P90X creator on fitness over 40: 'Aging is for idiots'

Tony Horton is happy to tell anyone who will listen that he's turning 59 next month.

The creator of such popular workout programs as the P90X (and P90X2 and P90X3) and 22 Minute Hard Corps, Horton found his success by telling others that they don't need to be perfect.

No question, his workouts are hard, in some cases extreme, but there is always a modification and never an expectation of perfection. The idea is to work toward success on a regular basis, something he practices himself, even as he approaches his 60s. His mantra: "Do your best, forget the rest."

His other mantra: "Aging is for idiots."

I spoke with Horton one afternoon in the main gym at Santa Monica, California-based Beachbody, the multimillion dollar fitness company that asked him to do a video 17 years ago and never looked back. Now, videos are just a part of Horton's health empire. He has authored three books, visits military bases around the world, and recently launched a skin-care line. He is also embracing social media, with nearly half a million Facebook followers, almost 200,000 on Twitter and over 100,000 on Instagram. His posts are mostly inspirational, with the latest ones showing him climbing a pegboard wall or doing infinite pullups with the caption, "Your turn."

Here are some excerpts from the conversation:

TONY HORTON: "Early on, when I started, I was a guy who trained celebrities one on one, so this was before there were cellphones, you know what I mean? You had to pick up a can with a string and try to hopefully communicate with people — a thousand years ago, I mean that's back in the '80s, you know. A lot of things have changed, but if you want to progress in this world, you've got to learn these things, you've got to learn about Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and how to communicate, and what resonates and what doesn't. I mean, it's just a trial and error thing. So I also have good people around me, you know, it's not like I'm responding to everything. I do the work of actually communicating, putting out the videos, and writing the copy and the text, but I have people who know what hour to put it on, and who to send it out to, and what copy is good, or what video isn't good. And so we're not batting a thousand with social media, it's still an experiment.

I think it's still in its infancy. A lot of people are thinking alright, you don't want to sell too much. You know, we get into 'the tell,' right? But then when it becomes too much about 'the sell,' then, you know, people are getting mad. Your fans get mad, they go, "Stop selling me things. Just tell me the truth about what I need to do to be healthy and fit and strong and improve my immune system!" And so, you know, we're still in the learning process but I think we're doing OK.

ME: But it's more competitive out there today. You can go on YouTube, there is stuff for free, your marketplace is now much more competitive than it was when there were a couple of DVDs in the $9.99 rack?

HORTON: I had great success with P90X, and 11 years later, 22-Minute Hard Corps is the biggest thing I've done since then. Somehow, even though I'm 58, I'm still relevant, because I'm always trying to do state of the art, I'm always thinking about muscle recruitment, proprioceptive and functional fitness, and things that help people not look good in the mirror, or not care about what other people say about them, but really it's all about, for me — I think the reason why my stuff works is because people just feel better, have more energy, they're more productive. It's not just a physical thing, it's a mental and emotional thing, and that's what health and wellness is.

There are a lot of people who still treat this stuff like it's rocket science or this hardcore screaming and yelling, being perfect, everybody-looks-perfect-nobody's-sweating kind of thing. That's not my thing. I think people like my stuff because I show the modifications, I have a lot of fun in the process, and not everybody is doing everything perfectly. They're all struggling, and they're all being real, and they're being authentic, and that's the reason why I'm still going strong 17 years into this thing.

ME: Why do you think there is this explosion of "boutique" fitness? The Pure Barre, the SoulCycle, the CrossFitWhat do you think of this new industry?

HORTON: Well, you know, one size doesn't fit all when it comes to fitness and health and wellness and diets and all that sort of thing. You know, we hit a certain niche, a pretty solid one, one that involves millions and millions of people, but some folks just like that social atmosphere of a gym, they want to go to the spinning class, and hang out with their pals, you know what I mean? Or they want to go to a cross-fit gym and be competitive. Or they want to go a body-building gym and see how big they can make their arms. I mean, I'm not here to criticize anybody. If you're moving and grooving and eating better, and you're not a part of the health-care issue, then rock on, do your thing

If there's spinning and Pilates and you know, hip-hop yoga, great! I might kind of dabble in those areas; I like to go into boxing classes because I learn something. I got to yoga and Pilates classes because I learn something. And I steal all the good stuff and make it my own, you know? And that's what this whole industry is. You can't reinvent the pushup. So the idea here is to stay open-minded, look what other people are doing, and see what resonates with you, and how you can transcend that to other people.

CNBC's Diana Olick holds her own on pushups with fitness star Tony Horton
CNBC's Diana Olick holds her own on pushups with fitness star Tony Horton

ME: In one of your tweets, you said that in order to be successful, you have to have failures. What is your greatest failure?

HORTON: Greatest failure after I became successful or early on when I was failing left and right?

ME: After you became successful, it's more interesting.

HORTON: I would have to say that my greatest failure presently, now that I'm (air quote) successful is the fact that I'm not in the moment as much as I'd like to be. I'm not as present. I don't enjoy the journey. I preach that, I try to strive for that, but I think quite often I get a little too stressed out about the whole thing, about the ominousness of it all, and that would be one area where I struggle. Besides, I don't smoke pot, so I can't relax as much as I'd like.

ME: At almost 58 years old, how do you stay motivated?

HORTON: Ah, motivation: The fear of having to go back to where I was, which was a miserable, sad, procrastinating, unproductive guy. You know, the one thing that I learned after I came out to California from Connecticut was that I could control two things, and that is what I put in my mouth and whether I move or not today. If I did those two things relatively well, without judging it along the way, I ended up being more productive, more enthusiastic, I had more energy, and I had a greater propensity to solve problems. … I sleep better, I just feel better, I'm more productive, and you know, the obvious is the fact that I can climb ropes and peg boards and sprint on tracks and things with guys half my age.

ME: The active baby boomer wants to keep moving, wants to keep exercising, wants to stay fit, but what should they be doing because maybe they can't do the 22 Minute Hard Corps because they can't crawl on the floor when they're 65.

HORTON: Well, you know, there's any number of things, there's a myriad, a panoply, a cornucopia, literally, of choices. We were talking about that earlier. You know, you can walk down the streets of New York City, and there's a gym every 30 feet with some kind of new way to work out, right? So, you have to find the one that resonates with you. The reason why most people make mistakes is they jump on board to some trend that doesn't really feel right to them, and they feel like a failure because they can't fit in with everybody else. Uh-uh. We just need to try over and over and over again, you know. You have to kind of love what you do.

There is a certain amount of faith required. You have to believe in the process, you have to believe in what it does, you know. There's so much out there, in the news, every night about what fitness does for you, or what, you know, a better diet does for you. It's everywhere now, I mean look what major corporations are doing. They're getting rid of the fat, sugar, salt and chemicals in their foods, trying to make them more whole, more natural, less filled with all that garbage. So it's in the air, right? I mean, you have to be willing to learn, and most people stop learning after high school and college, and figure they know all the answers, right? But they can't figure out why they're so miserable. They've got money and cars and things and friends, but they're depressed a lot of the time, they can't climb a set of stairs. The thought of going skiing or snowboarding or rock climbing or mountain biking is gone for them, and they're only 45 years old. It's insane.

What do baby boomers have to do? They have to figure out a way that works for them. Are you paleo? Are you vegan? Are you flexitarian? Do you like Indian food? I don't know. Figure out how to make all those things taste good, do that on a regular basis, and move five to seven days a week and hello! You're deep-sea diving in the fountain of youth.