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The Beautiful Look and Style of Bar Method Studios

Summit Accent WallIn 2007, we welcomed our first Bar Method studios located outside of our home state of California. All of the new studios were beautiful, but one stood out for its highly creative design choices. The owners of the Summit, New Jersey studio, Jen and Angie, had painted the wall behind their front desk a deep, chocolate brown and mounted onto it a shiny metallic logo. They also exposed the brick on one wall of their studio. Both of these ideas took fire within the Bar Method, and other studio owners painted accent walls, mounted shiny logos, and exposed brick as you’ll see below. Today, on approaching a Bar Method front desk one of the first things you’ll notice is an accent wall, which has now become an essential design element in all new studios. Below is a selection of the many gorgeous colors studio owners have chosen:

accent wall collage

The development of our accent walls is an example of the collaborative effort among ourselves, our studio owners and our students that has gone into the evolution of the Bar Method’s studio design style. Based on our students’ input, we’ve learned to equip exercise rooms with soft flooring to cushion feet, knees and hips, plenty of “stall-bars” (bars with lower rungs) to accommodate students with tight hamstrings, calming, neutral colors on the walls, and natural light for a cheerful ambiance.

At the same time, we’ve encouraged studio owners to be as creative as they wish beyond these design basics. In this blog I’d like to give you a tour of a few studios whose owners have come up with their own distinctive and dazzling looks.

As I mentioned, studios in older cities such as Summit, New York, Boston, Salt Lake City and Montclair, New Jersey exposed the underlying brick in their exercise rooms, reception areas and hallways. Some of these walls reveal the ghosts of former stairways, windows and doors impressed in the brick, providing students with a bit of fascination with what came before while they work out.

brick

Owners in other cities took advantage of unique architechural features of their spaces. In Portland owners Denise and Meghann enhanced the dramatically high ceilings of their space with larger-than-life-size photos, faux beams, and industrial-style lighting:

Portland Collage

San Diego studioSan Diego Bar Method owner Allison located her studio in Point Loma’s Liberty Station, a cluster of buildings that once housed a naval training center and is now a nationally designated landmark. Allison built on her space’s historic flavor by installing fans, lighting and curtains that evoke the mid-century style of the period.

Montclair studioIn Montclair, New Jersey, Shannon and Kelly were forced to make an flamboyant design choice by unforeseen circumstances. Shortly after they’d signed their lease, their contractor popped out a few ceiling tiles and discovered a long-hidden decorative ceiling, which their landlord then insisted they restore. After many extra months of construction, Shannon and Kelly now have a studio room to die for. No problem doing the last 20 curls in the Montclair studio! All you have to do is look up and be transfixed.

Orlando LoungeAmong my favorite design inspirations of all is the lounge in the Orlando, Florida studio. Owner Karen installed a retro banquette worthy of a Raymond Chandler Hollywood mystery, then dressed it up with glittering modern accessories. The Orlando Disneyland couldn’t have been more imaginative!

I wish I could show you all the fabulous Bar Method studios. Catherine in Carlsbad and Carrie Salt Lake City stained their bars and stall-bars in rich mahogany. Joey in Burbank chose black lockers, red walls and red faux leather furniture that give his locker rooms a wow factor. Palos Verdes, California is just plain magnificent throughout. I’m proud of all care and thought owners have put into making their studios fun, unique and inviting.

Congratulations, studio owners, on your gorgeous designs!  

CELEBRATING THE BAR METHOD’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY

Carl and Burr in ConnecticutWe opened our first Bar Method studio on a sunny day in Mid-August 2001. Carl Diehl, my business partner, and I were still married to each other. We’d leased a 7,700 square foot two-story building that had once been a health club. Looking back it’s clear that we had no idea what we were doing. The structure was way under code and expensive to renovate. Carl and I used up our savings, borrowed more money, and did a lot of the work ourselves. We were full of optimism anyway. We fitted up the space with three exercise rooms, large locker rooms for men and women, childcare, massage and an office space for each of us. We were the two teachers. On that first day two students showed up.

