Sept. 30, 2010— -- Jane Fonda, fitness queen of the '70s, invited exercisers to "feel the burn." Now, 21st-century shape-up guru Tracy Anderson urges her followers to get to their "teeniest, tiniest point ever."
Is this progress?
Depends on whom you ask.
To her legion of fans -- nearly 12,000 on Facebook alone -- Anderson is a workout genius who gets results. She's best known for turning big stars into small ones; high profile A-listers like Shakira, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston rave in the press about how she's slimmed and sculpted their bodies to perfection. Gwyneth Paltrow thinks so much of her that she's financed her studios in New York, Los Angeles and London.
"Her method is completely different from anything you've ever tried at the gym or in other classes," says Emily Dunkin, a 24-year-old Anderson devotee from California. "It feels kind of dancer-y and makes you feel strong -- plus it challenges your brain."
Dunkin says the best thing about the "Anderson Method" DVD series is that she doesn't dread the workouts. That's good, because the program requires a lot of time and dedication: at least 90 minutes a day, six days a week, and another 1-2 hours daily for meal prep.
"The commitment is one of the big reasons why it works," Dunkin says. "You can't get into shape by doing 20 minutes of cardio, three times a week. You have to put in the effort to see the changes."
Since she started using the DVDs a year ago, Dunkin says she has lost 15 pounds and now has the flat stomach and defined legs she's always dreamed of.
She also suffered from a shoulder injury that sidelined her for more than two weeks. And, in fact, injuries seem to be epidemic among Anderson's followers. Mixed among the praise and success stories on her Facebook page are questions about Achilles tendon ruptures, muscle soreness and back pain.
Sandra M., a professional in her thirties, joined Anderson's New York studio, but chronic shin splints plagued her from the start. Despite the pain, many of Anderson's instructors encouraged her to push through and keep going.
"There was a lot of incentive to continue because you can't freeze your membership or get your money back," she says.
Strenuous Workouts Led to Injury, Some Say
Sandra says she found the routines too high-intensity and too unstructured and many of the exercises ill-conceived and poorly executed. When that searing pain in her ankle turned out to be a stress fracture, she says, she quit, getting a doctor's note to help break the contract.
"The worst part was, after all that I didn't lose any weight and my body looked the same."
Anderson's diet also takes a lot of heat for being too low-calorie and light on nutrition. It can have users consuming 800 calories per day, with virtually no carbs or fiber to speak of.
"This is neither safe nor sustainable, especially when you are doing this much exercise," says Katherine Farrell, a registered dietician with the Manhattan Physicians Group in New York. "In fact, this is a risky diet whether you exercise or not."
Even her supporters grumble about the meal plan, especially readers of her new book, "Tracy Anderson's 30-Day Method: The Weight-Loss Kick-Start that Makes Perfection Possible" (Grand Central Life & Style, 2010). Besides being too little to eat, they complain that the ingredients are expensive, hard to find and oddly specific, especially because they aren't supposed to make any substitutions. Apparently it's all too much for even Anderson herself -- she admits in the book that her personal chef whips up all the recipes and does her food shopping.
But it's the "teeny tiny" mantra that brings the most wrath, especially from other fitness professionals.
"Tiny is not a fitness goal! It's a mind game and the least empowering words I think I've ever heard from another woman in the fitness industry," rails Terri Walsh, owner of TW TRAINING NYC personal training, located blocks away from Anderson's Manhattan studio. She trains several former Anderson clients.
Walsh thinks it's dangerous and cruel to disparage women for not trying to be as small as they possibly can and she questions the motivation behind calling them lazy for getting cellulite as they age or not bouncing right back after pregnancy. "It's irresponsible and screams dysfunction," she says.
'Teeny Tiny' an Imperative, or Just Motivational?
Anderson counters, "By 'teeny tiny' body, I have always meant that my method makes you strong but will not bulk up your muscles or add to your frame. The workout is designed to create long, lean muscles that will look great on strong yet feminine figures of any age. It's about having a workout which gets you to your strongest point but won't create bulge or give you a bulky, muscular look."
But even many of her super fans don't always buy it.
"Oh, I don't take the teeny, tiny thing seriously at all," Dunkin says with a laugh. "I know it's not the healthiest. It's just a gimmick and some of the girls find it motivating."
She says realizes the idea is to exercise in order to stay in shape, and that she knows making your body suffer is never a good idea. Still, despite her satisfaction with her lean, toned frame, she admits she wouldn't mind shedding another five pounds.
What do you think? Have you ever tried Anderson's workouts or diets? Do you think she works miracles or is she pedaling snake oil? Please post your comments below.