The Bar Method opened in Honolulu in January 2015, our first studio in Hawaii. I visit every new studio, and I was especially looking forward to this trip. Elaina Olson is like my sister. Her office was next to mine for three years when she was working as our company’s Manager of Franchise Development, always dreaming about opening her own studio as she helped others open theirs. Finally, at the age of 27, she made her dream come true by opening a Bar Method studio in the heart of Honolulu. Besides being thrilled for Elaina, I was secretly thrilled for myself. I’d never been to Hawaii, and this was my chance!
My husband Michael and I saw a further opportunity in my assignment. Every year, we take a vacation in July, and by combining my trip with our vacation, we could see a part of the country we weren’t familiar with.
My first two days in Hawaii were visiting Elaina in Honolulu, and I had a blast. Her studio’s informal, beachy vibe drained the stress out of me, and like Honolulu itself, her students immediately won me over. They placed “leis” around my neck, taught me to give the “shaka” hand greeting, and had me throwing balls in the air with them. I left considering them life-long friends.
Teaching class in Honolulu
Leis and “shakas”
Vacation was next! I took a tiny turbo prop to Maui and met my husband at the airport. We got a room with a great view.
The view from our room
Michael turned 65 when we were there, and I took him out to dinner to celebrate.
Wining and dining him again
Dinner on Michael’s 65th birthday
At the beach, Michael shed his T-shirt to show off his results from his 4-day-a-week Bar Method and Bar Move routine. Meanwhile, I tried to lounge by the pool and learned that it is not my thing. I don’t like to sit still unless I have to, and the time and effort to apply sunscreen on all the places that are usually covered by clothes was, well, not my thing.
Michael showing off his Bar Method six pack
Trying unsuccessfully to sit still
Parasailing we loved!
There were surfers all over the place in Maui. Being 68, I opted for splashing in the waves.
The last day I started missing my dog (a pomeranian). Fortunately, there was a swan at the hotel who loves treats and wagged its tail when I offered it some. Ahhh.
If you take exercise classes, you’ve probably heard teachers say, “retract your rhomboids” and “engage your lower traps” when you’re doing weight-work. Rarely however do they prompt you to “contract your ‘serratus anterior,’” another set of muscles that are essential to good shoulder positioning. Why don’t teachers pay more attention to the serratus anterior? It’s not that students don’t need help with this set of muscles. They do! In my 24 years of teaching exercise, I’ve seen students struggle with recruiting their serratus anteriors more than they do any other hard-to-reach muscles, particularly during pushups.
One reason the serratus anterior may go missing in exercise instruction is that the darned name is simply a mouthful to say. The “Latissimus Dorsi” and the “Trapezius” abbreviate into friendly sounding nicknames: the “lats” and the “traps.” Not so for the seven-syllable, difficult-to-shorten “serratus anterior.” Then there’s the scary image conjured up by to the fact that this muscle was named after the sharp teeth of a saw!
Whatever the cause, it’s too bad! You really do need to pay attention to your serratus anterior. Without a well-functioning set of them, you will have a hard time moving your arms in certain directions, you will have an increased likelihood of neck and back pain, you could be on your way to an injury, and (if it’s relevant) you will have an abysmal right hook.
Now that I’ve got you worried (at least a little bit), I want to give you a basic rundown on where this muscle is on your body and how it works. The serratus anterior is a large muscle that wraps around the outsides of your rib cage like long-taloned claws and attaches underneath your shoulder blades at their inner rims. When your serratus anteriors are doing their job, they help your arms move in the following ways:
They “protract” your shoulder blades. That is, they draw your shoulder blades away from each other towards the front of your ribcage and lock them there. Your arms are thereby rolled forward like a canon and locked into action mode. If your serratus anteriors fail to do this, your shoulder blades will ricochet right back into your body after you punch or push, greatly decreasing the power and effectiveness of your effort – and possibly tweaking your shoulders. This is the situation during pushups if you don’t engage these muscles!
They work as a team with your rhomboids to keep your shoulder blades in place, one kicking in when your arms are being pulled forward and the other taking over when your arms are being pushed back. For example, when you hold weights out in front of you, your rhomboids engage to keep your shoulder blades from flying apart. When you’re pushing against something, the floor for example, your serratus anterior takes over to keep your shoulder blades from collapsing inwards. Finally, when you want to keep your shoulder blades down, the two muscles join forces, for example, during reverse pushups.
