“My jeans are tight.” “I’m having trouble buttoning my pants. I’m bulking up!”
I sometimes hear complaints such as these from new Bar Method students. Mostly these comments come from students who are doing strength work for the first time. They are, as they say, “surprised to see muscles I didn’t know I had.” They are clearly acquiring some muscle definition. But are they bulking up? In the long term, no. After six-to-twelve months of classes, most of them will have lost a few inches around their hips and waist and have gone down a few pant sizes.
In the short term however, yes, these students aren’t imagining it. The Bar Method really has made their jeans fit tighter. “Hang in there,” I always tell them. “After about four months, your body will start to shrink down.” I know that what I’m saying is true because I’ve witnessed this yoyo effect many times. I’m also aware that I sound a bit like I’ve got some land in Florida I want to sell them.
The truth is, there are really well-established reasons for this awkward stage, and if students knew them, they would be less freaked out by tighter-fitting outfits and more likely to stick with the workout until the ultimate results come into view. Here then is the true story of what happens inside muscles that cause them to get bigger before they shrink down. (For more on the overall body sculpting results of The Bar Method, click here: HOW TO SCULPT A DANCER’S BODY).
First, after the first few weeks of classes, muscles that were formerly not worked stop sagging and become firmer. “Within 2 or 3 months of the onset of training,” writes Tetsura Tamaki, a Japanese physiologist, “Muscle hypertrophy [growth of muscle fiber]…may be observed.” The effect of this change can be scary. Butts and thighs that had easily conformed to the shape of whatever piece of clothing they were being shoved into now start pushing back against the fabric with a shape of their own.
Second, newly strengthened muscles retain water. We use stress to strengthen them, and the resulting soreness causes the surrounding tissues to swell until things calm down. “Extracellular water increases transiently in the muscle to relieve inflammation of the muscle soft-tissues,” Tamaki says.
Third, fat becomes an issue when you’ve just started shaping your muscles. Students unaccustomed to strength work often start out with a higher body fat percentage than regular exercisers. Unfortunately, fat takes a lot longer to get rid of than muscles do to change shape. So until the fat burning component within the Bar Method workout catches up, students’ old bodysuits of fat are what get showcased by their newly lifted muscles. Yikes.
Last but not least, newly shaped muscles are tight. Think of the way your body felt the first few weeks after starting a new workout. All sculpting exercise basically consists of contractions. Freshly toned muscles, therefore, tend to be bunchy until they allow themselves over time to become more elastic and wrap themselves closer to the underlying bone.
When I add up everything that muscles go through when they’re in the process of changing, I have to admire all the students who have the focus and faith to plow through their first few months without looking back. The slender, sculpted bodies they end up with are well deserved.