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IS THE BAR METHOD “BARRE FITNESS?”

Fitness-June-Cover-242x334An editor at a national fitness magazine contacted our office a few weeks ago to ask if I’d contribute to an upcoming article. Usually, I’m delighted when the press calls, but this time, the subject of the article gave me pause. “Would I write a piece about the benefits of barre fitness workouts?” the editor asked. Her question pre-supposed that barre fitness workouts share the same benefits and that as creator of The Bar Method I would be a good person to speak about them. The truth is, I am not an expert on barre fitness workouts, not having taken more than a few of them, and do not consider myself qualified to talk about their benefits. I understood where the editor was coming from, but I turned her down.

Now if she’d asked me to talk specifically about The Bar Method, I would have felt confident about giving her this list of its benefits:

  • The Bar Method adheres to the principles of exercise physiology and was designed under the guidance of physical therapists. It is thereby safe for the joints and highly efficient at changing the body.
  • Blog on barre fitness 4 editIts workout is mindful. Students experience a heightened mental focus during the class, which helps them to precisely target muscles and gives them increased self-confidence and well-being.
  • Its technique places a special emphasis on posture and good alignment.
  • Its students are multi-generational. The class gives both 20-year-olds and 70-year olds a challenging, result-oriented workout.
  • Its teachers receive among the best training and ongoing guidance in the fitness industry.
  • Its teaching is consistent across all of its studios.
  • Blog on barre fitness 3 editIts studios are beautiful and comfortable environments.
  • Its desk and teaching staff are welcoming and supportive.
  • Its student communities are closely bonded and passionate about The Bar Method workout.
  • Its studio owners are all teachers themselves and serve as mentors and guides for their own teachers, a system that sustains an overall high quality of teaching throughout The Bar Method.
  • Its brand continues to introduce new and innovative Bar Method workouts.

Are these Bar Method benefits also “barre fitness” benefits? I have no evidence that they are. Our students rarely mention the bar (or “barre”) when they tell us why they love The Bar Method. They talk about the results, the quality experience and the supportive community. Take, for example, the students’ comments in this three-minute video recently posted by our Seattle studio, which I admired and share with you here:Seattle video shot edit

All considered, barre fitness may not even be the best classification for The Bar Method. It might be a better fit in an upcoming fitness group called “studio workouts,” a collection of service-focused brands that has gained a reputation for giving its students personal attention, community, results, and a well-honed, well delivered experience. But then, where else but from The Bar Method can students achieve supremely sculpted arms, beautiful posture and increased flexibility? With so many benefits to be gained from taking its class, it may simply be the best workout in any category, bar none 🙂

HOW MUSIC CAN SCULPT YOUR BODY

Pitbull singing "Sexy People"

Pitbull singing “Sexy People”

I have a deep appreciation for power of a great song to energize a workout. When I’m in class about to go into “thigh-work” and I hear the century-old Italian ballad “Torna a Surriento” start to play,  I know that Pitbull is about to jump in and stomp all over this old song with a high energy, joyful rap about “sexy people all around the world.” Blood flows into my thighs and I’m propelled through the reps by the pounding beat of “Sex-y Peo-ple.”

There’s a definite advantage to being able to exercise in this day and time when you can download onto easy-to-use portable music devices a multitude of great dance songs by artists like Pitbull, David Guetta, Flo Rida, Nelly Furtado, Ludacris, Kaci Battaglia or who anyone who inspires you 🙂 ♫

David Guetta

David Guetta

In addition to keeping you motivated and energized, music can optimize your results from working out in a number of other ways. If you exercise to a musical beat, that beat can spur you to move faster. Dance aerobics and some strength workouts such as the Bar Method tap into the power of rhythm this way to intensify their workouts. Pushups in a Bar Method class are more challenging than they otherwise would be because you do them to an up-tempo beat, making each rep more explosive, precise and effective than reps you would perform if you were left alone to determine your own pace.

You can also harness the power of music during exercise to help you change the shape of your muscles. A small number of targeted sculpting workouts, including the Bar Method, put music to work to this end. The Bar Method, for example, teaches students to “find muscles I never knew I had,” as they put it, by training those muscles first to follow a simple beat, then to contract to that beat with more and more precision and power. This technique has enabled thousands of students to tone certain muscles for the first time, an outcome that has been duplicated by research. University studies on movement and music have found that when subjects focused on performing moves to a beat, they significantly increased their strength and coordination. At the Bar Method new  students often initially aren’t aware that training their muscles is a key component of the sculpting process. Many of them start out with a normal level of mind-body awareness but not as much as they need to recruit “hard-to-reach” muscles well enough to change them. So the first few times they try to work these “difficult-to-reach muscles” (the glutes for example), their initial effort is inaccurate and weak. They can’t yet fully engage the muscles and might not engage them at all.