They play a major role in your basic ability to raise your arms above shoulder height. When you want to raise your arms, your serratus anteriors on each side tilt your shoulder blades upwards at their outer edges. This maneuver effectively points your shoulder joints more upwards so that your arms can move around freely at a higher range. Your lower trapezius helps with this process as well.
If your serratus anteriors don’t turn on to perform this rotation, you will have to raise your shoulder blades towards your ears, possibly resulting in impingement and a rotator cuff tear. Dancers have fantastic serratus anteriors as evidenced by the graceful lift of their elbows and long necks when their arms rise overhead.
The serratus anterior has many other protective features.
It prevents “winging” of your shoulders blades, which result in a less stable shoulder.
It protects against neck pain by enabling your arms to move in a large range without compressing your neck.
Last but not least, the serratus anterior helps you hold good posture! “When firing properly,” says physical therapist and Bar Method teacher Kerissa Smith, “the serratus anterior anchors and stabilizes the shoulder blade/scapula, aiding in an open chest and lifted posture.”
Are there ways to fix a lazy serratus anterior? Yes! First, you can do a few simple exercises at home that can get your serratus anterior into gear.
Do shoulder blade protractions. Lean against a wall and press the backs of your palms and your elbows against it. Then slide your shoulder blades forward (away from each other) – keep them down as well – and hold. This exercise is a great way to rev up for the added weight your serratus anterior will be dealing with during pushups.
Do scapular pushups. Assume a pushup position. Keep your arms straight and carefully slide your shoulder blades inward towards each other, then outwards away from each other. Repeat this action at least ten times. As the website “anabolic minds” explains: “Scapular push ups will isolate the serratus anterior. Make sure that your scapula just protracts, don’t let it ELEVATE.”
Wall exercises for the serratus anterior
Stand with your back against a wall and inch your arms upward against it in stages, shoulders down. Start with your thumbs touching the wall, and graduate to your elbows pressed as far back as you can manage.
Meanwhile, there are your Bar Method classes: Pushups, plank, rhomboid pulls, arm dancing and oblique punches (a curl exercise) all work your serratus anterior. Dedicate some of your mental focus during class on engaging your serratus properly — that is, keep them down and wide against your ribs — during all these exercises.
See you in pushups.
http://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpg00Burr Leonardhttp://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpgBurr Leonard2015-07-16 20:52:512015-07-16 20:52:51THE MOST NEGLECTED MUSCLE DURING EXERCISE: THE SERRATUS ANTERIOR
Last month I gave you the first five of ten tips for boosting your results from the Bar Method. The manager of my home studio in San Francisco, Kate Grove, and I first shared these tips with our students during a student workshop at my home studio in San Francisco. The next three tips are the ones we gave our students for the exercises they do midway through the Bar Method workout.
Tip #6: During “standing seat,” find vertical on your body.
Standing seat can transform your body, if you do it in the right form. Here’s how you can be sure yours is correct: Imagine a vertical line stretching from your ears, through your shoulders, hips and working thigh, and keep these body parts centered on the line. Staying vertical during this exercise is easier said than done. Your mind gets the idea, but your body instinctively craves a more comfortable stance. Lose focus for a moment, and when you snap back to attention you might discover that your head has dropped forward, your seat as arched back, your torso has leaned one way or the other, or your working thigh has wandered off the line. How do you avoid falling out of vertical? First use the mirror to check that your torso is upright. Next, keep re-gripping both sides of your glutes, and remind your lower back to relax. Maintain a vertical spine, and finally, keep your working knee unwaveringly under your hip (give or take an inch). This level of good form requires self-honesty and determination, but it’s worth the effort. When you succeed, standing seat will give you gorgeous posture and could become your favorite killer exercise.
Tip #7: During “flat-back,” don’t worry about a little“pooching out.”