Since you’re reading this blog, you probably know that the Bar Method has changed since then. During the past decade it’s grown to almost 50 studios and now serves an average around 2,500 students a day, more than 200 of them at our San Francisco Marina studio. This month in celebration of our tenth anniversary our studio manager Mike Najjar has planned some fantastic events including a class that will be streamed worldwide live over the internet taught by me. On a personal level this imminent “big birthday” has made me think back over the decade it took Carl and me to get to where we are. In this blog I’d like to share with you a few of the key moments that determined our path during these years.

How it started:

Lotte and BurrThe story of the Bar Method begins years before our first studio opened, slightly over ten years to be exact, on Valentine’s Day of 1991. Carl and I had been married a few months, and he enjoyed surprising me with gifts. He knew I was addicted to the Lotte Berk Method, the exercise system on which the Bar Method is based, so that day he gave me a card containing a voucher for a free class. What was extraordinary about this gift was that it wasn’t actually for a Lotte Berk Method class. It was for a class with Lotte Berk herself, the originator of bar fitness, in her London studio.

We went to London, saw museums, went to shows, and I took the class. Concurrently during the previous few months, we’d been brainstorming about becoming entrepreneurs. When Carl picked me up from Lotte’s studio and paid her for my class in cash, she became hopelessly confused while trying to count out the proper change. Carl helped her, and as we walked away, he exclaimed, “If Lotte can’t add, the exercise business must be really simple. Let’s do it!” Back in the States we bought a license from the Lotte Berk Method, opened four successful studios in Connecticut, and sold them in 2001 to move to our dream city, San Francisco.

Our First Teachers:

Jen at the front deskFor any studio owner, débuting new teachers is a high. Suddenly, we can take class; we’re not on the schedule 24/7, and when we walk by the studios, we hear the exercises being presented in brand new voices not our own. In late 2001 Carl and I were lucky to graduate an extraordinary and charismatic first group of teachers for our new studio. Amy Duffey is now the co-owner of the Manhattan studio and our sole East Coast teacher trainer. Jen Hertsenberg, a supermom of two beautiful and perfect young children, manages to do an amazing job at being a master teacher, a trainer, an evaluator, and our executive coordinator of training, evaluating and coaching. Emily Feinstein has grown a huge following among our student body with her innovative choreography, crystal-clear instructions and fun music. Each of these talented early teachers, Amy, Jen and Emily, has contributed greatly to the Bar Method’s evolution over the past ten years.

The birth of a Bar Method that can travel:

Amy Burr and EmilyAs the new owners of our San Francisco studio Carl and I did not originally think of franchising. What changed our course had nothing to do with entrepreneurial vision. It was people coming to us seeking their own Bar Method studios. At first I was skeptical about the idea. Could we maintain quality from afar? Carl on the other hand has always found it impossible to say no, especially to anyone proposing some kind of new exciting venture. We went ahead, and by 2009 my concerns about quality had been put to rest. Our out-of-town studio owners turned out to be quality fanatics. With their tireless attention to detail they started to outdo even the SF teachers and inspired me to develop more stringent quality controls for the entire Bar Method. Wow, I thought, we can do this. World, here we come!

Celebrating our birthday:

The next key moment in our history will happen this month on Friday, the 19th when our studio and the Bar Method turn ten. At 2:00 pm that day in addition to the internet class, (which will be available for viewing over the weekend as well), we are giving gifts and discounts to our students and will be donating $5000 to Global Fund for Women in appreciation of women everywhere.

Thank you, all Bar Method students, for your support in helping us grow!

TAKING THE PULSE OF THE BAR METHOD’S GROWTH

It’s easy to see that The Bar Method is growing as its studios sprout up all around North America. Twenty-five new locations are currently in various stages of development, some opening over the next month or so like Boston, Austin and Washington DC. What’s not as visible, but just as exciting to me, is The Bar Method’s behind-the-scenes growth. In the past year we’ve greatly changed structurally in the way we lead, and that change is playing a major role in bringing to life my dream of a constellation of Bar Method studios, every one of which provides its students with consistently high-quality teaching of the Bar Method technique. To that end, The Bar Method has recently put in place teams of master instructors to evaluate and oversee every Bar Method teacher and to coach them when needed.