These students can sweat and burn some calories, but they won’t change the shape of muscles as long as they can’t fully engage them. I’ve taught many new students who are just starting out on this learning curve. During, “seat-work,” for instance, their movements are disorganized. They might aim their working leg in a different direction than the one the teacher instructed, or move it slower or faster than the beat, or miss their glutes entirely and bend at their waist, shoulders or ankles. These students simply haven’t yet laid down the neural circuitry they need to execute certain moves with precision and power.

Portland seatwork smallThis ability to locate and fire a muscle quickly and accurately is called “synchronous activation” (see my blog FUN FACTS ABOUT HOW EXERCISE CHANGES YOUR MUSCLES). Bar Method teachers use a number of techniques to help students develop “synchronous activation,”  including adjusting individual students’ form and encouraging them when they improve. Among their techniques is system of training muscles by means of music. Teachers start by playing songs with a simple, clear beat that all their students can follow. Then they make sure to count clearly, accurately and on the beat. Finally, they prompt individual students to “accent the rep,” “make the motion sharper and more powerful,” “make your motion a little larger/smaller,” “hold on the top of each rep where you’re most deeply in the muscle,” and so on. This way, students are able to heighten and fine-tune the quality of their movements. After a few months of this work, students develop the neural connections to their muscles that enable them to fire those muscles deeply, thereby effectively strengthening and toning them. One popular result is a noticeably lifted seat, (for which we can thank Pitbull and Ludacris, in part 🙂

Next week: How to make a great music set with the music you love!

THE BAR METHOD’S ADDICTING BLEND OF STRUCTURE AND NOVELTY

P90X photo 2 edit smallThere are two opposing theories about how best to design an exercise routine. One group of experts says you need to stick with a consistent program. The other side says doing a new and different set of exercises every week or so will give you better results. This debate has heated up within the weight lifting world ever since “P90X,” a home workout program sold by a company called Beachbody, came out in 2003. P90X’s central premise challenged a core tenet of the muscling building world: that you’ve got to repeat the same move over and over again to get results. Beachbody proposed a different theory. Mixing it up is better because, that way “your body will never get used to the routines,” it says. Beachbody named its technique “the science of muscle confusion” and made it the foundation of P90X.

The claim that confusing your muscles works better than plain old repetition threw the hard-core muscle guys into combat mode. Some of their comments were:

Brandon Morrison“You can’t just overload your muscles for a week and then shift the base to other muscles for the next week.” Fitness writer Abhijit Naikand. 

“Muscles cannot be confused, perplexed, bewildered or even a little befuddled,” Brandon Morrison, founder of a fitness company and the website Lift Big Eat Big.  

dr steve young small text 23“Muscle Confusion goes against everything I learned in physiology.” Physiologist Steve Young.

jay cutler photo small text2My favorite tirade against muscle confusion (see http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/muscle-confusion/) is by Jay Cutler, super-pumped four-time winner of the title Mr. Olympia. His witty rant sums up the fury of the body-building world over the suggestion that to buff up you don’t have to work your tail off doing upteen repetitions of an excruciating move.

Does this clash among muscle builders have anything to do with barre fitness? Obviously the goal of barre workouts isn’t to pump your muscles. Nonetheless, both types of exercise are essentially strength-work, and this process, no matter what shape you’re aiming to end up with, demands, in my view, a consistent routine. First of all, I’ve found that you simply have hit a muscle on a regular basis to get it to change. You can’t work your thighs on Thursday and your glutes on Friday. Shaping muscles requires lots of repetition!

learning to target the glutes1And that’s not all I’ve noticed about the benefits of consistency. It also helps you learn to work the right muscles. Any kind of strength work, whether it’s sculpting a dancer’s body or pumping yourself into a Goliath, involves learning how to catch the muscles you want to reshape. This process is not like aerobics, the goal of which is simply to keep your heart rate elevated. Working a muscle requires you to contract the right one, and that’s not easy at first. You might not really be “in” the muscle you want to shape until maybe your 30th workout. If you switch up your routine too often, you may never find it.

Therefore I agree with the muscle guys when it comes to the importance of a consistent routine, whether you want it to look huge, bulky and tough or long, lean and graceful.

learning good formIn a barre fitness class, a structured format gives you even more benefits. It enables you to work on coordination, alignment and posture (more about that later). It gives your teacher a window within each exercise to guide and coach you, and a set sequence when it’s well-designed, doubles the effectiveness of each exercise. (see my blog WHY THE BAR METHOD WORKS SO WELL).

But wait! There’s a significant difference between barre fitness and bodybuilding, one that opens up the debate about consistency vs. variety all over again. Barre fitness, unlike bodybuilding, is a form of “functional exercise.” It not only sculpts your muscles. It gives you an array of other physical benefits: increased flexibility, straighter alignment, better posture, improved patterns of motion, and enhanced coordination, grace and athleticism in everything you do.