If you’re like many students, you’re hesitant to take the option of lifting both legs during flat-back because whenever you try to raise them, your abs push out. In fact, a little pooching during flat-back is a natural stage your abs go through on their way to getting flatter. Pooching out usually happens when your two deepest abdominal muscles are weak. They are your transversus abdominis (“TA”) and your internal oblique. When you exhale sharply, these muscles pull in your belly. If they’re weak, they don’t pull in effectively, which allows your ab muscles that are on top, including your powerful six-pack muscle (the rectus abdominis) to contract outwards. The good news is that simply by vigorously exhaling, you engage your deep abs. When you vigorously exhale and add the weight of your legs to the effort, you strengthen these muscles. So even if you start with a little pooching out, you’ll end up with flatter abs by challenging your deepest ones during every class.
There’s another reason your abs might be misbehaving during flat-back. Your four ab muscles tend to store fat in between their layers, and that fat can bunch up when you contract them. In either case, raising both legs during flat-back, even if your abs pooch out a few inches, is harmless and will ultimately help you achieve flatter abs. Simply put, the more you work your deep abs during flat-back, the stronger and flatter they’ll get in relation to your other abs muscles, and the more “belly fat” you’ll burn.
One caveat: if you’re very over-weight or have very weak abs, they may pop forward more than three inches when you raise your legs. In that case, hold back on the lifting both at the same time until you lose some weight or get stronger.
Finally, if you just can’t lift your legs no matter how hard you try, sit on one-to-three “risers,” which are firm cushions designed to raise you up a few inches from the floor. If you’re tall and need to use risers, go to a stall-bar, lay a riser against it, and place three of them under you. By sitting up higher, you’ll be able to get your legs airborne and derive the full benefits of doing flat-back.
Tip #8: During curl, imagine your favorite super-cut celebrities doing ab work.
Students have been known to say that Bar Method ab work is “worse than childbirth.” Maybe so, but this thought is not the most motivating one to have in mind when getting through the last reps during “curl” section! Switch it out with mental picture of a hunky super star working his way through is own ab-sculpting routine. Stars grunt through hundreds of crunches a workout just as you do, so picture the abs of celebrities like David Beckham, Matthew McConaughey or Ryan Reynolds doing ab exercises such as the Bar Method’s “high curl” or “clam.” Your “inspiration” hunk will get you into the spirit of embracing a macho zeal for the burn!
If you just plain have trouble staying in the burn, try this approach: Devote just as much energy to the “back” part of each crunch as you do to the “forward” of it. This techique keeps you tightly in the muscle as you proceed through the reps, and doubles your benefits along the way.
http://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpg00Burr Leonardhttp://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpgBurr Leonard2013-05-09 00:34:002013-05-09 00:34:00TEN TIPS FOR BOOSTING YOUR RESULTS FROM THE BAR METHOD, PART 2
Look around on a busy street or in a store, and you’ll probably see a few people whose spines are clearly not in “neutral,” or in a well-aligned position. This is an issue that those of us exercise field would love to help with. “Everywhere you look people are talking about the benefits of being able to achieve and maintain a neutral spine alignment” Pilates instructor and author Nuala Coombs says on her website. “It is important to maintain the neutral alignment of these curves to assist with cushioning the spine from excessive stress or strain.”
I agree. Walking through life without a neutral spine invites a host of physical ailments. Slumping on a regular basis can give a person’s back ligaments “creep.” “Creep” is the physiological term for the damaging deformation of the lower back tissues when someone leaves her lower back out of neutral for an extended period of time. And that’s just what happens to the back! Bad posture adversely affects the neck, hips, knees, ankles – just about every major joint in the body.
So should people exercise with their spine in neutral? Many exercise spokespeople say yes including Coombs. “Most exercise regimes,” she says, “and especially Pilates based exercise programmes encourage working with the spine in a neutral position.”
I’m with Coombs with regard to her point about exercise routines needing to be safe in order to protect students’ spines and their surrounding tissues. But should spines literally stay in neutral during exercise as Coombs suggests? In theory, this seems like a good idea. In practice, less so. First of all no core workout — least of all Pilates with all its rounding, arching, rotating and side-bending — actually keeps the spine in neutral. Second, back movement during exercise is a good thing. The spine has 24 joints and is designed for a certain amount of bending. Arching and contracting the back in a controlled manner is healthy and therapeutic for the spine’s discs and surrounding muscles.
