If you’re into fitness culture, you’ve almost certainly heard of elite trainer and motivational speaker Tony Horton. In addition to working with superstars like Bruce Springstein, Tom Petty, Annie Lennox, Stevie Nicks and Billy Idol, he is the creator of Power 90 Extreme (P90X), a wildly popular home exercise regimen.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Horton has enjoyed tremendous success in life, perhaps enough for several lifetimes. Although the 64-year-old is quick to admit that luck played a role, he says it isn’t quite that simple.
“Luck is opportunity meeting readiness,” explains Horton in a recent interview with Brilliant Thoughts’ host Tristan Ahumada. “And early on when I was unlucky, these opportunities came, but I screwed up, blew it.”
There have been times in Horton’s life when exercise wasn’t the cure-all, but the lessons he’s gleaned on his journey to become a world-famous fitness guru have continued to serve him. And some of the most important are disarmingly simple, like learning when to chill out.
Be receptive to transformation.
If you met Tony Horton in high school, you’d never imagine that he would become one of the most influential fitness gurus in the country. A self-described “nonathlete,” he was more interested in drinking beer and hanging out than working out. All that changed in 1980 when he moved to California to become an actor and was unexpectedly swept up in the exploding gym scene.
When he started acting, his agent told him flat out—you’re too out of shape. He made a commitment to start working out and eating healthy, a lifestyle shift that led him to a revelatory realization: Unlike the high from drugs and alcohol, the euphoric effects of physical exercise didn’t cause a huge crash.
“A lot of people are using sex, drugs and rock and roll to try to get these little temporary highs, and then the downfall is just too tremendous,” he says. “But if you exercise, which means you’re earning it, it’s like, I’m not using a source outside of myself… I am the source.”
After years of missing out on opportunities because he was hungover, depressed or tired, Horton decided to make a change. That transformation allowed him to become the trainer of Hollywood movie executive Harlan Goodman, who would eventually connect him with Tom Petty. This introduction would open the floodgates to a sea of other celebrity clients and push Horton to work from pre-dawn to night.
Listen to the wisdom of your body.
We all have those years where everything seems to go wrong, and for Horton, that year was 2017. Despite the enormous popularity of P90X, he was struggling to negotiate a fair contract with his fitness and media company, Beachbody. Around the same time, the Las Vegas shooting happened, and his friends were among the people in attendance. The day after, Tom Petty died.
Amid these challenging situations, Horton’s physical health started to suffer. He developed Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which occurs when shingles develop in the ear and damage facial nerves, often causing Bell’s Palsy. He developed a ringing in his ears and started having problems with his vision, sense of smell, taste and balance—all critical faculties, especially when your livelihood depends on optimal physical performance.
At this point, Horton couldn’t work out, couldn’t travel, could barely walk. Anxious that he wouldn’t improve, he sank into a deep depression. As his health continued to spiral, he realized that overwork and physical, emotional and mental stress were inhibiting him from recovering. So just like he had done when he first moved to California, he decided to make a big change.
“Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness seemed appropriate, because sometimes you’re in such pain and agony that all you have is your breath,” he tells Ahumada. “What happens is that you have to learn how to relax more, you have to learn how to listen.”
With meditation, breathing and relaxation, Horton began to slowly improve. Now, he doesn’t take for granted the regenerative power of rest and integrates it into his daily routine.
“Last night after the workout, I jumped in the pool, which was icy cold, and then I got in the jacuzzi with Epsom salt baths,” he recounts. “That’s how I have to do that, whereas before, I would just work out hard and drink a shake, go about my day… now I have to do all these extra things.”
Let the pendulum swing in both directions.
At some point, all entrepreneurs face challenges, and many face failure. Horton doesn’t shy away from this truth, but embraces it as a marker of resilience.
“I have 23 failed businesses, you know, from mouth guards to home delivery food services to shoe insoles,” he says. “Tenacity is a snail in a hurricane… my whole thing was just continuing to show up and learn how and when to chill out.”
Entrepreneurs and ambitious self-starters have the tendency to burn the candle at both ends, a drive that Horton both relates to and admires. However, he recognizes that a lack of balance can make people more vulnerable to anger, depression and even sickness.
“The pendulum swings in both directions, at least it’s supposed to, but if we don’t allow it to, something’s gonna break, right?” he asks Ahumada. “Some physical, mental and emotional issues are gonna pop up.”
The good news is that intentionality, balance and rest can help prevent a lot of these issues. That’s why Horton advocates for focusing on the things you can control: the food you eat, the way you interact with your body and your mind’s focus. To him, these things make up the essence of who we are as people and the foundation on which we build out our lives.
Interested in learning more about Tony Horton? Visit his website to tour his many product lines, events, fitness programs and more.