Fitness entrepreneurs come and go — it’s January, so several are probably peddling get-fit-quick schemes in your feed right now — and most of them can only dream to have the staying power of Tracy Anderson. The 48-year-old creator and CEO behind the notoriously sweaty Tracy Anderson Method first began her fitness career in the late ’90s, when she was pursuing a professional dance career in New York. She pivoted into the world of personal training, and after conducting a five-year research study, Anderson launched her famous method, an integration of dance-based aerobics and musclework, in the early aughts. Every week, she creates new choreography to add to her library of over 200,000 moves. In addition to making programming, Anderson is also the creative behind her own wellness magazine, skin-care products, and fitness equipment.
Over 20 years, Anderson’s workouts have made devotees out of such high-profile clients as Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, and longtime friend Gwyneth Paltrow. And neither criticism from some former trainers nor Anderson’s own litigation against a former employee she accuses of copying her method have stopped clients from packing into a heated Tribeca studio for an hour of sweat and status. “There’s not one move in my entire library in 25 years, or one sequence in my choreography, that I would recall. I’m proud of all of it,” says Anderson. “I didn’t go out there and offer something to the public until I had done a five-year study and nine years of research and development. Today, I see people ripping off my work left and right and saying they came up with a method in a month. It’s not possible.”
Beyond her two New York outposts, Anderson’s studio empire extends to Madrid and Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, 11-year-old daughter, an “alarming amount” of standard poodles, and one very domineering cavapoo. Her son is “over a lot,” but lives in Beverly Hills with his girlfriend. “He’s 25, so he doesn’t want to live at home anymore,” Anderson says. Here’s how she gets it done.
On her morning routine:
I just created an upper-body-centered slow-movement practice and energy trainer called HeartStone. It’s so meditative. I use it for 15 minutes in the morning, before I wake up my daughter for school, and when I do it, I find I don’t come at her with this charge of, Get up, it’s time to get up! It puts me in a more gentle space. So now I’ll wake up around 6:30 and I’ll go do 15 minutes of HeartStone, drink my lemon water, wake up my daughter, and have my Bulletproof coffee with oat-milk foam.
On her workout routine (and being part of yours):
People stop me and tell me how their personal lives, or careers, or days, or families have improved so much by having the opportunity to move through their bodies with me. I don’t speak to people when I train them, and I think that’s instrumental in people connecting to their own physical truth. I always work out in the morning. My sweet spot is 9 a.m., unless I have to be up for some major superstar’s routine at 5 a.m. or 4 a.m., which I’ve had to do in the past. That’s not my personal preference of when to work out.
On a typical workweek:
The company relies on me to create movement. There’s the artist part of me and the researcher part of me, who has an obligation to make sure I have a clear purpose behind what I’m going to do and to what end. Then there’s the team that I have to rally and lead. Sometimes a lot of people can be vibrating at me. I’ll say, “Everybody needs to go about their day, I’m going to go create.” I either want to create by myself or in front of a trainer. I cannot create in my studios or with very many people around. There’s probably millions of hours of footage of me in the most random pajamas or sweats rolling around in some part of my house, because the content creation part of what I do is really important, and I have to be in a certain mood to do it.
Each week, I also check in on whether the company needs me to do something forward-facing. Do I need to be on a social platform? Do I need to show up at an event or do an interview? Is it the right time? It’s a constant calculation, very much like your personal health. Each day I look at what imbalances are sticking out at me and tend to them. If something isn’t sticking out, it’s a safe space to start creating.
On managing stressful work relationships:
The thing that stresses me out the most is any sign of betrayal. I know that sounds dark, but there’s lots of people who don’t work on their morals in the workplace. There are successful business leaders who lead in such selfish ways, who care that a lot of people work toward the advancement of their personal wealth. That’s something I’m allergic to. I work toward the health of my company and team as a whole. I trust the people on our team. If there’s any sign of somebody not pulling their weight, or locker-room gossip, or people spending their workday in a way that’s not uplifting each other and our clients — that stresses me out. It doesn’t happen often. I used to ignore it, internalize it, or talk to people I trust about it and sort of brain dump. I used to think I had to save everybody, that I had to keep the team forever. But today I hit it head-on. There’s that old saying, “If someone shows you who they are, believe them.” If people care about a certain kind of culture in their company, and someone shows they don’t share those ethics, have the tough conversations. Don’t be afraid of letting go of people, for their own sake and the sake of the company.
On the advice she wishes she’d gotten at the start of her career:
If you’re going to start a business, and the business relies on your aura/skill/talent/passion, then you are the CEO. You don’t hand over that kind of power to somebody that went to college and got an M.B.A. The worst thing someone ever said to me was convincing me to do whatever somebody else said because that person had more of an education in business than I had. That was the worst piece of advice ever.
On the moment Madonna cemented her success:
I’ve had two moments where I felt like I made it. The first was halfway through my five-year study, and it still brings me to tears today. I started to see women coming to me, who thought their bodies were genetically given and that there was no way they could shift and change them, empowering themselves. They came to me like, “My husband’s been abusing me for years and I’m leaving him,” or, “My parents told me I had to go down this career path but now I’m opening my own restaurant.” And they say it’s because of the work they did with me. They say, “Yes, my butt looks better, my abs look better, but let me tell you how much more my mental health and my body and my whole self is aligned.” The second time was when I got an email signed off with an M, and I realized it was Madonna. I was like, here I am, this little girl from the Midwest who did this big, impossible thing, and it got all the way to her. I must be doing something right.
On refusing to sell out or compromise:
I’m not going to sell out. I’ve turned down four reality shows about myself, because at the end of the day I’m not up for you to edit for ratings or advertisers. I will not be part of that commercial, manipulative wheel; it’s so toxic for people’s health. So the moment that I had protein bars in Target was a low point for me. I’m from Indiana and didn’t come from a privileged background. My mother worked hard my whole life, and I know what it’s like to need access to affordable healthy food. I wanted to make a difference in that space, to make organic fast food that was better for people at an affordable price point. But the process was dark. I kept being led in a way that made me believe they were championing what I was doing. But at every meeting, it was like, “You’re going to have to cut more of the good and put in more of the bad to meet our price point and be worthy of shelf space.” I ended up pulling them all, because I couldn’t get it to a place that I believe in. I didn’t build that business, though there was a lot of pressure to do so because there was the potential to make a lot of money there.
On dealing with self-doubt:
If I doubt myself, I listen to it. I want to hear what the doubt is, and then I want to work through it: Is that just you being insecure? Also, I’m going to be 49 soon. There’s this pressure to not wrinkle and look younger in a way that’s not realistic. So I have a lot of self-doubt, like, Should I go try that laser that everyone says is super-duper painful? But I never do it. I think my self-doubt usually comes from, Should I be doing what everyone else is doing? I feel more comfortable not trying to keep up with the trends.
On balancing work and motherhood:
I’m not the kind of parent who can say, “Mommy has to do this, so you’re going to have to wait.” I can’t do it. I don’t ask any employee of mine who’s a parent to do that. In fact, I’m probably the nicest person to work for in terms of if you’re a parent. I believe that if you can tend to your children’s needs first and foremost, you’ll be an even better asset to the company. So my children always come first.
On who helps her get it done:
Tracy Anderson president Steven Beltrani and I have worked together a long time, and I’ve had to cry on his shoulder many times. My husband has poured so much love, care, and resources into me. He understands what it takes for me to be me. That’s a beautiful gift. And my trainers, who respect my life’s work and choreography and have put their careers in it for many years, they’re all hugely instrumental in me getting it done.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.