Coombs nevertheless recommends that people hold their spines in neutral during exercise just the way they do in daily life, even to the extent of allowing their core muscles to be just barely “on” when working out. “The muscles of the core,” she says, “only need a mild contraction to become activated and function effectively…Once they are on you can confidently use the large muscles for the action phase of a movement now that you have stabilised the spine…”
Coombs is right about the core muscles needing simply to be “on” during normal activities. The problem with just keeping them merely “on” during exercise is that not much change results. To significantly strengthen muscles you have to work them harder than normal. Exercise can do this for core muscles and so improve their function outside of class. To this end the Bar Method has developed exercise positions that work the core muscles while at the same time keeping the back muscles in neutral. One such stance is “the Bar Method tuck.” To assume this pose, a student slightly lengthens her lower back and slightly shortens her upper back by lifting her chest. This position keeps the ligaments and joint capsules in her back in neutral, while her glutes, abs and upper back muscles – the three groups responsible for good alignment – grip tighter than usual, gaining strength.
“The Bar Method tuck” makes other important contributions to core stability: First, it stretches the long muscles that run through the hips and kness. As Physical Therapist Sydney James, one of the Bar Method’s consultants, explains, “It’s important to keep the quads and hamstrings reasonably flexible and balanced so that the lumbar spine isn’t overly jostled by walking, running and other motion.”
Second, it teaches students to hold themselves straight with their chests over their spines, a practice that helps correct habitual slouching. Bar Method students’ back muscles gain energy, and students themselves start to enjoy standing up straighter. Walk into a Bar Method studio and you’ll see lots of people with beautiful posture. One reason is “the Bar Method tuck.”
Last but not least, the Bar Method trains its teachers to give their students individual coaching on good posture throughout class. The Bar Method tuck – since it requires the use of all three core muscle groups – provides both teachers and students with the basic building blocks of good alignment in a way that is simple for everyone to follow. During bar-work when it’s especially important to focus on alignment, teachers search for students who look like they could use extra help on posture and encourage them to “lift your chest,” “keep your head over your spine,”“look straight ahead,” and if needed give them gentle “hands-on” adjustments to their form.
Nora Luongo of Summit, New Jersey is one Bar Method student who has benefitted from this approach. “All the instructors at the Bar Method are so precise in their vocal directions and hands-on in their adjustments,” she wrote me, “that just a few months of doing it has really gotten to where it took me years of training in yoga to understand…. I find myself consciously standing straighter even when not in class.”
http://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpg00Burr Leonardhttp://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpgBurr Leonard2012-05-02 16:52:002012-05-02 16:52:00THE BAR METHOD’S INNOVATIVE TECHNIQUE FOR ATTAINING A NEUTRAL SPINE
MAKING 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?
Kiesha: 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.
Juan: 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.Note 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.
http://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpg00Burr Leonardhttp://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpgBurr Leonard2011-03-01 22:02:002011-03-01 22:02:00MAKING THE SUPER SCULPTING II EXERCISE DVD, PART TWO
My last two blogs featured testimonials by two of the three contestants in our San Francisco Marina studio’s annual 3|60 Challenge, Karen Dodge and Ryan Salma. To fill you in if you didn’t read last week’s post, the Challenge pits three beginning Bar Method students against each other for sixty days of class taking and testimonial writing. The contestant who turns out to be best overall new student in terms of attendance, enthusiasm and gains in health wins a month of free classes. The winner this time: the third contestant in the Challenge, Lianne Zhang. “The other two did well,” studio manager Mike Najjar told me. “Lianne won because she was here quite often, and she was so enthusiastic.”
Lianne, 26, is a brand promotion and event strategist who recently moved to San Francisco from New York City. She had worked 70-hour weeks during her four years in New York. Now that she was a San Francisco resident, she was determined to create a more livable pace for herself. “I wanted to embark on a new lifestyle,” she told us, “one ensuring me a good work/life balance – a concept foreign to New Yorkers.”
After a month of classes, Lianne noticed that the Bar Method was doing more than improving her appearance. It was also having a positive impact on the way she was experiencing her new, adventurous life in San Francisco. This is how she describes the differences she felt in her body during her travels around San Francisco week four into the Challenge:
SF MARINA 3|60 BLOG: LIANNE WEEK #4
I can’t believe four weeks have flown by. As I notice differences not only in my lifestyle choices but my body- I’m also noticing how useful Bar Method technique is to my everyday life.