JenAlong with this increase in size and complexity in our company comes a growing deficit of time on my part to get everything done. Time was when I’d always show up at a new studio on opening day to admire the space and teach the first few classes. Now months can go by before I get to a new facility. The St. Louis studio opened last October, and it was not until April that I found a few days to make the trip there. And not only is there less time to travel; there’s also more to do when I’m on the road. On this trip, for example, no way was I going to get away with simply teaching a few classes, if Jen, my director of evaluations, had anything to say about it. “Hey, St. Louis is less than 1,000 miles from New Jersey!” she exclaimed when she found out I was traveling. “ As long as you’re out there, please drop by New Jersey and New York (she really said this!) and take care of these six evaluations that I need done.” I’ll do anything for Jen, who’s an amazing evaluation director, as well as teacher and trainer, so I said, “Sure.” It’s no surprise that Jen leapt at the news that I was going in the direction of where some evaluations were due. There are now hundreds of Bar Method teachers throughout North America, and we have only seven evaluators including myself.

Bernardsville:

bernardsville merchandise displayIn the end I was happy I’d accepted this assignment from Jen. Otherwise I never would have witnessed an amazing and inspiration transformation one studio made between my opening visit to it and my return one-year later. This studio is located in Bernardsville, New Jersey, an idyllic, pastoral outer-suburb of New York City. The town has a long-standing YMCA, and that was where most fit-conscious residents got their exercise before The Bar Method arrived in January of 2010. Its opening generated so much excitement in the town that when I walked in the door last year to meet my students, it seemed that the entire membership of the Y had decided to try The Bar Method on its first day of business. The place was packed. The problem was, these students were accustomed to the way they had been exercising at the Y, namely while concurrently catching up with their neighbors and friends, and they were chatting nonstop. If you’ve ever taken a Bar Method class at a studio, you know that we ask our students not to talk to each other during class. We believe that when it comes to the Bar Method students get a better, faster-moving workout when they’re not distracted by their neighbors. That first day in Bernardsville I had to stop each of my classes several times to impress upon my eager but noisy students the ultimate benefits of exercising non-verbally.

On my return visit last month, I barely recognized the place. I could have heard a pin drop in the waiting area. The same students I’d met the year before were still there, but now they were waiting for class to begin quietly and with what seemed to me like reverence. When they saw me, they shook my hand and told me their personal stories of how the Bar Method had changed them outside and in. One student said she had rheumatoid arthritis has been able to cut her medication in half. Others showed me their toned arms and talked about heightened self-confidence and well-being. The new Bernardsville teachers I evaluated had also changed. Last year, their motivation for training and becoming teachers was for something fun to do. Last month it was clear that their approach to teaching had shifted to become a dedicated practice. I credit this shift, in large part, to the leadership of the studio’s two dynamic owners, Gina Williams and Melissa Ramsey. The new teachers’ classes that I evaluated sparkled. I was humbled, amazed and touched by this studio’s exquisite interpretation of the Bar Method’s principles and the positive impact this manifestation was having on its students.

St. Louis:

Jessica in St LouisFrom Bernardsville, I flew to St. Louis and walked into a jewel of a studio. Jessica Prasse, its young owner, had chosen a luscious assortment of creams for the walls, floors and that gave the whole studio the feel of a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie set. I evaluated teachers there too, and was greatly satisfied to find that the Bar Method technique had transferred well to this brand new territory thanks to our fantastic teacher-trainers and Jessica’s relentless attention to detail.

New DVDs!

Last month the Bar Method also became more available via two new home exercise DVDs, “Super Sculpting” and “Super Sculpting II.” A few days after their launch I was delighted to receive many positive comments about the workouts including an email from Switzerland by a user named Daniela that said, “I did both of them and I really love it!”

My thanks, Daniela, and to all of you who wrote in!

