The Bar Method Myths

As a former business reporter, I have tremendous respect and admiration for journalists. Their stories help guide our life decisions. At the same time, journalists have a responsibility to report the truth since their stories can impact the subjects themselves for the better or worse. Journalists realize this and for the most part do their best to get their stories right.

In the case of The Bar Method, the press has mostly gotten it right, for which I am grateful. Occasionally they don’t, despite their good intentions. Reporters may have come at the story with pre-conceived notions, put style over substance in an effort to entertain, or downplayed the facts to make a personal point. The following three articles are examples of these journalistic pitfalls. All three were recently published and cover a subject I’m especially familiar with, The Bar Method.

Pitfall #1. The Whirlwind Tour

Rozalynn FrazierThe quick tour of many different workouts is a popular story format for exercise reporters. In this scenario, the writer takes one class each at different studios or gyms, then reports on her or his personal impressions. The drawback of this approach is that these reporters usually aren’t fans of the workouts themselves, making it unlikely that they’ll gain any insight on their potential value to their readers.

This is the case with an article written by Huffington Post’s Rozalynn Frazier called “Are Barre Classes Worth The Buzz?” Rozalynn, a long-distance runner, took one class each at five different barre-based workouts. I applaud Frazier’s spirit in taking on this challenging assignment. However, taking a single class at five barre studios is about as useful as attending orientation day at a five colleges to determine the calibre of knowledge their graduates will acquire. Barre fitness classes in particular do not lend themselves to casual “toe in the water” testing. The moves are subtle, the techniques demand some dedication, and the results are huge. A beginner such as Frazier could not possibly have learned from a single class how greatly that class changes its students’ bodies, posture and well being. Nor could Frazier have noticed whether or not each studio she visited keeps track of its students’ progress and supports them over time. What’s more, Frazier is unlikely to have nailed the proper form of the exercises herself on her first try and so probably didn’t feel much happening to her own body.

In the end, Frazier could only come up with one random comment about the Bar Method (beyond what she’d already read on our website). “I was surprised,” she wrote, “given the name, at how little time we spent at the bar.” Frazier completely missed The Bar Method’s most distinctive features: the efficiency of its workout, its exceptional focus on posture and athleticism, and its unique interactive learning environment in which teachers give their students in-class coaching and support. Nothing in Frazier’s investigation touched on these benefits because she could not have discovered them within a “whirlwind tour” format.

Pitfall #2. The Personal Axe to Grind

The New Journalism became popular in the 60s when authors such as Truman Capote, Hunter Thompson and Norman Mailer shifted to a more personalized style of reporting. Today, exercise reporters are using this subjective writing style to better connect with their readers’ feelings of vulnerability when it comes to working out. The downside of this strategy is that the writers can allow their emotions to dictate the content of the story, to the detriment of the truth.

Why I quit the Bar MethodThis is what happened with Sadie Chanlett-Avery, author of an article called, “Why I Quit The Bar Method.” Chanlett-Avery has a masters degree in holistic health. At the start of her article she stated that she would use her barre-fitness experience as “my personal study of fitness and female body image.” This author’s effort to turn her workout story into a statement on women’s self-image was probably what led her to bend the truth to fit her arguments.

Sadie chanlett-avery photoFirst of all, Chanlett-Avery did not quit The Bar Method, because the workout she attended was not The Bar Method, which does not, as she describes, use “pink dumbbells,” lift weights with palms facing down as illustrated in the photo, use lots of Katy Perry tunes, or use the term “trouble-zones.” I’m sorry to say that Chanlett-Avery’s misstatement of the name of the workout that she “quit” was the first of a number of fallacious statements, for example:

  • “Relying on mirrors actually detracts from our awareness of how we move.” In fact, mirrors are an invaluable tool for improving posture, alignment, coordination, for developing good patterns of motion, keeping joints safe and well-aligned, and for teaching the body how to recruit muscles quickly and accurately.
  • “Isolating muscle groups for ‘toning’ perpetuates the debunked idea of spot reduction.” The truth is that millions of people around the world, including dancers, body builders, gym goers, physical therapy patients, and barre fitness students isolate their muscles to tone them, not to “spot reduce” them.
  • Stretching “is another activity that isn’t supported by current exercise science – muscles have fixed origins and insertions, so their lengths don’t change.” This statement is simply untrue. Regular stretching increases muscle length and range of motion. My own physiology textbook confirms that stretching does indeed “elongate” muscles.

