hard-core research, by the way. It's must be kind of like my world-famous exhaustive internet researchtm.

Honestly, though, a lot of instructors say kind of dumb things and I can tune out a fair bit of erroneous-fitness-information-cloaked-as-motivation. The main thing that drove me crazy about Tracy was her CRAPPY INSTRUCTION. Really, Tracy is the worst instructor I have ever encountered, which is possibly why I've heard of a pretty high injury rate associated with her workouts. The woman couldn't cue her way out of a paper bag, and she doesn't seem to feel like she has to. In her book 30 Day Method, she tells of a woman who walked out of her class because Tracy was just looking at herself exercise in the mirror. Tracy defends herself by saying, "I was just watching myself carefully... I was watching my moves, making sure my performance was accurate. That's what I need you to do."

Newsflash, Tracy: This wasn't 'your performance.' You were the instructor. An instructor's job is to shepherd the students through the workout, to ensure they are doing the moves correctly. Tracy doesn't properly explain the moves, doesn't count reps evenly (and I mean, not even close), doesn't even tell you when to switch sides. She may look good, but she's a lousy instructor. If I pay for an exercise video, and certainly if I pay for classes at one of her $900 per month Manhattan studios, I expect instruction. Really good instruction, and for that price, a little something extra... like a cookie.

My point (and I do have one) is that how an instructor looks really doesn't necessarily reflect the efficacy of the workout. There are instructors with absolutely beautiful physiques who are not clear, not motivating, not even safe. And then there are instructors who may not stop traffic, but they do their jobs--and do them well. They're precise, fun, encouraging, knowledgeable and creative.

Add to that the fact that you don't know what instructors are doing besides the workout they're teaching. Maybe they're doing other types of exercise on their own time? Maybe they live on very restrictive diets? Maybe they have a genetic predisposition to look the way they do? Maybe they were hired just because they have the look that the studio owner wants to showcase?

Even if an instructor is a little overweight, that doesn't really mean anything about the workout. Exercise does not equal thinness. People can carry extra weight for many reasons, and those reasons are none of my business. Seriously, you can have a few extra pounds on you and still be an awesome instructor. You can have a few extra pounds on you and still be incredibly fit. In fact, if you can slog through a hard-core barre class with some extra weight, I bow to you. Since barre uses primarily body weight as resistance, this means you are pretty strong.

On some level, I suppose it's natural to assume direct correlation between an instructor's look and the workout she's teaching, but I believe it's wise to regard those thoughts with some suspicion. If you're loving Method A and find the instructor competent and engaging, why abandon it just because she doesn't look like she stepped off a magazine cover? Magazine images are largely fiction anyway.

So please, could we stop all the judging about fat and appearance? If I've paid for a class or a video, I want clear, accurate, motivating instruction. I don't need Barbie.
Now that's an outfit for working it. Way to go, Barbie.
Just provide some decent cueing, ok?


  1. You may have already covered this, but what are your thoughts on Jillian Michaels (or Jillian Rifles, as she is known in my house) and Bob Harper? I really like Jillian's workouts on DVD, though she can be annoying to listen to after a while. Like, okay, I get it, you're really mean and I need to work hard!

  2. I don't think I could even begin to sum up my thoughts on Jillian in the comments section! I do like some of her workouts. Her persona? Not so much.

    In short, ITA with your assessment!

  3. Okay, now you have to do a Jillian post, lol!

    I had a love/hate relationship with TA. I loved what her workouts did for my arms, hated what they didn't do for my lower body. Her 30 Day Bootcamp really worked for me, then I found myself unable to do Meta after 1 try. That's when I moved on to something else.

    1. Oh, don't worry--I'll get to Jillian!

      Tracy was def. an instructor I wasn't going to be able to stick with. I found myself feeling angry because I didn't get what I was supposed to be doing, and she wouldn't tell me. Please--I don't have time to be angry with my workouts.