VISITING THE NEW PALOS VERDES AND SANTA BARBARA STUDIOS

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting two brand new Bar Method studios, both in Southern California. I’d just finished shooting two new Bar Method DVD workouts, at a production studio just north of LA. The DVDs, “Super Sculpting 1 and 2,” will be released in April. We wrapped the shoot on Friday afternoon, and I walked out of the sound stage into a warm, sunny day and drove down the 405 to Palos Verdes, where the next morning I would teach three classes at the new studio located in that town. Afterwards I’d drive back up the 405 then 100 more miles up the coast to Santa Barbara where on Sunday I’d teach at the new studio there.

Santa Barbra Owners Jodi and QuinnThe two young owners of these studios, Millie Katic and Jodi Conroy, have much in common with each other. They are both pretty and petite. Millie, 33, is the mother of a year and a half year old daughter. Jodi, 28, is expecting her first child, a boy, in May. They opened their first studios in California towns where they lived or grew up – Millie in Hermosa Beach, Jodi in Agoura Hills. Both husbands (Darren Katic and Quinn Conroy) have pitched in to help oversee the build-outs and have even manned the front desk when needed. Last but not least, Millie and Jodi were both drawn to the charm and communal spirit of the two towns they chose for their second locations.

Burr with Palos Verdes owner Millie KaticPalos Verdes, my first destination, is a not-quite-peninsula on the Pacific Ocean about an hour south of Los Angeles. Its residents have a reputation for loving their town so much that they rarely leave. This “PV” predilection for staying put was one of the inspirations for Millie’s wanting to location a studio there. Her Hermosa Beach studio is 12 miles north of Palos Verdes. Her “PV” students would drive to take class there but attend sporadically citing their reluctance to leave home. They begged her to open a studio in their town.

Millie accommodated them and opened her Palos Verdes studio on December 18th of last year. Her “PV” students kept their word to her and started attending class regularly, some of them five or six times a week.

On Saturday morning I walked into Millie’s studio and was knocked out by how beautiful it is. Millie and Darren clearly have a knack for stunning design, and they’ve been technically innovative as well. Instead of being stumped by the seeming impossibility of constructing a load-bearing bar across a series of floor-to-ceiling windows, they got creative. “In this challenge,” Millie says, “was born our ‘glass railing,’ which we have used now in both studios. This railing is an original design and solves the problem of placing a bar on any wall with windows…” The Palos Verdes studio features one of these amazing and beautiful devices on which the bar seems to float in space but is strong enough to support a line of students going all out during water-ski thigh or flat-back.

The Bar Method Santa BarbaraAfter my classes, I drove up the coast to Santa Barbara past scenery that looked like something out a fairytale — green, rolling, sun-soaked hills on my right, the ocean on my left. I got to Santa Barbara after a few hours on the road and found it to be as pretty and quaint as its surrounding countryside.

On Sunday Jodi and Quinn greeted me and gave a tour of the studio. Theirs, just like the one in Palos Verdes, is beautiful, spacious and exquisitely designed. My favorite feature: the huge, ornate windows that let floods of light into its two high-ceilinged studio rooms.

For a moment I thought, are Bar Method studio owners trying to outdo each other? These locations just keep getting more and more beautiful. Then I realized with a smile, these new studios look so good in part due to our growing expertise at building them and in part to the amazing skills of my business partner, Carl Diehl, with whom I’ve been building studios for 20 years. In our partnership I’m the one in charge of the exercise and teaching methods. Carl designs the studios. He’s always had an amazing ability to walk into a raw or broken up site and envision how a studio would fit into it. Now, after doing this at hundreds of potential and eventual Bar Method locations, he’s become almost unbelievably good at it.Co-Founder Carl Diehl

Millie and Jodi both did animated impressions of Carl walking into potential spaces, laser measuring tape in hand, to deem whether or not a studio would fit there. “He goes zap, zap, zap with the laser” they both said almost in the same words. “’This goes here. That goes there. Gotta go.’ And off he flies to another space.” Millie’s studio had been a veterinary clinic that was broken up into 40 or so little cubicles. Carl seemed to see through the partitions and within moments had re-drawn the new walls. “How he can do that, I don’t know,” she said. Jodi’s space was originally three or four contiguous storefronts. “I had no idea it could work,” she said, “until Carl figured it out.” We had a good laugh, though mostly in appreciation for the collective expertise that we’ve acquired over the years and the beautiful results that have come from it.

