This featured athlete cites the millions of lives he has changed as his greatest accomplishment. It is ironic that a man with such influence in the fitness world led a childhood that negatively impacted upon his self-esteem due to his physicality. Yes, Tony Horton creator of the fitness sensations Power90 and P90X was initially shaped by bullying and little if any success in any athletic competitive arena. As a youngster, Tony moved five times before entering fifth grade and was not able to establish lasting friendships. Tony reflects, “there's a certain amount of insecurity that came with all those moves. You make a few friends in one place, then suddenly you're moving to a new town and trying again, and before you know it, you're saying goodbye and repeating the pattern all over again. When you're the new kid on the block, you're always going to get pushed around, made fun of and bullied. I was a small kid. I wanted to be more athletic but I just wasn't at a young age. My father was very athletic, but he didn't want to push me like his father pushed him. He just didn't see any reason for it. Part of me wished he had, but that was his choice. No big deal. I was also a pretty lousy student with a mild speech impediment. Stammering made it pretty hard to make new friends. I got my lunch money stolen, I got beat up at the bus stop and all that stuff.” Furthermore, Tony's pursuit of sports was also met with less than remarkable outcomes. “I was on the football team in high school, but I was little more than tackling dummy during practice. When it came to game day, I rarely made the field. I liked baseball and basketball as a kid but didn't make those teams. I was pretty awful really.”
This background certainly had an impact on Tony's drive and determination. Though he dabbled in weight training while enrolled in the University of Rhode Island, it was not until moving to California in 1980 that he seriously embraced fitness. He realized that his balance, strength and coordination were lacking. As Tony reflects, “ I didn't enjoy being weak and puny and lousy at most sports, so I decided to do something about it – functional exercises, weight training and cardiovascular training mostly, with the hope of becoming a better athlete.”
Tony acknowledges that his rise to the top of the fitness industry was a bit of a fluke. He jumped into a car en route to California with a couple of friends after leaving the University of Rhode Island. He had no intention of entering the fitness industry during his transition. The California experience was a distinct contrast from his earlier experiences, particularly when it came to fitness. Tony openly admits that it was the social interactions that initially impacted him. “We had gyms in high school and college, but they were dank and dreary. In LA it was as much or more about meeting people and socializing. LA is where I took my first aerobic class. Wow! Why am I the only guy in these classes?” Tony discovered that this way the best way to meet women in LA. He traveled to different gyms trying Pilates, yoga and step classes. He began to see the metamorphosis to his physicality, which motivated him to continue the pursuit of health and fitness. Tony reflects, “You know, if I didn't do something well as a kid I usually quit, but as an adult, you realize that experience and change comes from going to a Pilates class and being awful, trying Hatha yoga and falling on your face, or jumping on a piece of equipment you've never tried before and learning how to get better.”
These eclectic physical experiences gave Tony the opportunity to synthesize and evaluate the exercises that positively impacted him. The dramatic change in his physical appearance did not go unnoticed. Tony's boss at Twentieth Century Fox took notice of this metamorphose and asked him for his training secrets. In addition, his boss knew rock star Tom Petty. Petty contacted Tony and asked him to be his trainer. When Tom Petty went sleeveless on that summer tour other rockers took notice. Petty's appearance and recommendation led others to seek Tony's training. It didn't matter that Tony wasn't certified yet. He got results. Billy Idol, Sean Connery, Shirley MacLaine, Ewan McGregor, Usher, Ron Howard's daughter Bryce and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen are just some of the celebrities that sought Tony's tutelage.
In spite of Tony's success, he has not forgotten his past and commitment to helping others through his proven methods. “What matters more than anything else, is knowing that you're moving in the right direction, doing what you love, and helping the people in your life feel good and be happy,” Tony reflects. He further explained that his methods are simple, yet many want something handed to them. He affirms, “Too many people are taking shortcuts searching for pleasures that lead to long-term problems. It's simple stuff, but some people aren't willing to do the work. I understand that people struggle with physical activity, and that their parents, teachers and mentors didn't know how to challenge them. As a result they are afraid to reach outside their comfort zone physically, mentally and emotionally. You shouldn't peak in high school. You want to continue to grow and learn well into your 80s and 90s.”
