Patience is a virtue. And fitness is achieved over time, not overnight.
Those are the founding pillars of Trumbull High School graduate Tony Horton’s personal training business and home-exercise regimen, P90X.
Brick-by-brick over the last 30 years, Horton has been building up his temple of wellness with one goal in mind: to keep Americans fit.
His dedication has paid dividends, and none greater than the Jack LaLanne Award that he is set to receive Thursday, July 14 at the 2016 IDEA World Convention in Los Angeles.
“I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I heard I would be getting the award — I had goosebumps all over,” Horton told The Times Tuesday, July 12, a day before the four-day convention kicked off.
“I grew up with Jack LaLanne on the TV set of my home,” he added. “I watched my mom watching him — he was an iconic figure.”
Besides being an icon for taking exercise out of the gym and into the home, LaLanne served as a mentor of sorts to the young Trumbull resident, albeit years before Horton would move out to California, where he became a personal trainer to an executive at 20th Century Fox in 1980.
“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of mentors,” said the THS Class of 1976 graduate. “My dad was always on the road and he played more team sports like football, basketball and baseball when I did see him.
“But here was Jack on my TV screen — the godfather of modern fitness — and was transcending the industry, before I could even realize what that meant, and taking health and wealthness into homes for the average person,” Horton added. “He gave everyone the opportunity to get fitter and that’s something I’ve tried to do with P90X, P90X2, P90X3, and now with 22-Minute Hard Corps.”
22-Minute Hard Corps is the latest in a long lineage of exercise videos that Horton has starred in, beginning with the original P90 in 2001. He will present it at the convention this week in front of thousands of fitness professionals in attendance from more than 60 countries.
It’s the same forum he’s been attending the last 20 years to see what his peers in the IDEA Health & Fitness Association community industry have invented.
From small-time celebrity personal trainer to infomercial titan, Horton has reached over 5 million people with his program, including congressmen and a significant number of US military members around the world.
He told The Times that he wouldn’t be able to attract viewers without a key ingredient he learned from watching LaLanne at a young age.
“I think one of the reasons I’m receiving the award this year is how I’m able to communicate to the people watching at home, and that’s something I picked up from Jack — how to motivate someone in a fun-loving and friendly way; to have a persona that’s passionate but also that has a lot of humor,” said Horton, who lives in Los Angeles year-round with his family.
“It comes across as somewhat silly and straightforward,” he added. “It isn’t meant to intimidate, which isn’t a typical technique most personal trainers tap into.”
Horton said that he’s “lucky and fortunate enough to be able to carry that torch” forward from LaLanne.
“What Jack did and what I’ve been able to do is transcend one’s desire to do crunches or squats or whatever,” he added. “The average person doesn’t enjoy working out but that’s our job to find a way to stimulate them and to motivate them to come back.
“There’s an entertainment element to exercise that most people don’t recognize.”
Horton’s roots as an entertainer can be traced back to the halls of Trumbull High School, where he participated in the theater department.
“I couldn’t remember my lines, and I think a lot of that had to do with fear,” he told The Times. “I used to be nervous as a kid…
“I had no clue back then,” he added. “I was just trying to survive day-to-day and hold onto my lunch money.”
The unconfident teenager has undergone quite a transformation over the last 40 years, adapting from the daily “survival mode” of high school to receiving an award at the largest global fitness and wellness event in the world.
“I’ve grown very comfortable in my own skin but I’m still nervous to get up on that stage in front of thousands of people and give that speech,” Horton said.
He said he wishes he knew then what he knows now.
“My problems were primarily caused by a lack exercise and had a poor diet — I wasn’t taking care of myself,” Horton said about his teenage years. “I don’t know what they thought of me, but I was scared and it wasn’t until I went college at [the University of Rhode Island] that my confidence began to build.”
With the 40-year reunion scheduled in October, Horton said he plans on making a homecoming to the town he grew up in.
The last time the fitness guru was in Trumbull was in 2012 when THS hosted him as part of Tony Horton Day.