My compliments, Millie, Darren, Jodi and Quinn, on your fantastic new studios!

THE 2010 BAR METHOD CONVENTION AND THE RELEASE OF THE NEW EXERCISE DVDs

Last Friday and Saturday we held our third annual Bar Method franchisee convention at our San Francisco Marina studio. Forty-seven studio owners attended from our 35 Bar Method studios in the U.S. and Canada. In 2011, the number of Bar Method studios will reach around 50. The more of them there are, the more noticeable it becomes that the Bar Method studio owners tend to be cut out of the same cloth. All of them are superb teachers, strong leaders and as one studio owner likes to put it “have drunk the cool aid” and are happily addicted to the Bar Method’s humanistic approach to exercise. In many cases they are close friends with each other.

Exercise classEvery year I like to watch the explosion of excitement when franchisees first walk though the door of our studio and see their friends or meet new fellow studio owners for the first time. Though it was clear to everyone that we’ve grown since last year, the buzz at this convention wasn’t about how big we’re become. People were more interested in another change that’s been taking place. Since last spring, we’ve been working to set up a new organizational framework that will enable the Bar Method to maintain the quality of its classes, and even increase that quality, as it adds new studios. Getting organized might not seem like a particularly electrifying news item, but to me it’s exciting because I know that it will mean you can take a great class in Chicago, then go in Miami and take a class there that will be just a great. Your teachers will have different personalities and styles, but the Bar Method technique will be consistent wherever you go. The exercises will be involving, interesting, fast moving, clearly presented. The music will be dynamic and inspiring, and you will wake up the next day with a stronger, leaner feeling in your muscles.

The driving force behind the idea to build adescribe the image
more effective organizational framework is our dynamic new COO Michael Doud who joined our company last spring. Michael has three decades of experience building successful companies and running operational systems for large corporations. He left his management position at a large corporation to join the Bar Method because he believes in it. He takes three classes a week (all at 6 am), works a 12-hour corporate-style day, and has given wings to the Bar Method’s idea that enhancing its capacity to change bodies and lives for the better, not increasing its size, is ultimately the most satisfying goal we can aim for.

To those of you who have been asking about our new DVDs, “The Bar Method Beginner’s Workout,” “The Bar Method Dancer’s Body,” and “The Bar Method Pregnancy Workout,” they are now available! If you don’t see them on the home page, simply refresh your browser. Our intention in creating these DVDs was to make them as closely as possible resemble the feel, spirit and effectiveness of our studio classes, and I think we succeeded. All three classes are fun and fast-moving and include a bonus section taught by me on how to do the basic exercises in good form. Enjoy!

dvd covers

HOW THE BAR METHOD’S SPECIAL EQUIPMENT KEEPS STUDENTS’ JOINTS SAFE

no impact exerciseThis morning while I was taking the 7 am class, I noticed two students, Raymonde and Rose, who were working across from me. The three of us are regulars at this hour, so I’ve had the pleasure of watching Raymonde and Rose develop from struggling beginners into students with good form. Their improvement has been especially satisfying for me to watch because their height could have interfered with their progress had they not been at the Bar Method. Both are on the petite side, especially Rose, and Raymonde also has delicate shoulders. Here their stature and joint sensitivity are not a problem due to the availability of “riser mats,” a piece of equipment that you can find in every Bar Method studio. Riser mats are two inches thick and filled with dense rubber. Students who are petite or have sensitive shoulders can sit on “risers” so that they can reach up to the bar from below without straining their necks and shoulders. Raymonde as you can see is also using a stretching strap to hold her leg elevated, which helps her do the exercise without running the risk of overworking her hip-flexors.

The idea to make riser mats an essential piece of equipment came from The Bar Method’s long-standing effort to make its workout as safe as possible. When your joints are comfortable, you can concentrate on your muscles, not to mention that you feel intrinsically safer. With this aim in mind The Bar Method has developed not only its risers but a variety of equipment that contributes to its goal of creating a workout that is gentle on its students joints, the better to be challenging to their muscles.