Due to this difference variety does play a role in enhancing results when you’re doing functional exercise. When you’re working on enhancing your patterns of motion and general athleticism, you’re effectively simulating real life. Not knowing what comes next in this kind of class trains your mind and body to work together as a more tightly knit team. So by not being able to anticipate the next tempo or direction, you can systemically learn to meet the unexpected with improved coordination, alignment, posture and precision.

Mix up a barre fitness class too much however, and you lose its structure along with its many benefits. Like the muscle guys said, you really don’t want to confuse your muscles. You want to keep them as informed as possible. Novelty is not for your muscles anyway. It’s for your mind and your mind-body connection. So if a barre class regularly changes the sequence of the workout, the added interest this switch might initially give you could comes at the expense of results. This particular change in sequence, for example, not allow your back muscles to warm up enough to do your best crunches.

In my view, the ideal barre fitness workout weaves novelty into its structure so that you reap the benefits of both sculpting and body-training. The Bar Method, like a ballet class, uses an overlying structure within which it inserts novelty with rhythmic, ever-changing choreography and a rich palate of exercise variations.

rubyann curl small1This technique makes it unlikely that you’ll know which exercise variations you’ll get in a particular class. Then once you’re moving, you’re compelled to stay alert to catch the next tempo, direction and choreographic turn. In this way you mentally stay on the edge of your seat as you fight you way through the inevitable intensity your body will encounter.

Ballet classes are a great example of this formula. For hundreds of years, these classes have adhered to the same basic sequence of exercises. Ballet students often begin this routine as young children and perform it until the end of their careers as dancers. The combination of specialized muscle tone and ability this routine gives them is what dramatically changes their bodies into dancers’ bodies. Like a classic ballet barre sequence, the Bar Method’s blend of structure and novelty provides its students with the amazing changes that regular practice can work on their bodies, while it keeps their minds engaged enough to focus on finding the right muscles and improving form – an addicting formula.

TEN TIPS FOR BOOSTING YOUR RESULTS FROM THE BAR METHOD, PART 1

Kate and BritneyKate Grove is a master teacher and the manager of our Bar Method studio in the San Francisco Marina. Kate has a reputation for designing fun, creative classes, and she’s been just as creative as a studio manager. This year, she came up with the idea of offering student workshops to our “Club Bar” members, who are students with ongoing class packages. In the past, we’ve only given teacher workshops. Now thanks to Kate, our students are gaining expert knowledge about the Bar Method and are using that knowledge to take their workouts to the next level. After our first workshop, participants said that their classes were making them more sore than ever in the muscles they most wanted to shape. Britney Bart, a ten-year Bar Method student, commented that simply knowing where a muscle was on her body made the exercises feel different. “I have been doing arm walks with you since 2003,” Britney told me, “but I have not felt them and proactively utilized them for the specific purposes you described until the workshop.”

All these comments inspired me to share with Bar Method students who read this blog the information Kate and I gave in our workshop. This month focuses on our tips for the first half of class:

Tip # 1: Move your body in one-inch increments during the faster tempos.

Walnut CreekHow do you respond when your teacher says, “lift up, up, up” or “press in, in, in?” If your range is too large, you’re relying on momentum, which is only moderately effective at keeping your muscle “on.” If your range is too small, you’re not firing your muscle enough to get the most out of the exercise. A one-inch range keeps you “in the muscle,” while it enables that muscle to ignite with maximum energy on every rep.

Tip #2: Use your “rhomboids” and “lower traps.”

Trapezius Rhomboids and Serratus AnteriorWhen I take class, I’m constantly thinking about contracting my “rhomboids” and “lower traps” (“trapezius) during the weight-work section. These two muscles draw your shoulders in and down. During weight work they play a critical role in keeping your upper back from slumping forward and your shoulder joints from rotating out of kilter. They also help improve your posture and burn extra calories during the exercise. So one valuable piece of information I can offer you is to consciously use your “rhomboids” pull your shoulder blades closer together and your “traps” to pull your shoulder blades in and down. Reverse pushups can sculpt your lower “traps” if you hold your shoulders down while your arms are carrying the weight of your torso (see photo below). Stay aware of how these muscles enhance your performance, and you’ll sculpt your upper back muscles and give yourself a longer, more graceful your neck-line by virtue of your stronger “lower traps.”

Tip #3: Protect your joints by working in good form.

