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THE SECRET BEHIND THE BAR METHOD’S HIGH QUALITY CLASSES

Kristen Williams edit

Kristen

Samantha Elizabeth edit 2

Samantha

Bar Method studios have grown to more than 90 in number, and the quality of our classes, to hear it from our students, remains as high as ever.  “I can always count on getting a great workout no matter who is teaching,” Samantha, a DC student, posted on our Facebook page. Fresno student Kristen told us in her post: “I’m in love with the concepts of bar method, also, the high standards that each location and instructor is held to.”

How does The Bar Method manage to keep growing and keep our teachers at the top of their game? We begin with a comprehensive training program, but our focus on quality really kicks in after our teachers begin teaching. That’s when The Bar Method’s unique evaluation and coaching system comes into play.

We developed our evaluation system five years ago when our family of studios was still small. I would travel around to watch classes and noticed something interesting. When left alone, teachers usually got better at some things, such as confidence and “flow.”  At the same time, even our talented and dedicated teachers could actually get worse at other things, that is, unless Sharon evaluating editthey received regular feedback. One special challenge exercise teachers face is that they must repeat similar instructions class after class. Over time, that good bit of verbiage gets put on automatic, and teachers can stop hearing everything they’re saying. On top of this, they could develop “tics,” phrases unconsciously said over and over such as “that’s it,” “great job” and “good!” Teachers could also develop blind spots in their teaching. One example is getting into the habit of never looking at a certain part of the room. Any student who happened to be standing there was therefore not getting noticed. This slippage is not the teachers’ fault! All of us need guidance in order to stay alert and focused. What’s more, I was happy to see that feedback could play a positive role as well. Constructive guidance helped teachers to deepen their understanding of the technique, hone their flow, sharpen their observation, and become more creative motivators. This last component of growth gave teachers an exciting opportunity to become masters of their craft.

Jen and Sharon at meeting Aug 14 2015 edit

Master trainer Jen Hertsenberg and Sharon

To these ends, every year, The Bar Method now sends a team of national evaluators to every studio to evaluate/coach, and give guidance to each one of our approximately 1000 teachers. Even though I founded The Bar Method, I’m evaluated the same as any teacher (and get just as nervous beforehand!). All of us get a score that is an average of what we receive on a list of skills. Those skills include how well we present the exercises, how well we connect to our students and help them with their form, how motivating and supportive we are, how fun and challenging our choreograph is, and how well we use the music.

Sharon Sabrina Lauren edit

Sabrina, Lauren and Sharon

As you might think, the evaluation process can be nerve-racking to studio owners, but they love the results. “We find evaluations an integral part of success,” says Atlanta studio owner Melissa White, adding that “We were all nervous. At the same time, as a studio, we came out better teachers.” Sarah Kuzniar, who co-owns three Boston-area studios, values the Bar Method’s evaluation system because it validates the feedback she gives her own teachers. “You guys reinforce what we’ve been telling them,” she says. ”To hear it from the outside is helpful.”

I want to say a last word about our 15 intrepid evaluators led by our VP of Teacher Development Sharon Demko and her team members, Sabrina Porter and Lauren Ford. Sharon and her evaluators go to great lengths to assure that every Bar Method teacher receives a thorough and supportive evaluation. They take red-eyes, fight through snow and traffic to show up at 6 am classes, watch teachers all day, then spend more time writing up their evaluations, coaching and giving guidance. Their work is the secret sauce that keeps our classes top-notch. Thank you, guys!

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.