Rubber Underlayment: On first sight a Bar Method studio looks like a normal carpeted room. In fact, the flooring in the room is quite unusual. Under the carpet lies not regular carpet padding but rubber underlayment that is three-fourths-of-an-inch thick. Walk into a Bar Method studio in your socks and you’ll notice that your heels sink down slightly with each step. During class this underlayment gives extra protection to students’ feet, knees, elbows and hips.

Large Mat: Yoga mats are popular in many exercise studios but can feel uncomfortable during strengthening and stretching exercises. The Bar Method’s mats are filled with dense, inch-and-a-half-thick foam that protects students’ spines and hips during ab work.

ab exerciseSmall Mat: During thigh-work students sometimes press The Bar Method’s small mat between their thighs to tone their legs. The main purpose of the small mat however is to protect two particularly boney parts of the body. First, students with sensitivity around the balls of their feet can place it under their feet during thigh-work. Second those with stiff or delicate backs can tuck it under their ribs as shown above during ab work. If you want a small mat to use at home, you’ll be able to buy one on our website in late October along with the new Bar Method DVDs, “Dancer’s Body,” “Beginner’s Workout,” and “Pregnancy Workout,” all of which use this piece of equipment.

Riser Mat: As I mentioned earlier in this blog, riser mats come in handy if you’re petite or have sensitive shoulders and you’re doing “round-back” (shown above) or “flat-back” (similar to round-back but with a straight, vertical back). Its biggest success however has been with students who have hip issues. When these students sit on one or two risers during “flat-back,” their feet drop lower down than their hips. This adjustment makes their legs easier to lift and their hips experience less strain – while still offering plenty of challenge to their abs.

Heather in flat back with strapStretching Strap: The Bar Method’s stretching straps mainly make hamstring stretching more doable. Students with shoulder issues have also found them useful during “flat-back,” which Heather is demonstrating.  By looping two straps over the bar and holding onto their ends, students can perform this challenging exercise while keeping their upper arms lower than their shoulders.

How much of a difference does all this equipment make? One student named Jen who emailed me awhile ago put it this way:  “I have joint problems and arthritis from numerous sports injuries, and this is the ONE workout that actually makes my legs, hip and back feel better. Thanks again.”

Read here how exercise itself helps keep your joints safe: Why People Need Muscle  

Find a Bar Method Exercise Studio near you. 

Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

BRENTWOOD’S NEW BAR METHOD EXERCISE STUDIO

These days I do most of my teaching at studio openings. I enjoy being part of these events. Typically the studio owners are excited, nervous and sleep deprived. They’ve been up half the night stuffing mats, blowing up balls, folding towels, checking the sound system and plugging in the front desk computers, printers and credit card machines. Usually the walls in the reception room look empty because the photos haven’t been hung. To make up for this, there are colorful bouquets of flowers on every conceivable surface from well-wishers. The whole place looks and smells new.

Burr and Martine in BrentwoodMy role is to welcome the students and give them a great class. Before the class I stand at the front desk and learn each student’s name as she or he signs in. My knowledge of everyone’s name gives me the ability to teach a fast-moving class and connect with many individual students at the same time. I can remind someone by name to relax her shoulders, which usually produces a quick laugh from the student because she knows she has this problem and I caught her at it. I can fine-tune students’ form with phrases like, “Amy, great tuck. Now press your ribs forward a bit more. That’s perfect.” My goal is to give every student both adjustments and praise, even including the other master teachers in class. That way, the effect is a positive one, as if my students were beautiful members of a dance company being coached by their choreographer (me). We coalesce, and for one hour we are a group with a common purpose.

The three classes I taught this past Saturday at the Brentwood, California Bar Method studio opening all felt this way. Brentwood is a residential community in West Los Angeles just north of Santa Monica and east of Pacific Palisades where many film stars and other celebrities live. During the morning, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger walked by our front door and waved cheerfully at the desk sitters inside.

From the courtyard resized 600The Brentwood studio is nestled in a tiny, two-storey cluster of shops that share a central courtyard with potted flowering plants and little trees surrounding a small, stone fountain. You can sit and have lunch at one of its two patisseries or just hang out on benches and at the outdoor tables.