Here’s a fact you might not be aware of: when you stress a joint during a workout, the muscles around that joint will resist change. The joint sends a signal to these muscles saying in effect, “stop doing that!” So if you’re regularly tweaking a joint, you might not be getting the results you want.

jen in reverse pushupsThe Bar Method’s “reverse pushups” is an example of an exercise that you need to do in good form to get the best results. Here are the two key points to remember: 1. Keep your wrists turned forwards and slightly outwards. If you turn your wrists backwards, you’re pressing into your wrist joints instead of controlling the move with your arm muscles. 2. Keep your shoulders directly over your wrists. If you don’t and instead shift your shoulders forward of your wrists, you will pull your shoulder blades out of alignment and at the same time make the exercise significantly less targeted. So keep your shoulders directly over your wrists, and you’ll quickly gain the definition in your triceps you’re working for.

Tip #4: Do straight-leg pushups, and don’t go low!

Denise pushups straight armsPushups work an array of muscles. Obviously they sculpt your pecs and arms. Less obviously, they tone your abs, glutes, traps, and a muscle called the “serratus anterior,” which holds your shoulder blades in place when you’re pushing with your arms. By engaging these less obvious muscles, you’ll get much more out of pushups, and look great doing them. What’s the easiest way to do recruit all these muscles? Believe it or not, by doing straight-leg pushups (wait a second before you reject this idea!) and moving just one inch down and up. This way, you’re using every muscle in your pushups repertoire without killing yourself and creating a more defined body overall.

keryun thighTip #5: During thigh-work, let the music move you.

Bar Method students are famous for their fighting spirit, and if you’re one of them, I know you already give thigh-work your all. So what else can you do to get more out of this exercise? Make it a dance! Remember that you just gave your legs a deep stretch at the bar, and stretching is been proved to enhance muscular coordination. So use the stretches you did before thigh-work to take your performance to a new energetic level. Tap into the enhanced agility that the stretches infused into your legs, and do thigh-work like a dancer! Become one with the beat, and concentrate on performing the reps with precision and grace. Your muscles will expand and contract more energetically, and you’ll discover a new level of strength, athleticism and stamina in the process.

Next week! Ten Tips for Boosting Your Workout, Part 2

WHY INTERACTIVE EXERCISE CLASSES GIVE YOU BETTER RESULTS

Old lecture hallDo you get a better workout in a class that uses a “see and do” or “Simon says Simon does” format, or in a class that includes teacher-student interaction? Competitive athletes routinely get lots of feedback from their coaches during their practice sessions. But when you’re simply working out, do you get any extra value from your exercise instructors interacting with you about your form and focus?

I decided to get an educated answer to this question by researching what regular teachers think about interactive teaching. It turns out that the world of teaching is in the midst of a major tectonic shift in its approach to this issue. Overwhelming evidence that the old-style lecture format doesn’t work very well is inspiring teachers to switch en mass to “active learning.” “Active learning may overthrow the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years,” declared a Harvard professor last year. “Thousands of studies indicate that active learning,” explained another Harvard expert, ‘is the most effect thing,” One of these these studies took place at the University of British Columbia in 2011. A research team held two week-long classes on identical subject matter that were attended by two groups of students as closely matched as possible. The only difference was that one of the classes was in a lecture format, and the other in an interactive format, which engaged students in discussions and active problem solving. The results? After the course, the interactive class participants scored twice as high as those in the lecture-style class.

Eric MazurWhat’s more, women are turning out to benefit more from the interactive teaching style than men. Eric Mazur, a Harvard physiology professor, noticed this when he switched to an “active learning” technique, and his women students quickly closed the gap between themselves and their male counterparts. “The verbal and collaborative/collegial nature of peer interactions,” Mazur speculates, “may enhance the learning environment for women students.”

Can these discoveries about interactive learning be applied to exercise, especially to exercise favored by women? In my experience, absolutely! I give you that simple aerobics workouts, during which you just want to keep your heart rate elevated for a time can pay off without much focused concentration. Getting good results from a strength-work however depends on your level of mental alertness; how attentive you are to your form, how precise your movements are, and how well you gauge your exhaustion point. Without coaching, it’s hard not to lose focus on the challenge and allow your body to take the easy route and shift away from the effort. Competitive athletes for this reason use coaches to maximize their focus, and the Bar Method gives its students the same caliber of feedback and guidance. Teachers verbally coach individual students on their form, alignment, mental focus and individually acknowledge them when they improve. By means of this guidance, students continue to advance their skills and get the results they want.

The experience of being in a class where interacting teaching is going on is, at least for me, fun, exhilarating and collegial. My body reflexively responds to the verbal adjustments I hear my teacher give my fellow students. For example, when I hear “Sally, lengthen your back.” My back lengthens. “Gina, square your shoulders.” My shoulders square. “Nicole, come up less.” I come up less. These cues thereby become a conversation among all of us. The teacher talks to a student. The student responds by adjusting how she’s working. The rest of us get in on the tips by adjusting our own bodies accordingly. This back-and-forth not only gets me involved and “in the moment.” It gives me a deeper connection to my body and to the athleticism and power of the exercises.

