Personal trainer and fitness entrepreneur Tracy Anderson has gotten hands-on with a high-profile roster of celebrity clients who’ve reshaped their bodies to look camera-perfect, but for the new AOL Originals series “The Restart Project,” Anderson’s teamed with client and close friend Gwyneth Paltrow to put the spotlight on everyday women who reshaped their entire lives through their commitment to health.
Each webisode takes Anderson and Paltrow into the lives of women from various walks of life who’ve overcome adversity, injury and personal tragedies, triumphing through diet and exercise.
“These are incredible women who were given situations in life that probably never happened to most of us – from losing a child, to losing a leg, to finding out you have cancer, to you're sleeping in your car,” says Anderson. “The world occurred in a way for these women that was really truly tragic, and they chose to connect with themselves. They chose to bring their minds and their body and their health closer into focus for themselves. They were able to let themselves actually shine brighter through some pretty tough circumstances.”
Anderson hopes that viewers will find inspiration in stories like that of Angela, a woman who worked through the grief of the death of her son by taking up his passionate pursuit of martial arts. She had long taken her children to classes and was frequently asked by their instructor to join in herself, but she always begged off. When her oldest son Matthew, with whom she was especially close, died after inadvertently mixing painkillers with alcohol following a military training accident, Angela was devastated, but she forced herself to pull things together for both her other children and herself. Almost unconsciously, she says, she found herself enrolled in martial arts courses with her son’s trainer. Ultimately, it provided her with a way to rebuild her life through creating a strong body and an equally strong will.
For Anderson and Paltrow, the Ryan Seacrest-produced series provided both an eye-opening look at women’s potential for remolding their lives in the face of turmoil and a sense that everyone faces challenges that can’t be guessed at from the outside.
“[Gwyneth] and I both say we're not people with flawless lives, and we both face things in our lives every day, too, that I think people will be surprised to know,” Anderson said. “It puts things in perspective for you. Like, ‘Yes, I may be dealing with this, but look at some of these women with little to no resources, they showed up for themselves. They dug into themselves and healed themselves. The stories were really beautiful. We wanted it to be a landscape of women so that people could watch the series and find somebody that they really identified with.”
“To be able to show women, to show even my audience, “Look, this girl lost her leg - Come on: look at yourself in the mirror and figure out how you can create balance where there's imbalance in your health,” says Anderson. “And from that angle, I really was excited to be a part of it.”
Working on the show provided a new element to the mission the duo are trying to build alongside their careers – Paltrow’s as an Academy Award winning actress and a lifestyle advocate through her popular website Goop; Anderson’s as a top-level fitness expert, instructor, author and owner of several training centers.
“It brings a deeper conversation to the table for us and what we do for our partnership,” she explains. “We want to help transform lives. We don't care about how many celebrities may come and do my method. We don't care about getting people red-carpet-ready in two weeks or bikini-ready in under ten days. ... We care about people's health and all the layers that go with it. A project like this gives us the opportunity to kind of check in more with what we're doing and what direction we're going and how we continue to develop the tools that are going to help better people's lives.”
“I'm really interested right now in going to the step before people come to fitness, because it's an important step that people don't come to in the right way,” she adds. “What they do is they say, 'Oh, I'm looking at this magazine, and I wish I had that girl's butt or that girl's legs’ ‘I wish I had that’ or ‘Why don't my lips look like this?’ And it's totally from the wrong place.” Anderson says that rather than trying to emulate another’s look or physique, motivation should stem directly from someone’s specific physical, mental and emotional needs. She advocates getting as much information from all your health resources as your means can provide and building self-specific diet and exercise plans from there.
“Gwyneth and I believe in the emotional connections to life and food. We both are not fans of extreme dieting and this whole vanity-driven, multi-billion dollar industry… because there are a lot of things in the world that are packaged as healthy that are incredibly unhealthy. We like to lean into the people who are researchers doing really great work in it, and with food, we have an eat organic – not processed – foods mindset, of course. And obviously, you have to connect to yourself, four to six days a week, and not hop around. You are how you move, just like you are how you eat, and you need to be focused. You need to not hop from trend to trend to trend.”
Amassing a celebrity clientele that’s included Madonna, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Richie and Ashley Green, Anderson formed a particular bond with Paltrow. “The thing that makes it work is that we both have growth mindsets: Gwyneth doesn't have a fixed mindset, and I don't – I never stop learning, and she never stops letting me teach her,” she says. “She knows that you're only going to get out what you put in, and you can either listen to me as an expert, or you cannot. And she has just chosen to listen, so she's getting the results.”
The first two episodes are available now at Restart-project.com. Two new episodes will premiere each Monday for the five-week run of the series.