The location is not far other Bar Method studios, so some of my students on Saturday had already taken the Bar Method for years somewhere else nearby or were Bar Method teachers and owners of other LA studios. Some were students who hadn’t taken class regularly because they lived a bit too far away until now. There were also people who’d taken other bar fitness classes, some skeptical members of the press, and a few brave souls who were new to it all and were willing to jump right in on opening day.

This kind of mix is a blast for me to teach. I can explain the basics of technique to first timers, watch the faces of the skeptics as they feel muscles they didn’t expect to feel and are surprised by how fast the class moves, as well as shooting a few respectful pointers to the experts.

Mimi by Burr 7 10 10 crop resized 600The Brentwood studio owes its existence to Mimi and Mark Fleischman, my sister and brother-in-law. Together they introduced the Bar Method to Southern California by opening their first studio in West LA in 2003 and their second one in West Hollywood two years later. Mimi and Mark’s teachers have a reputation for being dynamic, dedicated and charismatic and their desk sitters tend to be outgoing writers, actors, and comedians from the entertainment community. Their busy studios and wonderful team are an inspiration to the entire Bar Method family.

Congratulations, Mimi and Mark!

Read my post on opening the New York City Soho Bar Method exercise studio.

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.

Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

FITNESS CHALLENGE BEFORE AND AFTER STORIES

Fitness challenges are becoming popular at Bar Method studios around the country because the workout makes such noticeable changes in students’ bodies. The challenges are contests held over three to four months for various prizes.  Recently, the Bar Method studio in Redmond just East of Seattle, Washington held a Fitness Challenge that inspired many students to work a little harder than usual.  The testimonials that the contestants wrote are inspirational, and I found them fun to read.

Bar Method Redmond has been open less than a year. In early 2009,  two Bay Area Bar Method teachers moved back home to the Seattle, Washington area to open their own studio near where they grew up. Bev Currier had been teaching in Walnut Creek, California for years. Maika Manring was a newer teacher in that same studio.  The two women were joined by Bev’s husband Luke Currier, who although not a teacher, is integrally involved in every other aspect of the studio.

Bev, Luke and Maika opened Bar Method Redmond, Seattle-Eastside in August, 2009 and less than a year later, it is a vibrant, jam packed exercise center that has touched thousands of people’s lives. The 2010 Fitness Challenge, which was launched in January, excited the entire studio and many participants reached their goals, which varied from weight loss to injury prevention, better posture, greater flexibility, overcoming depression, and simply getting some “me time.”

Studio co-owner Maika explains that “we did not choose the winner of the transformation challenge by the person who changed their body the most.  The transformation could be how Bar Method changed their life for the better, be it a physical change, a mental/emotional change, or both. All fitness challengers submitted testimonials to describe these changes and the person that won showed a transformation that embodied Bar Method body, mind and spirit.”

Here is one of the stories that I particularly love from Cynthia and her before and after pictures.

cynthia before resized 600 “I joined the fitness challenge with the goal of attending Bar 5 times per week.  In reality I made it on average 3-4 times.  My overall goals consisted of getting in shape for a looming 10-year high school reunion this summer and fitting into a pair of jeans I have hung on to for way too long!

I was so excited to join this challenge and see it through just as quickly as I had committed to it.  Over the course of the challenge I overcame many obstacles along my fitness journey to achieve success:  sprained ankle, sickness, family illness the loss of my beloved grandpa.  Through each of these obstacles I rededicated myself to my goals by making positive life long changes.  I did this by focusing on balancing my diet and eating habits, especially when it was not possible to attend Bar.   These obstacles also gave me a better understanding that eating healthy in addition to Bar Method workouts was also a key component to achieving the results I set out for myself.  Each obstacle I overcame allowed me to achieve small successes every week and every month I participated in the challenge.

My overall method for reaching my goals was to attain them by balanced, realistic and sustainable means.  In short, my recipe for success has been largely based on attending Bar Method classes regularly, drinking more water, getting more sleep, limited alcohol consumption, less soda, less overall calorie intake and generally paying greater attention to what I am putting into my body.