Here’s a little guide to how Bar Method has improved this recent transplant’s daily life in SF:
1) It absolutely trains you for crowded places where hanging off various street fixtures is a necessity in order to gain full view of the event.
For example, I went to the Giants Parade and in the madness, the only available space that offered a decent view of the players’ float was to hang off of these metal gates. Because of the Bar Method, I was able to hang on for a full thirty minutes- it was all the Posey, Lincecum, Huff and Cain I needed to bring myself closer to being a San Franciscan!
2) It helps provide better balance on MUNI buses.
As a former New Yorker, I tend to ride subways better than buses. In fact I am not a fan of buses. Since I live in lower Pac Heights, I’m forced to take buses anywhere that I can’t walk to. I tend to tumble all over the place as I’m not used to standing on lurching vehicles above ground. However, ever since I started doing Bar Method, I found myself able to use my core muscles to stable myself much better. It sounds silly but it’s been extremely helpful. As for the lady that likes to booty shake at the front aisle of the 22,…no amount of Bar Method will remedy.
3) It strengthens my muscles, allowing me to have the confidence and capabilities to try things I never could try before.
I’ve always wanted to try rock climbing but because I have an embarrassingly low amount of upper body strength, I always put it off for fear of making a fool of myself. However, since I started doing Bar Method, I’ve realized that my arm strength has increased significantly and tonight I am going for my first session! Wish me luck! (Especially after five straight days of Bar Method!)
Congratulations, Lianne, for being our 2010 3|60 Challenge winner!
http://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpg00Burr Leonardhttp://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpgBurr Leonard2011-01-18 19:53:002011-01-18 19:53:00CELEBRATING THE BAR METHOD 3|60 CHALLENGE WINNER: LIANNE ZHANG
HOW THE BAR METHOD EXERCISES HELP STUDENTS WITH BACK CONDITIONS
Yesterday, I met a Bar Method student named Emily Murgatroyd, a slender, athletic student there who owns a green, sustainable event planning company based in Vancouver. I was in that city to teach at the beautiful new Bar Method studio there, and Emily was one of my students. After class, Emily told me that she has two herniated disks. “The recovery process for my back was slow and frustrating,” she told me. “The challenging workouts I used to enjoy caused me pain and while I enjoyed the low impact exercises recommended to me (yoga, Pilates etc.) I really missed the feeling of accomplishment and the ‘high’ I got from strenuous activity. To me it felt like an ‘either/or situation’…In June I was introduced to The Bar Method by a friend and after my first class I knew that I’d be hooked. The combination of low impact yet highly challenging exercises meant that I could enjoy all of the physical and mental benefits of a high intensity workout without any impact whatsoever on my back – or entire body for that matter.”
By talking to students like Emily over the years, I’ve found that most back pain sufferers who take The Bar Method get relief from their condition, as Emily did. A great deal of back pain is due to strains, sprains and spasms in back muscles caused by stress and muscle tightness. Exercise, especially The Bar Method, helps tremendously with this problem by strengthening students’ cores, stretching the muscles in their backs and legs, and improving their alignment and body mechanics. One group that is especially vulnerable to back issues is made up of people with weak abs and glutes, which are not brought into service when they should be. The result is that the lower back muscles get overused, thereby putting themselves at risk for tweaks. I can pick these students out when they take their first Bar Method classes because they tend lean back during the “seat” exercises, trying to use their back muscles instead of their glutes and hamstrings to move their legs. Eventually these students learn to use their seat-muscles and abs to control the movements of their legs and torso, taking a load of stress off their backs.
I’d like to tell you that all Bar Method students with back pain get better just by taking the class, but when it comes to the back, the situation is not so simple. Our backs, like our knees, are complicated joints with many moving parts, and like knees, can misfire in multiple ways (see my blog on knees posted earlier this month). Depending on the underlying cause, back pain can either respond well to the Bar Method or require students to modify some of the exercises. Here are a few back problems that can fall into this second category:
Sciatica is actually a symptom, not a condition in itself. It refers to numbness or tingling in your leg from something pressing on your sciatic nerve. The culprit could be a vertebral disk, a tight muscle or, if you’re pregnant, a baby. Depending on what’s happening at the pressure point, you might need to limit the degree of movement in your back when you exercise.