Tony practices what he preaches. He trains daily and varies his workouts based upon the day and the challenges he wants to impose upon his mind and body. While most would exercise their legs through weights and machines, he is not a fan of this type of regimen. Instead, he uses plyometric training. Jumping as high as he can and landing in a low squat has more value for him. Lateral movements and back and forth motions for speed would be one method he employs to generate leg strength and agility. He sees no purpose in sitting in a chair or lying on his belly to perform leg exercises. Instead he uses dynamic athletic movements. His training methodologies can be employed anywhere. You don't need special equipment for Tony's workouts. Instead, you need your body and a willingness to defy gravity. He employs the same philosophy when working his arms. Instead of weights only, he uses parallel bars in his backyard. Walking up and down the bars on his hands. Another favorite in Tony's weekly routine is a nonstop hour-long workout holding a 12-pound medicine ball while leaping, lunging, running, and jumping. And remember that peg board on the wall of your high school gymnasium? Tony had one built and mounted on the outside wall of his gym. Along with rings, a high bar and a finger ladder to strengthen his entire body. There is no rest on Sunday. Tony explains, “Sunday is my gymnastics routine, which runs about three hours. To give you an idea how intense it is, we start by lying flat on the ground and without using our legs, climb a 16 foot rope to the top, do 10 pull-ups in an L-sit position, come down in the L-sit position all the way back to the ground. Ouch!” Occasionally, even Tony will take a break between hard workout days. He tries to train at least 300 days a year.
Tony was a practicing vegan/vegetarian for approximately 15 years. During the past three years, he has modified his diet to preserve muscle and maintain his energy level. Tony's explains, “I look at my plate and I see what my great-great-grandparents used to eat. It comes from a bush, a garden, a tree, and occasionally an animal. If you look in my fridge, you'd see fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats, like your little old grandma used to eat.” He avoids processed foods and chooses whole foods with one ingredient. Red meat consumption is a rarity, and he totally avoids hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages and luncheon meat. He refers to these as cancer-makers. Blueberries, strawberries, kale, carrots, peas, broccoli, salmon and chicken are an example of the one-ingredient foods he consumes. He suggests that with exercise and this type of eating, pounds will fall off for those needing to lose weight.
Tony sites the fitness icon Jack LaLanne as an example of the impact of diet and exercise upon family genetics. According to Tony, Jack's father died at the age of 50, whereas Jack doubled his father's longevity. “You are what you do and what you eat. If you eat crap and do nothing, that's what you are. If you're kicking ass, pushing the envelope, being smart in the process, and eating whole foods, then the odds of living long and strong go way up. Why are you here? To live a long life, or a happy productive one? Longevity is nice but I'll pick fun, productive, passionate and fulfilling over surviving for a lot of years any day.” Tony states with conviction. He encourages everyone to exercise five to six days a week. Not just for weight loss or to look good but more importantly to feed your brain and to improve your present state of well being.
Tony feels the popularity of P90X is directly related to the results that have been documented by users, but also the change and variances offered by the program. This prevents the muscles and practitioner from getting bored and quitting the program. In addition, day 1 participants will have different challenges than the 60-or 90-day user. He describes the program by stating “The athletic movements and skill based exercises are virtually impossible for a lot of folks on day 1, but these challenging exercises will change the body more dramatically if you can stick with it. So, if you can't do jack-in-the-box knee tucks the first week of the program, because you have a hundred pounds to lose, march in place bringing your knees to your hands instead. Do your best and forget the rest, and over time marching in place will turn into jack-in-the-box knee tucks in your final 30 days. Variety and modifications are the spice of fitness. That's why P90X works for professional athletes as well as people with 200 pounds to lose, as opposed to other programs where you're offered few variations which can lead to boredom, injuries and plateaus.
With all of Tony's success and fame, he still gets excited from personal interaction with people who have transformed their lives with one of his programs. “If somebody comes up to me with a smile on their face and an extra spring in their step to show me before and after photos revealing a life altering transformation - that's it. That's magic!”