So this happened today:
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was just so far into La La Land that you just have to kind of laugh because the whole thing is just so ridiculous (and then sneak a look around for hidden cameras in case you’re being Punk’d)? Sometimes I feel like Tracy Anderson, Gwyneth Paltrow’s “fitness guru”/blond muppet impersonator, is that person. Except for the entire fitness industry. She’s most famous for her whack-a-doo statement that “women should never lift more than three pounds” (tell my 30-lb preschooler that!) but she’s also gifted us with such wisdom as “I’ll give you the power to reconstruct muscles” (to quote the Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”) and “A lot of women use pregnancy as an excuse to let their bodies go, and that’s literally the worst thing.” (I think murder’s worse than pregnancy weight. And also Justin Bieber’s artwork. But that’s just me.) And now she’s topped herself yet again – and the fitness industry, cycle enthusiasts in particular, are freaking the heck out.
I love Janice Muppet so so much.
In a recent interview with Redbook magazine, she and BFF Gwyneth talked about how Tracy whipped Gwynnie’s sorry butt back into shape after her son Moses was born.
Gwyneth: But I met Tracy and she was this force from the second I met her. She pulled my pants off. I’ll never forget it. She was like, ‘Oh, my God, wow, I just am so surprised, because you look so good in clothes. I wasn’t expecting this.’ [Charlotte's note: She PULLED HER PANTS OFF?? I've worked with some aggressive trainers but thankfully no one's ever disrobed me. Eeesh.]
Tracy: I thought she’d have a supermodel body, because she was so tiny on top. But her butt was long and lifeless, and she held on to weight in her outer thighs.
Just so everyone’s clear – we’re talking about Gwyneth Paltrow here. This is what she looked like when she first met Tracy. But whatever, people are allowed to do what they like with their own bodies and if Gwyneth felt she needed to workout four hours a day doing dance cardio and tiny arm circles, I will not bat an eyelash. Her life, her body, her business. It’s when they start extrapolating it to the rest of us that I start getting grouchy.
In a second interview with Redbook Tracy explained why she’s against spinning and cycling:
“I have women who come into my office after spinning exclusively for six months, wondering why they can’t fit into their jeans,” she says. “Spin may burn calories in the short term, but if that’s all you’re doing, it’ll bulk your thighs.”
She specifically called out SoulCycle and Flywheel, two extremely popular spinning franchises. Cue the backlash.
But is Tracy right? I think she may actually have a valid point. Kind of.
Let me start out by saying that I don’t spin much and I hardly ever ride a bike. I used to do spin classes a few years ago but I quit and it’s not because I was worried about bulking my quads. Mostly they just never entertained me like other cardio classes like TurboKick and Zumba. But the real reason I’m not a huge fan of bikes is they really really hurt my lady bits. And after five kids, that end does not need any more damage, is all I’m saying. Yeah I know padded bike shorts were invented to solve this very issue but I never found a pair I liked and moreover I just wasn’t that motivated to find a reason to cycle when there were so many other activities I enjoyed more. I’m not knocking cycling for anyone else – and I’ll happily ride a bike somewhere with a purpose – but spinning in place? Not my thing. (Neither is treadmill running in place, for that matter.)
So let’s take apart Tracy’s assertion:
1. Why are bulky thighs a bad thing? I’m being a little facetious – I know that pin-thin stems that are the same circumference at the top as they are at the bottom are the en vogue thing at the moment. But after years of trying to diet my own muscular thighs out of existence, I’ve come to realize there are a LOT of perks to having some lower body muscle. Not only do those muscles come in handy for squatting, lifting and propelling us forward but they also fill out a pencil skirt like nobody’s business! Honestly that’s why I think I’m so drawn to vintage fashions. I’m not saying that thinner-legged ladies are ugly or weak but I am saying that those of us with some meat on our legs are beautiful too. Lots of ways to be beautiful. I hate that she’s using “bulky thighs” as a scare tactic. They’re not scary or bad or ugly. Wear those rad curves with pride! Go buy every skirt in the Banana Republic Mad Men collection!
2. Genetics and hormones probably have more to do with your leg shape than your workout. Lots of the replies to Tracy have centered around Victoria’s Secret models who spin 5 times a week and similar anecdotal evidence. And hey if we want to go that route, one of my good friends who also happens to be a race-winning cyclist has the absolute smallest thighs of any woman I’ve ever met. But it’s also true that there are plenty of cyclists with large quads. Genetics in action folks. And I’ve long said that while I don’t think lifting weights (or cycling or whatever) can make women “bulk out” like dudes – we just don’t have the testosterone – I do think some women can get bulkier than they like. So can cycling bulk your quads? Yes, I think it can, but only if you’re already pre-disposed to gaining muscle and also if you’re eating to support that kind of muscle growth.
3. I think the real issue is in the “if that’s all you’re doing” part of Tracy’s statement. And here’s where I agree with her. If ALL you do is one type of cardio – whether that’s running or cycling or swimming or foot-pedalling your scale replica of the Batmobile – and you’re not getting the results you want then you should definitely consider changing it up. Not only is cycling (and running) very quad dominant but it also is only one type of metabolic conditioning. Also, if weight loss is your goal, research has shown that exercise alone is not usually enough to cause significant weight loss. Mostly because it tends to make people hungrier. And steady state cardio has also been shown to only burn calories in the short term and depending on the duration may even be detrimental to your metabolism. You need some weight lifting in there for overall health! So yeah, if all Tracy’s clients were doing before they met her was cycling I could see how they might have been unhappy with their results. Variety is the spice of life.
In the end I think there are way more reasons to work than for aesthetics. I workout to look good. Yep. But I also workout to help my depression and anxiety, to feel confident, to get stronger, to bond with friends, to meditate, to increase my insulin sensitivity, to help my memory, to help me be a better mother… and the list goes on. So if you love cycling then you cycle! Don’t worry about bulking out – be grateful that your body is good at adapting to what you love to do! And if you hate cycling then find something else to try – life’s too short to miserable! Either way, ignore the advice of blond muppets.
What do you think of Tracy’s statements – flat out wrong or a little bit of truth? How do you feel about spin classes? Anyone else have to repeatedly spell their name for someone??
P.S. This is slightly off topic but the quote from that Redbook interview that really made me go “whoa” was when Gwyneth confessed, “I drank like crazy [when the kids were babies]. How else could I get through my day?” Um…. maybe this explains the Vespa incident? But seriously “drinking like crazy” and babies don’t seem like a good combo. I’d be way more worried about that than a little thigh padding.