“It was great to tour the town and the high school — it was a real blast,” he reflected.
“How have 40 years gone by? I don’t know how that happened,” he added.
A simple message
For those looking to eat healthier, to be fitter, and to achieve a flexibility — physically, spiritually, and emotionally — that they could only dream of in their young adult years, Horton has a blunt message.
“Aging is for those who don’t know better,” he said.
“I’ve never been stronger and more confident than I am today,” he added. “And to achieve that level of confidence, it’s really as simple as telling yourself that you can be better than you were when you were younger.”
But it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
In speaking to The Times, Horton revealed some of the biggest modern misconceptions in the areas of fitness, nutrition, and wellness.
“The first one, and probably the biggest, is to have high expectations — that you have to do every exercise well right away,” he said. “Nothing is more harmful to someone who wants to workout and achieve a certain level of fitness.”
The Trumbull High grad emphasized that part of lowering the expectation bar is not caring what others think.
He added that there’s nothing wrong with not being good at certain exercises.
“But that doesn’t mean you quit doing them,” Horton said. “Failing to modify exercises is a big problem I see all the time — you need to be able to do it with a certain degree of comfort, and that means modifying something so you can actually do it. Modification is huge to long-term success”
To reach a level of sustainability, Horton pleads that those who workout need to stretch before exercising and pace themselves.
“Doing too much too soon will always lead to injuries,” he said. “People are afraid to back off and that’s when they get into trouble.”
Horton said that the other major deterring factor to one’s fitness goals is boredom, which builds from the repetition of doing the same exercises every day.
He recommends having different days and keeping fitness fun.
“It’s all about getting out of your comfort zone and diversifying what you do,” explained Horton. “People plateau partially because they’re afraid to push the envelope.”
And that goes back to not being good at certain exercises.
“Put yourself in situations that you’re awful in,” Horton said. “There’s nothing wrong with diversification.”
Furthermore, the home video personality believes that taking a series small steps is the only way people can get good at something.
“You can’t go from kindergarten to grad school,” he said. “Exercising is no different, just keep plodding along. Sometimes it’s a one-year journey; for others, it’s a five-year journey. Just be patient and the results will come.”
Taming the ego — “a deceptive force that makes all bad decisions for you,” according to Horton — makes this a hard message to preach, and an even harder reality to achieve.
“We live in a ‘I want it now’ culture that’s very impatient,” Horton recognized. “It’s not easy to take incremental steps, but you got to know the formula and believe in it.
“It takes time,” he added. “Enjoy the journey while you’re on it.”
With lower expectations and reduced judgement on the quality of their performance, Horton said that anybody can get through the tough times everyone feels while working out.
“You have good days and you have bad days,” he acknowledged. “We’re humans; we all experience these emotions. But the key to success is eliminating the bad self-talk — it’s a momentum killer.”
One way to turn it off is accepting that achieving wellness is a challenge that must be endured, like going to school as a kid. There is no alternative, Tony Horton stresses.
“You have to go; you can’t quit,” he said. “Apply that logic to your fitness and diet program and you will go from survival mode to thrive mode.”
And Horton knows something about the former.
“I was not a good athlete — I was bad at team sports, I wasn’t strong, and I lacked confidence” he said, reflecting back on his days in Trumbull. “I was a C-student with a speech impediment who couldn’t get up a basketball court…
“But once I discovered things like rock climbing and skiing and weightlifting, I began to become dedicated to a certain routine and I knew I felt better when I was exercising,” he added. “I learned over time the science behind stimulating the brain and, over time, I found myself having more energy, a better memory, and an improved self-esteem.”
In thrive mode, one can find that, too.
“Work out for you, today, and repeat that message to yourself every time you enter a gym or go for a bike ride,” Horton said. “You will find yourself sleeping like a baby, without any aches and enough energy to exercise as much as anything else you do in your life, whether it’s work, sleep or spend time with the family.”