What’s most telling about the underlying bias throughout Chanlett-Avery’s story is her evident distain for the very idea of body toning classes and for the students who take them. In the article she complains that the students of these classes wear “diamond rings” and are “chasing an elusive idea of perfection.” Chanlett-Avery might come to terms with the fact that wearing diamond rings is a common custom among married women everywhere, not a sign of vanity as she implies. She should also know that The Bar Method (perhaps not the class she took) is known for its diversity of students and its supportiveness of individual goals.

At the end of the article, Chanlett-Avery said that she is now a satisfied student at Cross-Fit. I’m glad she found the right exercise class for her.

Pitfall #3. Reliance on fake experts

Amy Rushlow headline with yahoo headerWorst among the fallacious articles on exercise I’ve recently come across is one that uses fake experts to distort the truth, possibly for their own self-interest. This article appeared on “Yahoo Health” and was written by Amy Rushlow, a “certified strength and conditioning specialist.”

Rushlow gets it wrong from the beginning in her title, “Barre Method: What’s True, What’s Hype & How To Stay Injury Free,” Rushlow did not fact-check the name of exercise genre she was writing about. In fact, The Bar Method owns the trademark “Barre Method.” It is a registered spelling of our brand name, not a generic term for barre-based workouts.

Nick Tumminello photoIn her article Rushlow calls on three “experts,” personal trainers Marc Santa Maria, Nick Tumminello, and Eric Beard. Using this threesome of obvious non-experts on barre fitness to back her up, Rushlow explains “the facts behind the hype” about barre fitness, most of which are completely false. Here are four of her most egregious misstatements:

  • “There is absolutely no way to increase a muscle’s length through exercise.” Again, this author’s experts need to consult their physiology textbooks.
  • “Doing these isolated, small-muscle-type movements is not very metabolically demanding.” It’s obvious that Rushlow’s experts have never taken the Bar Method, which is a form of intense interval training that has been proved to burn away plenty of fat.
  • “Many of the repetitive movements found in barre can possibly lead to overuse injuries.” Seriously? Barre classes keep students in one position for one or two minutes at a time. Athletes get repetitive use injuries from highly repetitive activities like running and working in poor form over time. Contrary to these “experts’” warnings, The Bar Method is therapeutic and healthy for the knees and lower back, a benefit that has been confirmed by many doctors and certified physical therapists with whom we’ve worked throughout the years. I am 67 years old, have regularly taken barre fitness for 34 years, and have never had a repetitive use injury from the class. Conversely, many of our students come to us from personal trainers or Cross Fit after having injured their shoulders and backs. True fitness experts know that no workout genre is in itself dangerous unless is it is carelessly taught.
  • Last, and most serious of Rushlow’s misguided statements was her advice to her readers to “Limit yourself to one barre workout per week.” No way would that work, as any Bar Method student will tell you. To achieve results, Bar Method students quickly discover that three-to-five classes a week give them the best results, and tens of thousands of our students take this number of classes a week and feel fantastic, many of them in their 50s, 60s and 70s. This age group discovers that our workout is the only one they’ve found that feels good on their joints and at the same time gives them the challenge, support, results and fulfilling class experience that they want.

Regrettably, when Rushlow’s article came out, it caused anxiety among many Bar Method students. Some of them approached their teachers asking if it was okay to take more than one class a week. Rushlow could have spared our students this unnecessary concern by consulting true experts on her subject, among them sports medicine doctors, physical therapists, and barre fitness teachers themselves.

