How a Struggling Actor Built a Multi-Million Dollar Fitness Empire

Tony Horton is the 57-year-old creator of the world famous home workout regime P90X. He has helped countless people around the world achieve their physical health goals in the comforts of their own home and built a multi-million dollar fitness empire in the process.
Born in Rhode Island and raised in Connecticut, Horton moved to Southern California after college to pursue a career in acting. He took up a few jobs to make ends meet including a short stint as a stand-up comedian and a Chippendales strip dancer. His big break came after he began personal training a 20th Century Fox executive out of his garage for $20 per lesson.
Today, Horton charges $5,000 for a personal workout session and has built an impressive clientele list that counts Sean Connery, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Usher among the people he has coached.
P90X, or Power 90 Extreme, is a 90-day fitness system developed in 2003 in collaboration with California-based company Beachbody. P90X involves bodyweight training, cardio, plyometrics, martial arts, yoga and a nutrition plan. The home program, which guarantees to get trainees into the best shape of their life, sold over 4.2 million copies by 2010.
Doubts in Horton’s capabilities can be put to rest by taking a look at the impressive list of famous clients he has successfully trained in the past. When asked about some of his more memorable clients, Horton laughed and recalled fondly to Nextshark:
“Tom Petty was my first celebrity client. I only had Tom — didn’t have the Heartbreakers — just Tom. I trained him on and off for about 25 years… He’s a great guy, really smart, down to earth. Bruce Springsteen was another one … He and his wife Patty, just regular folks; he’s just spectacular at what he does. He’s got a tremendous work ethic.”
Though Horton doesn’t do personal training sessions as often as before, he says he’ll take on a new trainee from time to time. He jokes, however, that the fee is astronomical so people usually say no. Horton says he charges $2,500 for an hour-long workout and another $2,500 for the consultation and analysis. For five grand, clients get the whole shebang including Q&A, autographs, photographs and a signed book.
When asked how yoga ended up in P90X, Horton says it started when a friend dragged him to his first class in Brentwood, Los Angeles, nearly 20 years ago. On how he would rate the level of importance of yoga in comparison to the other exercises in his program, Horton says without pause:
“What happens with people who get stuck in a traditional training technique is you’re not getting the range of motion, balance and strength combination that you get from yoga. And if you want, there’s a very spiritual thing that comes — yoga is as much mental and emotional as it is physical. A lot of other types of exercises don’t provide all of those benefits. That’s why yoga is the turnkey to the fountain of youth. It really is.”
Horton notices that more professional athletes are incorporating yoga into their exercise regimes. However, he says the common mistake he sees is inconsistency because yoga isn’t necessarily their forte. When coaches do have their athletes incorporate the practice, Horton believes the team has an advantage over ones who don’t.
The P90X fitness guru is currently in negotiation talks with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers about training one of their own. Running back Eddie Lacy recently received heat from Packers coach Mike McCarthy about shedding some weight before returning next season. Horton is confident that he can help Lacy get to where he wants to be and says he would definitely incorporate yoga into the schedule.
“He’s young and got so much going for him. We would do two a day. We would probably hit leg three days a week and do a certain amount of cardio. We’ll include a lot of upper body resistance, so he can burn calories all day long. I would make him do yoga everyday.”
“It would all be about food and supplementation. The reason why he got in trouble in the first place is because he likes to enjoy rich foods — he’s from New Orleans. It’s sort of breaking the mold a little bit to get him to eat different types of foods. Foods that are more nutritious but don’t have the fat, salt and chemicals.”
Horton is understandingly confident in helping his clients reach their fitness goals because he can empathize from struggling with his own weaknesses when he first embarked on his fitness journey. He revealed:
“I think food was always my nemesis … I was eating hot dogs, burgers, drinking Dr. Pepper, having sweet desserts, drinking beer over the weekends. The hardest thing for me was sugar. It’s been eight months now, and I’m not completely off, but I used to have a big bowl of cereal every night. Two or three.
“Then I met my wife — she was making free-range chicken, grass-fed bison, fish … I just fell in love with her and her cooking. Now I eat paleo, vegan, flexitarian, Mexican, Italian. I eat food that my great, great parents would recognize. It doesn’t come from a factory; it comes from the ground.”
According to Horton, many people struggle with maintaining healthy diets because “they make it so black and white.” The discomfort and stress they undergo eventually lead them to revert to their old ways and sometimes even worse.
Perhaps even more surprising, Horton’s diet is free from coffee, alcohol and protein bars. He explained:
“I’ve never drank coffee. People are always going back and forth between ‘coffee is great,’ ‘there’s nothing wrong with coffee,’ and ‘I’m quitting coffee.’ I don’t have withdrawals when I quit cauliflower or broccoli — or coconut water. I don’t have those same issues. If something’s so awesome that when you quit it you can’t even function for a week, what is that telling you?”
As for his future plans and whether he will be introducing a P90X4, Horton revealed that it may potentially be down the road. The new project he is working on right now is called 22 Minute Hardcore, modeled on a military boot camp-style program that involves using body weight, resistance, agility, core, functional and cardio. 22 Minute Hardcore launches in less than a month and has already proven success with test groups, according to Horton.
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