Active learning in Bar Method workouts doesn’t stop at verbal interaction. Students are of course learning with their bodies, so Bar Method teachers are trained to interact with them on a physical level too. This “hands-on” guidance is essential in order for most students to get good workout, without which, try as they might, they would be unable to recruit difficult-to-reach muscles or to work safely. Here are a few examples of how students learn better form with interactive teaching.

blog matrix

The students in these photos are, from top to bottom:

1. Slumping due to habitual posture,

2. Leaning weight into the joints of shoulders and wrists instead of the triceps muscles, and

3. Bending at the lower back and neck rather than engaging the glutes.

By receiving this ongoing supportive feedback from their teachers, students develop better body awareness and alignment, as well as learn to target muscles instead of joints.

There’s simply no turning back the clock once innovations like “acting learning” demonstrate their power to enhance our lives. It’s left up to each of us to take full advantage of the benefits.

THE BAR METHOD IS IN A CLASS BY ITSELF

joey and jenThe “Bar fitness” trend has become so popular in the past half decade that when you tell a friend, “I’m going to a barre fitness class,” she’s probably going to visualize you holding onto a ballet bar, not lifting some kind of detached bar or swinging yourself around a pole. It’s definitely time for these bar-based classes to have their own name, but grouping them together can also be misleading. Unlike Pilates, which grew from an established technique developed by Joseph Pilates, “bar fitness” can apply to any workout that happens to use a bar. You won’t necessarily get the same experience when you take different versions of it. Bar Method students who’ve gone to classes elsewhere, for example, often come and back tell us that, “they just weren’t the same as the Bar Method.”

Like these students I’ve taken bar classes at other studios, and I agree with them that the Bar Method is different. Here are 10 ways that, in my view, the Bar Method stands out.

1. Bar Method teachers know what they’re talking about.

The Bar Method rigorously trains its teachers. All Bar Method teachers learn anatomy and physiology and are tested on their knowledge of them. Then before being certified every Bar Method teacher-in-training must demonstrate that she knows and understands the technique and can teach it effectively.

2. The Bar Method is safe.

The Bar Method keeps students’ joints safe by following the recommendations of physical therapy and sports medicine. In a Bar Method class you will never do unapproved moves like lifting free weights to the side above the shoulders, doing pushups with the shoulder blades pressed together, doing “reverse pushups” with the shoulder blades and upper arms at different angles, dropping down to the heels during “thigh-work,” and over-flexing the spine by pressing the waist into the floor during “round-back.” You will exclusively perform exercises that are endorsed by our medical consultants.

3. The Bar Method custom-tailors its exercises to a variety of body types.

Bar Method teachers give options to students with different bodies-types and conditions. Students with short hamstrings, for example, have lower bars to stretch on available to them and straps to hold onto. Petite students get “risers” to sit on. Tall students have a “high bar.” Those with sensitive shoulders get options that allow them to keep their arms below shoulder height. In a Bar Method class you’ll see a wide variety of students, one reason being that the Bar Method accommodates all of them.

4. Bar Method studios rooms are equipped with inch-deep rubber padding under carpet:

This feature may seem like a detail, but in my view it’s one of the fundamental differences between the Bar Method and other workouts. A hard floor is an ideal surface on which to do aerobics, but bar fitness classes press students’ balls of feet, insteps, shins, knees, hips, spines, elbows and shoulder blades into the floor. The Bar Method enables its students to work comfortably and safely by equipping its studios with cushioned floors and thick floor mats.

5. The Bar Method keeps students “in the muscle” long enough to change their bodies.

The Bar Method changes students’ bodies quickly by using an interval training format. Each class leads them through eight rigorous strength intervals ending with a “grand finale” of 10, 20, or 30 reps that give students an exciting challenge to work through. Other bar classes give more but briefer intervals with final counts or only four or five, lessening the body-changing potential of each strength set.

6. The Bar Method then stretches muscles deeply:

The Bar Method intensely stretches muscles to make them look and feel longer and more graceful. Other bar techniques give fewer stretches, more like steady-state aerobics but a less body-elongating approach.

Checking in with a student in St Louis7. Bar Method teachers face their students.

A key component of the Bar Method teaching style is that teachers observe their students throughout the class. Teachers of other techniques lead their students in a “Simon says, Simon does” manner, consequently turning their backs to them. This practice harks back to the aerobics classes of the 80s that didn’t call for the attention to form that bar workouts require in order to keep their students safe and in the right muscles.

8. The Bar Method supports, connects with, and guides its students.

Bar Method teachers address their students by name to encourage and motivate them. Uniquely in the bar fitness world, teachers stop speaking at moments just to watch their students and “give them the stage.” The effect is a fun, interactive and social experience that’s distinctively Bar Method.