Scoliosis refers to an abnormal curvature of the spine and can cause low back pain. Students with scoliosis might again find it more comfortable to modify some of Bar Method exercises that include back bending.
Arthritis, osteoarthritis and bone spurs in the back are caused by degenerated vertebrae. Students who are moderately effected by these conditions usually benefit from the Bar Method’s core work and stretches, but can feel so much sensitivity around the affected areas that they find doing modifications during some of the back stretches more comfortable.
If you suspect you have a back condition that calls for special attention when you take class or use one of the DVDs, you can do the following modifications and still get a great workout: During the stretch at the bar, you can go to a stall-bar and place your leg up on a lower rung. Doing so will lessen the degree of stretching in your upper leg and lower back. See photo at right.
During the “fold-over” version of “seat-work” you can work with a more upright torso, again, so as to minimize the flexion in your hips.
During pretzel, a sitting seat exercise, do “standing seat.”
During “round-back,” (shown right) which is taught only in Bar Method studio classes and not on the DVDs, you are welcome to lie down, as illustrated.
Most important of all, if you have back pain, find a way to exercise. More than 80% of Americans will experience severe back pain in their lifetimes, so you are statistically unlikely to escape the experience. Medical research has found that consistent exercise keeps your muscles and joints moving and active in a way that counteracts continued tightening and strains. So if and when you do have an episode, finding a way to exercise is your best bet at a speedy recovery.
http://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpg00Burr Leonardhttp://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpgBurr Leonard2010-11-23 19:26:002010-11-23 19:26:00HOW THE BAR METHOD EXERCISES HELP STUDENTS WITH BACK CONDITIONS
For the past couple of weeks, I ve been discussing the vulnerable areas in our human bodies and how The Bar Method strengthens them. Our back is certainly one of our most susceptible body parts. The origin of our back issues goes way back to when we stood up on two legs, losing the relative stability that comes with having four of them. Our back problems got worse when modern conveniences enabled most of us humans to lead very successful lives without doing much upper body work. Twenty-First Century Man could scarcely move all day and still make Forbes 100 Richest list at the end of the year.
It’s a fact that, as reported by the New York Times, people who do not exercise regularly face an increased risk for low back pain. Is it any wonder then that low back pain is the second most common cause of missed days of work (next to the common cold) in the United States? Close to 80% of all Americans experience it at some point and about 50% of us experience each year.
A common misconception about lower back pain is that we can eliminate it simply by doing abdominal exercises. The logic here is that a strong front of the body will give you a strong back. The truth is, to have a healthy back, you have to strengthen not only the front of your trunk but the back itself, and develop good posture and alignment.
Look at the chart above. It shows the superficial layers of the muscles in our backs. I‘m struck by the beauty of these intertwined muscular groupings and impressed by the obvious importance of each of these muscles in keeping us upright and healthy. When I talk to new Bar Method students who tell me they have problematic backs, I rarely hear them ask me about how to strengthen their back muscles. Yet clearly our back muscles were meant to be used and strengthened, especially given that they have a unique role in holding us upright unlike our distant four legged ancestors.
How can we minimize our risk of suffering from back pain or injury? Jonathan Clutt, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and About.com writer, recommends “sustained use of back muscles performed two or three times a week at least.” Sports injury expert Owen Anderson of Sports Injury Bulletin reported on five different studies on lower back pain, which all lead to the same conclusion. In the article he urges us to: “consider one last study, a beauty carried out in Teheran, Iran, with a grand total of 600 subjects. These 600 individuals were subdivided into four groups: 150 asymptomatic men, 150 asymptomatic women, 150 men with low-back pain, and 150 women with the same….. As it turned out, among all of the physical characteristics measured, the endurance of the back-extensor (erector-spinae) muscles had the highest (negative) association with low-back pain. The Iranian researchers suggested that low-back-muscle endurance could be used as a screening tool to predict which individuals would be likely to develop low-back disorders.” In other words, just as as Dr. Cluett said above, people should do exercises that employ sustained use of the back muscles and the erector-spinae muscle group is a particular important one to keep toned.
One of the things I enjoy most about teaching Bar Method classes and hanging out in the waiting room with students before and after class is hearing from some of them how much The Bar Method has helped their backs. The Method does that in a variety of ways. In addition to strengthening the abdominals, it strengthens, stretches and aligns students’ backs. Stretching on the stall bars at the start and end of class lengthens the spine and reverses some of its constant compression from gravity. The first 15 minutes of classes specifically strengthens the shoulder, arms, and upper body muscles including the posterior deltoids, rhomboids, and lats. Students use their upper backs consistently during this segment.