10 replies
  1. mary
    mary says:

    Thanks, Burr, for engaging the critics. There are so many experts out there whose expertise is actually strongly held opinion. Or journalistic opportunitunism. I am using the Bar Method as part of my cardiac rehab program: I feel stronger physically and emotionally. Thanks to the Bar Method, I am getting more fit and everyone is so good and kind. We need more Bar Method, not less, lol

  2. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    It’s so interesting that so many articles were written to debunk the Bar Method. I had my doubts before my first class because I’d read a book that stated clearly how lifting heavy weights (a la Crossfit) was the only way to transform the body and that lighter weights at high reps was fluffy girl stuff that didn’t create results.

    Fast forward a few years… and after finding myself with plantar fascitiis and adrenal issues, I needed a workout that would be compatible with where my body was. A friend (who happens to be a Crossfit trainer) suggested The Bar Method. She is very strong and muscular and told me that the classes at Bar kicked her butt! That was encouraging.

    I hadn’t worked out for months due to my health issues. I went to my first class in January 2015. After the class, my legs were so shaky and wobbly I could barely walk down the stairs to my house! The last time I’d felt that wobbly was after doing squats with a bar bell over my shoulders. I was intrigued. This workout had potential!

    I overheard a woman in the locker room say Bar was “strangely addictive”. For me, that is completely true.

    It’s been 10 weeks now and I my body is changing. My arms are stronger, my back is more defined. The workout is tough but my body craves it… I can’t say that about my past history with bootcamps and other workouts!

    Burr, thank you for creating this. I’m loving it and your responses to the myths articles made me feel even a deeper commitment to this workout.

  3. Alyssa
    Alyssa says:

    As a child of 2 old-school journalists (trained at Columbia Journalism School in the early 1960’s, and true beat reporters), the current state of journalism saddens me. As a former fitness instructor, the types of articles written about in this piece anger me. Why do these folks feel the need to tear down what is obviously an effective and safe form of exercise? Because it’s popular? Because it’s the only way they feel they can justify their own choices?
    I used to do high-intensity, body-pounding workouts. I bought into the “no pain, no gain” mindset for far too long. And then I turned 40, and discovered that those types of workouts were doing me more harm than good. Luckily, I discovered Bar Method. I’m now healthier, and in better shape, than I was when I was in my 30’s. My knee and back pain have vanished, and I am stronger than ever.
    I’ll stick with Bar Method, and leave the trends to others.

  4. Silvia Beham
    Silvia Beham says:

    In order to understand the Bar Method you might need to read the book Mastery, come to class for a year, see your body, mind and spiritual life be transformed. The results for me have been so amazing that my doctor and husband started to prescribe it to some of his patients. I’m not sure where I would be without the Bar Method in Winter Park, Fl. . Having the pain from scar tissues in my stomach gone was good, the pain in my heart, the lack of concentration was more than a blessing. Being able to wear a tank top and a mini skirt at 47 is just a bonus!

    Here is where you would understand what the Bar method really does for you and I wonder if these writers should give it another try, maybe after reading this book written by Burr’s father.

    From a Website:
    The wisdom in George Leonard’s book will have a great influence for many years to come.”
    —Michael Murphy, author of Golf in the Kingdom and The Future of the Body

    Drawing on Zen philosophy and his expertise in the martial art of aikido, bestselling author Gorge Leonard shows how the process of mastery can help us attain a higher level of excellence and a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in our daily lives. Whether you’re seeking to improve your career or your intimate relationships, increase self-esteem or create harmony within yourself, this inspiring prescriptive guide will help you master anything you choose and achive success in all areas of your life.

    In Mastery, you’ll discover: The 5 Essential Keys to Mastery Tools for Mastery How to Master Your Athletic Potential The 3 Personality Types That Are Obstacles to Mastery How to Avoid Pitfalls Along the Path
    . . . and more

    The author of The Ultimate Athlete has spent much of his life seeking to master the ancient and demanding martial art of aikido, in which flaws are magnified and the quick fix is impossible. He soon learned that mastery is a journey, and that the master must have the courage to risk failure.

    Thank you, I’m no longer afraid to fail..