9. Bar Method teachers count accurately and on the beat!

How accurately teachers count may seem like a minor detail, but try getting through the last reps of a strength set when your muscles are on fire, and you’ll get a new appreciation of how important an accurate number sequence can become when you’re pushing through the last counts of a strength set.

10. Last but not least, the Bar Method is consistent in the high quality of its classes everywhere.

Becoming a Bar Method teacher involves passing an audition, a three-month training course, and a series of exams. Teachers then undergo yearly evaluations. This system has established more than 60 studios all over North America where students can be sure they will always get a great body-changing workout.

WHY TRIATHLETE BEN WINSLOW IS HOOKED ON THE BAR METHOD

Ben Performing Thigh WorkAt the Bar Method, we are dedicated to the proposition that some of our students will be men. We supply our studio rooms with larger weights than women would use and in most facilities provide men’s changing rooms and lockers. We make sure our exercises and stretches are designed to be entirely doable for students with tight hamstrings, and we train our teachers to use instructional cues that are “gender-neutral ( no “ponytail,” “high heels,” “bra-line,” and “ladies” for example) to make sure guys don’t feel as it they’re in a chick flick. Even so – and this is no secret – the overwhelming majority of Bar Method students are women. When you do see a man at the Bar Method, he’s usually the only member of the opposite sex in the class. I was curious to get some insights from a man’s perspective on why more men don’t come, so I asked Ben Winslow, one of our most regular male students, to shed some light on this issue.

Ben is one of the fittest people I know. A graduate of the infantry officer school and a lieutenant in the army, he put himself through college and became a successful litigator. For the past 38 years, he has run his law firm in the San Francisco Marina while pursuing the sporting activities that he loves: biking, swimming, running, golfing, endurance training, and competing in amazingly challenging triathlons. Ben, who turns 68 next month, has completed many “Escape from Alcatraz” triathlons, (a harrowing 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz, followed by an 18-mile bike ride and an 8-mile run), bike races and other competitive events. .

You’d think these activities would be enough to satisfy the most hard-core athlete, but Ben is unusual and not just in his love of physical challenge. He also has an uncommonly open mind. About a year and a half ago when two female lawyers in his firm told him about the Bar Method and asked him, “Why don’t you come with us?” Ben didn’t hesitate. He liked the workout so much that he got his wife to go to the Bar Method studio in Marin County where they live. Over the past year he has made a habit of walking from his office to the studio three-to-five times a week between business appointments to take class.

Here’s what Ben told me about what it’s like to be a male student at the Bar Method:

Ben Performing Armwith with Sharon DemkoWhat first attracted you to the Bar Method?

As you get older, you’re stooped over. Old guys get stiff. I don’t want to be a person who can’t tie my own shoes.

What do you like about the workout?

I like the discipline. I like the routine of knowing what’s going to follow what. I like knowing what we’re going to do next and how many reps so I can do my maximum effort. And the instructors are great, well trained, friendly. They greet you by name. It may help I’m the only guy.

What results have you gotten from the class?

I’ve become a much better golfer. My golfing friends say ‘Wow, you’re really turning your body when you swing!’ I’ve strengthened my core, gotten more limber. Bike riding I don’t have back pain anymore. I used to get an achy low back. In general I have no more low back issues.

I think my body’s changed. I’ve always been very thin and lean. I’m now more muscular with more developed abs and biceps. I like the look you promote which is long and lean, not chunky and muscular. I have more spring in my step. More energy. I always go to guys (touching his toes) and go ‘hey, can you do that?’

Ben Peroforming Round BackDo you ever feel intimidated by what the women in class can do?

It all evens out. I can do more pushups. They can do other things.

Why don’t other guys want to come?

I tell a lot of guys to come and run into the same thing all the time: ‘It’s a chick thing.’ ‘Let me get this right: you get a fabulous workout. You’re around 30 beautiful women. I don’t get it.’ If guys come and try it once or twice, they’d see that it takes a lot of muscular ability, strength, and coordination. If you apply yourself, it’s hard. You’re sore after you do this. These days with more enlightened men, I think they’re missing out on something.

What could guys get out of the Bar Method that they can’t get elsewhere?

Guys will go down to Gorilla Gym and work with a personal trainer, do that. Personal trainers charge a hundred an hour. I look at them and think they’d get much more out of the Bar Method. If you really want to change your life, you go to a class like this.