The Bar Method’s leg exercises also plays a role in stabilizing students’ backs. At the bar, Students’ back muscles get the very kind of sustained isometric work which strengthens the erector spinae to protect against lower back pain. Then they work their glutes, which act as a support for the lower back and must be strong to protect the spine.
After the glutes are exhausted and stretched, we turn to a series of core exercises. One of the most important of these is called flat back. This move cleverly forces the transverse abdominal muscle (which acts like a girdle around our entire middle) to fire and stay strong as it gives support to our spines. (Read more about this exercise for the deepest layer of muscle in our cores in HOW FLAT BACK GIVES US THE ABS OF OUR DREAMS.) Stretches punctuate the work to stretch and elongate all these muscles as we strengthen them. Towards the end of class, we do a pose specifically for the erector spinae after which we stretch the back while strengthening the glutes in an exercise we call back dancing but is known to many as a common physical therapy move for people with low back pain.
People know that The Bar Method gives you flat abs, toned thighs, and a lifted seat. What they might not have known until now it that it also gives you a strong, stretched, supple back!
http://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpg00Burr Leonardhttp://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpgBurr Leonard2010-06-22 04:31:002010-06-22 04:31:00EXERCISE AND EVOLUTION: HOW THE BAR METHOD EXERCISE TARGETS BACK MUSCLES
Have you ever have ever had a problem with your shoulders, back or knees? Last year, I was giving a talk at the famed destination Spa Rancho La Puerta in Mexico and I asked the members of the audience there that question. Nearly everyone raised their hand. The odds are that you have had some of these issues, too. Most people suffer discomfort or disability in these areas at some point in their lives.
Why are people prone to having weak knees, bad backs, and unstable shoulder joints? The reason lies in man’s evolutionary journey from four legged creature to human being. The human muscular structure was originally designed to fit a four-legged frame, one we still share with most other mammals. It may seem strange to us that an elephant, a four-legged animal, has two scapula, a sternum, two humerus bones, two ulna bones, two femurs, patellas, tibias and fibulas just as we do.
You can see in the picture above how many muscles we share with horses including traps, lats, pecs, biceps, triceps, glutes, quads and hamstrings. As our bodies evolved, we humans gained arms, hands and bigger brains. These additions provided us with spectacular survival skills but our evolution came at a price.
One significant difference between our anatomy and theirs is that horses and elephants have a limb on each corner of their torso like a table. You probably wouldn’t design a table with two legs leaving the rest of its structure hovering vertically in space. Neither would evolution unless it had a really good reason. Evolution built us the way it did to enable us to have an extraordinary spectrum of survival skills including building dwellings, making clothes and fires, hammering out tools and weapons and then hefting and throwing them, climbing trees and mountains, traveling with our children and possessions on our backs, and chasing down other mammals as well as running from them.
Most mammals have a relatively simply survival strategy. They hunt down their prey, breed and take care of their young. When they’re off work, they sleep. We, on the other hand, survive by keeping busy. Even with our vulnerable two-legged structure, we evolved to become the best overall athlete of all animals. Other animals can beat us at individual skills like running and strength. We would win the best average of all physical skills combined, and until fairly recently every human alive was an athlete living a life of non-stop, bodily multitasking. Compared to other animals, we are built to be total physical workaholics and the muscular system that resulted protected our bodies like suits of armor.
Contrast this lifestyle with today’s. Before age one we might be placed in a baby walker. Our parents toted us around in strollers, then in cars. We got to play, but soon we were in school at desks, and after school in front the TV. Later we became transfixed by computers and cell phones. In our youth we participated in sports for a few hours a day give or take. Finally we settled down with American Idol, Facebook, Twitter and texting.