  5. Erum Hyder
    Erum Hyder says:

    I have been doing Bar Method for over 2.5 years. It has completely transformed by body, my back ache is gone, my posture has improved and I am addicted to it like anything. I feel good about my body more than I did when I was in my early 20s.

    It is completely true that you cant judge barmethod by going to five different studios at a beginner level.

    These people should talk to real barmethod customers like myself.

  6. Erin Bulcher
    Erin Bulcher says:

    Hi Burr,

    This is fantastic. I like how you addressed not only shoddy journalism, but also each “argument” they presented. Well done! I agree with Erum above, that if these so-called “journalists” wanted to get some good information, why not ask the clients? I’ve been a dedicated student for 3 years and I’m almost to my 500th class – it they want to know what results look like, send them my way! 🙂

  7. Ebby
    Ebby says:

    Fantastic and politely written rebuttal to the fitness industry sheeple who keep bashing other’s training methods, run, don’t run, lift, don’t lift, stretch, don’t stretch, dance, don’t dance! The cliques/cults in the online fitness industry is actually part of the reason I quit social networking. I cannot stand all these narcissistic “know it all” higher than thou dipsh*ts cutting people down for their own blogs traffic. There is no good fame that comes from shaming other’s lifestyle choices. I also have done barre for the past 3 years and let me tell you, it’s absolutely been a saving grace for my body after babies now that I can’t run as much or lift as heavy after having babies (with diastis recti and an umbilical hernia that came after appendicitis surgery).

  8. Marta
    Marta says:

    This makes me so angry! Like others, I totally bought into the hardcore mindset of macho workouts. I too believed that low weight/high rep was “useless.” After years of injuring myself in various types of these “serious” workouts I went to Bar Method as a last resort. My knees were so bad I could barely even walk for exercise (I am a former runner), my shoulders were a mess, I was as flexible as a 2×4. I told myself that if I couldn’t do a barre workout (because of my knees) I would give up, stop exercising entirely and buy some muu-muus and a bigger TV. Now nearly one year into my Bar Method addiction I can affirm, like the others, that my body is totally changed. My knee pain is 99% gone, my shoulders are strong and stable, I have definition in my arms and abs that I have never had before (I”m 46) and I feel great. It is hard. I get frustrated. But I keep coming back because it is the only exercise that pushes me on every level and in which I have never felt fear of injury. I’d like to see some of those muscle bound “trainers” get through a fully Bar Method class — and even more would like to see them the next day!

  9. Ann Korach
    Ann Korach says:

    Wow, three idiots in fell swoop and the real zinger is the line about stretching and her so-called ‘experts’, ask any ballet dancer(of which I am one, any gymnast, ice skater, footballer, runner, ice skater and the list could go on ad infintum. I am glad you took them on one at a time with your
    strong writing skills and razor sharp intellect. These fools are doing a disservice that verges into dangerous advice territory and the last one is at Cross-Fit , well good luck with that cult as it is one of the single most potentially physical regimes anyone could follow.

  10. C. Erickson (Wellesley, MA Bar Method)
    C. Erickson (Wellesley, MA Bar Method) says:

    Thank you for responding to these writer’s articles on their rather shallow experience with the bar method. I wish their articles had a link to your blog entry for the readers who find their articles persuasive. Hopefully, readers will do their due diligence and find this supportive rebuttal on an exercise I find invigorating, strengthening and empowering. In my youth, I used to be an avid runner and all the training on hard, uneven ground led to knee and hip injuries. As an adult of a certain age, I have been waking up in the middle of the night with pain in my hips. Since participating in the bar method three months ago, I’ve noticed I have been sleeping through the night, pain-free. And my knees feel like they are healing! As though the moves have strengthened the muscular and ligament attachments deep underneath the major quad muscles. (I do realize I am be ignorant of knee physiology/anatomy!) I wish I had had this kind of strength training back in high school when my knees really gave out and I needed to engage in rehabilitation exercises that ended up feeling ineffectual. I have been so grateful for finding the bar method and as long as my lazy glutes don’t start taking over, I’ll be there for my body’s strength, its health and my psyche’s well-being. This is mindful-exercise at its best! Thank you!


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