MAKING THE SUPER SCULPTING II EXERCISE DVD, PART TWO

describe the imageMAKING THE SUPER SCULPTING II EXERCISE DVD, PART TWO

Last week I told you what I enjoyed most, and what was hardest, about making the new Bar Method “Super Sculpting II” DVD. This week my three intrepid fellow “Super Sculpting II” performers, Sharon, Kiesha and Juan, weigh in about their toughest, funniest and most fun moments during the shoot:

What did you find most difficult about performing in the Super Sculpting II DVD shoot?

describe the imageKiesha: Maintaining perfect form throughout the shoot. You don’t realize when you take class how many times you come out of form, simply by tucking your hair behind your ear, scratching your nose, or adjusting your stance.

Juan: Honestly, finding pants. It’s surprising how few examples of yoga clothing actually exist for men.

Sharon: Finding a blue tank top that [Burr] liked!

What did you find most fun?

Juan: The fact that we were going to be watched really brought out a drive in me that I didn’t know was there…at least not to that degree.

Sharon: Shopping for blue tank tops.

What was the funniest moment?

Kiesha: Watching Sharon unload her suitcase of a dozen different blue tops.

describe the imageJuan: My favorite line ever said by Burr during the curl portion of the video: ‘I’ve never heard anyone say their abs were so sore they couldn’t eat.’

What do you think of the workout?

Kiesha: I LOVE it. It’s intense, but within reach for someone to work up to. The choreography is really fun.

Sharon: It was awesome. I still might be a little sore.Hairline SeparatorNote to my readers:

Starting this month, I will be posting my blog on the first Tuesday of every month rather than weekly. This change in schedule has become necessary to an increasing number of new Bar Method ventures that are requiring my time. Among what’s happening are upcoming studios in Boston, Washington, DC, Austin and Houston plus several future Bar Method media projects, the details of which are yet to be made public.

Thank you for your support during this change.

Burr Leonard

HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM THE BAR METHOD: BEST OF 2010

2010 was a seminal year for The Bar Method. Twelve new studios opened in the U.S. including locations in Manhattan, St. Louis, Dallas and Miami. In October Vancouver became the first international city to have a Bar Method studio, and in that same month The Bar Method released three new exercise DVDs. To celebrate all this growth, I’d like to honor the blog that received the most views and comments over the past 12 months. By a long shot (almost 9000 views more than the runner up) that blog was MAKING THE DANCER’S BODY DVD, the story of how lead performer Marnie Alton and her amazing team of teachers rose to my challenge and delivered a truly advanced Bar Method home workout.

Happy New Year!
Burr Leonard

MAKING THE DANCER’S BODY EXERCISE DVD

marnie altonMarnie Alton not only teaches exercise. She teaches her students to be joyful, to remember that life is magnificent, and to believe wholeheartedly in their own strength and beauty, both outer and inner. This might sound like hyperbole, but it is exactly how she teaches. I can confidently say that — until Marnie moved to England this summer – she was one of the most popular and charismatic teachers not only within the Bar Method but just about anywhere.

Marnie radiates a joyful, no-holds-barred approach to life in her teaching and in everything she does. As an actress, singer, dancer and songwriter, she has lived her dreams. She has acted in around 30 TV shows and movies, played continuing characters in several TV series, and starred in one of them — detective Karen Yamamoto in “Hot Hot Los Angeles.” She has danced professionally, written, published and performed her own songs, and she is happily married to an executive in the entertainment industry. I was thrilled when she accepted my invitation to lead one of the advanced DVD workouts we taped in last month.

When I designed the two new advanced DVD routines, I intended to create “killer” workouts that resembled Bar Method “level 2” studio classes and that were also safe for home users. Leave it to Marnie to out-do my wildest expectations. Since the routine I led, “Super-Sculpting,” featured body-sculpting moves you can do with a ball, the more flowing, dance-like Bar Method variations such as arabesque and second position fell to Marnie. I actually hadn’t noticed how beautiful and athletic her routine was when I first designed it, but Marnie did. By the time I named it “Dancer’s Body,” she had already seized on the concept and made it the theme of her workout.

Dancer Body Performers

Marnie’s team of performers were perfectly cast for an advanced workout with “dance” in the title. All of them have long, lean, graceful bodies and are exceptionally focused, accomplished individuals. Katelin Chesna, shown next to Marnie, is a professional actress, acting coach, comedienne and master Bar Method teacher. Marin Van Vleck, to the left of Katelin, in addition to being an actress and singer, is the owner of a new, soon-to-be-built Bar Method studio in Dallas. Michael Lowery is an absolutely gorgeous, dynamic and sweet master Bar Method teacher who has just transferred to Bar Method New York/Soho so that he can attend graduate school at NYU, and Denise Burchard, shown below, is the talented, brainy and beautiful founding owner of the Portland Bar Method studio.

smallDenise full shot 1 resized 600The shoot schedule slotted Marnie’s workout as third in line to be taped. When her team was on stage and ready to go, I sat behind the row of production TV screens with the crew thinking, “just wait til you see this!” and I wasn’t disappointed. From the first words Marnie spoke, it was obvious that she was completely comfortable in front of a camera. She connected to her virtual students casually and cheerfully with a twinkle in her eye. I was particularly amazed that she was able to simultaneously do the workout and continually reel off gracefully phrased pointers on inner resolve such as, “Our muscles are like clay. They’ll sculpt into any shape you choose. Choose long.”