So here we are with a two legged body that has been radically altered to suit this A-type physically active, multitasking creature. The very activities we humans had to perform to enable us to survive also protected our joints and backs by keeping us super-fit. Yet we’ve now multitasked ourselves right out of the need to be active with our bodies. I’m not knocking this amazing achievement. However, the drastic adaptations that evolution made to our bodies left us with a number of physical weaknesses, especially in our shoulders, backs and knees that can only be overcome by building a very strong muscular structure, something that was a natural result of all the survival activities man used to engage in. (Read WHY BAR METHOD CREATES MUSCLES THAT ARE SUPREMELY FIRM, LEAN AND SHAPELY for more on how Bar Method workouts build muscle.)
The situation today is that we no longer have the high level of fitness – and the muscles that result from it – that was once an inevitable part of our lives. In the next three weeks, I’ll take look at the three parts of our bodies – our shoulders, backs and knees — that are especially vulnerable to injury, and examine how exercise can re-endow these areas with the stability they need.
http://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpg00Burr Leonardhttp://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpgBurr Leonard2010-06-08 14:51:002010-06-08 14:51:00EVOLUTION, WORK AND WORKING OUT OR WHY PEOPLE NEED MUSCLES
“My tuck is VERY OFF!” a Bar Method student named Katie wrote me yesterday. “I know that if I could really get the tuck down, it would help keep me completely safe and strong…” The “tuck” that Katie is talking about is a Bar Method position that engages students’ core muscles – namely the glutes, abs and upper back – while it allows their lower backs to relax. To “get the tuck”, students like Katie must first get out of the habit of inadvertently contracting their back muscles when they engage their glutes.
Katie is right about the importance of learning good coordination. The way you move, like good posture, plays a big role in how good you look as well as how you feel. Carry yourself gracefully, and you will come across as more confident and attractive. The Bar Method helps you to attain this feature in two ways. First it trains your core muscles to turn on when you need them. (Read CORE STRENGTHENING – FACT AND FUNCTION for more about the core.) Second – and less common among exercise techniques – it teaches you good coordination, which is your mind/body connection’s ability to choose the best possible muscles to use for each movement, and to relax those you don’t need.
Why do people use unnecessary muscles in the first place? They might do this because the muscle group that is supposed to do the work is weak, so the muscles around it have gotten into the habit of trying to help. Other reasons might be bad movement patterns picked up during childhood, or storing emotional tension in certain muscles.
Whatever the cause, if you haven’t had serious athletic training, you probably unnecessarily use too many muscles at least on occasion. What are the hardest muscles for most Bar Method students to turn off? They’re the ones in the lower back, which is why Katie and so many other students find the tuck position so elusive at first. The reason lower back muscles have so much trouble letting go in general is that our glutes unavoidably spend much of their time resting in chairs and so become weak and, yes, lazy. This reduced strength on the part of our glutes causes our lower back muscles to compensate, but they can’t perform the work our glutes are supposed to do. So students end up arching their backs instead of contracting their seats. To counteract this phenomenon, Bar Method teachers use an arsenal of training techniques, including visual imagery, gentle hands-on adjustments, frequent reminders, and breathing exercises.
Retraining your muscles to work more efficiently takes patience. You have to actually rewire your brain circuits in some cases so that the your brain doesn’t send the message “contract your lower back and glutes” when you really wanted to simply contract your glutes. The brain’s aptitude to fire specifically called upon muscle groups is what they call good mind/body connection. This connection is learnable and the results are transformative. Some students take weeks or months; others take years to get the tuck or learn to keep their shoulders down. Here are four tips on how to improve your coordination during class:
1. Look at your form in the mirror. Try to look at yourself without pre-assumptions on what you see. Try to notice whether or not your back is vertical or on an angle and whether or not your back is arched or straight.
2. Exhale deeply and sharply with each rep. Your diaphragm can get you in better touch with your core muscles if you let it help you. Try puffing out softly through your lips as you work on your form, and you’ll find that your back muscles will tend to release and your ab muscles will start to take over.
3. Ask your teacher for help. She or he will be happy to guide your body into the correct positions.
4. Stay alert during class. Avoid letting your mind wander. When it does, return to your breathing. Your added mental focus can work wonders on your form.
Most of all, be proud that you’ve set out to develop a trained and graceful body. It’s an enormous undertaking that, with patience and persistence, will transform your body.
http://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpg00Burr Leonardhttp://barmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Logo_BarMethod_Sharp.jpgBurr Leonard2010-04-27 17:25:002010-04-27 17:25:00THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION, BEAUTY AND THE BAR METHOD
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