What most blew our minds was that the workout was so HARD. The production crew had already watched two pretty tough routines, but you could have picked everyone’s jaw up off the floor by Marnie’s second set of thigh-work. Then I remembered, “OMG, the last thigh set is the hardest in this workout!,” and the performers launched into the last amazing moments of the toughest thigh-work routine ever put on tape, all the time with Marnie never breaking her relentlessly joyful connection with the camera.

Adding to the overall dramatic effect were the flexible, balletic grace of the performers, their sweat-soaked, shiny, cut muscles, and their brute determination to hang in there.

“I just had to get into this mental zone,” Marin told me. “It was like a ‘do-or-die’ mindset.”
Denise had a similar experience, “The pressure of two back-to-back, challenging classes with a group of exceptional talent really made me push myself that much further. I surprised myself. My body could do more than my mind thought it could.”

Marnie’s “Dancer’s Body” DVD is just what Bar Method students have been lobbying for: a superlatively challenging workout that will continue to inspire them for years to come.

Thank you Marnie!

Click here to find out more why challenging workouts are so important to make you fit.

THE BAR METHOD AS A PATH TO MASTERY

“I have grown bored at The Bar Method,” a student named Gabrielle wrote me a few months ago. “The Method has become too repetitive, too predictable, and I’ve lost most of the fun.”

Gabrielle started attending the Bar Method in the early 2000’s, lost inches around her hips and waist, and fell in love with the class. Gabrielle and I exchanged a few emails on the subject of her dissatisfaction with class, and I learned that her work schedule had limited her to taking classes at times where there were a lot of beginners.

Burr leg lifts PasadenaEven so, I wondered if Gabrielle was missing out on what to me is most fun about taking the Bar Method whether or not beginners are present in the class: working towards mastery. This mind-set can mean one thing to you – possibly learning how to pull in your abs as you breathe – and something else to another student — maybe achieving a dancer’s posture. Whatever your goals, if you perform the exercises with the objective of mastering them, the Bar Method’s consistent structure becomes anything but boring. It becomes the very thing that empowers you to push the limits of your potential for coordination, strength, beauty and mental toughness. Repetition + focus = practice, and focused practice, experts on learning tell us, is the ultimate key to achieving significant, long term change, in other words to gaining mastery.

The Bar Method is especially suited to the pursuit of mastery in the physical realm. Its tight structure, precise positions and small muscle isolations give you a chance to overcome movement habits such as tensing your neck when you raise your arms. The mirrors in the classrooms allow you to check your alignment and performance, and – most fun of all – the ever-present possibility of going “deeper,” “higher,” “lower,” or “farther” keep the door open for new change. Have you been reluctant to work lower in thigh-work because you’re not strong enough yet? Or are you really holding back because you’re afraid of the burn? If you stay focused, eking out the answer to this question in the heat of the moment can strengthen not only to your muscles but your mental toughness as well.

Focusing on mastery pays off as well by giving you a second wave of dramatic body changes well after the initial sculpting and slimming down have been achieved. Take posture for example. I often wonder why some advanced students who regularly take Level 2 classes don’t take advantage of the opportunity to work on theirs. If they would just focus on that one change, they could radically change their appearance. In the same way, students who hunch their shoulders whenever they lift their arms, who lean forward during thigh exercises, or who have trouble pulling in their abs could transform their bodies by using the hour to focus on their weak areas.

Next time you go to class, try taking it with your own customized set of challenges in mind. You might find that the class can feel as exciting as a triathlon. The almost 30 years that I’ve taken this method of exercise has taught me to love the the classes that I struggle through most or want to do better at than before. Here are some private goals I set for myself during the class:–During one-weight lifts trying to keep my arm parallel to the floor,–During push-ups, getting my chest down to elbow height while staying in good form,–During thigh-work maintaining a more intense burn than the last time I took class,–During standing seat-work keeping my back absolutely vertical,–During arabesque looking in the mirror and seeing my working foot above my shoulder,–During round-back keeping my working leg absolutely “ballet” straight, and–During flat-back, lifting my feet up towards the height of my knees (pretty impossible!)

If you’ve been bored by class lately, make a no-holds-barred list of every conceivable way the Bar Method could change your body and spirit for the better. Then see how close you come to making them happen!

Read about the Seattle Bar Method’s fitness challenge and all the different ways people changed after taking The Bar Method for four months!