The more classes I attended, the more I came to the conclusion that I love Bar Method!  There has not been a single day that I did not experience the sensations of burning, shaking and quivering in nearly every muscle in my body.  The combination of pilates, yoga with isometric movements has been the best compliment to my typically cardio-heavy workout regimen.  I have never had the muscle definition and dense muscle composition that I have now.

My battle with weight has been a recent struggle of mine.  It was not until I entered my late 20’s that I ever had any difficulty managing my weight and staying toned. Bar Method has not on transformed my body but also the way I approach my ongoing fitness goals.  Now at 28, I’m committed and dedicated to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes Bar Method regularly!  Along this journey I have gained confidence, my clothes fit better (I now fit into that pair of jeans I have hung on to!!!), I stand taller and I have more energy and motivation.

After 4 months I have lost: 1.5 inches off my arms, 2 inches off my chest, 3.5 inches off my waist, 3 inches off my hips, 3 inches off my thighs, and 1.25 inches off my calves!

cynthia resized 600Sometimes it has felt like life interrupted my fitness plans on my fitness journey but like everything else in life some things do not go as planned, we take a detour along the way, but amazingly we can still arrive at our destination.  I have felt this many times over during the course of this challenge.   I am definitely a stronger individual because of these experiences and obstacles.  Even though I was able to meet most of my fitness goals for this challenge I plan on establishing new goals to continue to strive to meet and stay motivated.

I continue to look forward to my daily dose of Bar Method and warm greetings and smiles from Bev, Luke and Maika.  Their smiles encouragement helped get me out of bed, even on the coldest and darkest of winter mornings at 6am and that is what continues to bring me back for more… I love Bar Method!”

Allison, the winner of the 2010 Fitness Challenge, sums up the supportive spirit of the Redmond studio at the close of her interview:

“So, it is obvious I feel a connection both in body and spirit to The Bar Method and am thrilled at the results I am seeing. The icing on the cake is the camaraderie, support and love I feel for the group of people I take with, and for my incredible teachers Bev and Maika.”

Read all incredible results in all twenty testimonials from Bar Method Redmond.

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DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: THE INNER WORKOUT

Here’s a question I get asked sometimes: How can such a simple-looking workout stay fresh, and even get better over time?  Take a Bar Method class, and unless you’re a first-time student, you know that you’ll be doing about ten types of exercise in a set sequence, that this sequence will stay pretty the same and that you’ll be performing small, precise movements during most of the class. This quasi-mathematical approach to exercise would not on the surface seem exciting enough to keep people coming back for months and years. But for most Bar Method students, that’s exactly what it does. The longer they do the workout the more interesting it gets relative to other forms of exercise. “I’ve had a real problem sticking to most exercise programs,” a Chicago student named Christina told me. “but I really enjoy this.” Other students like Kate Forte, a TV writer/producer, tell me simply, “the more I do it, the more I fall in love.”

inner workoutWhat’s going on in a Bar Method class that has this effect on people? Last week a Bar Method Chicago instructor named Mandy Rinder took it upon herself to find out.  Mandy had just begun teaching the Bar Method and felt she was having trouble connecting to her students. To gain insight on how her students were feeling during each exercise, she decided to chronicle her own emotional journey through class.

What Mandy wrote sheds light on the inner thrill ride most Bar Method students are really on underneath the often calm surface appearing on their faces.  Mandy’s inner world while doing the class is a rugged landscape inhabited at different moments by self-doubt, challenge, ego, individual artistry followed by flashes of camaraderie. It is scrappy, mysterious, layered, and at times funny. Here’s a selection of her “dispatches from the edge:”

Push-ups:  “I still feel a moment of doubt or worry at the beginning of each set that THIS is going to be the time I’m going to have to drop back down or stop entirely.  I want to feel a huge rush of exhaustion and pride at the end…”

Thigh-work: “I think everyone knows and views ‘thigh’ as sort of a ‘test’…the image of egos dripping off the walls of the studio seems applicable. I again feel that tiny moment of self doubt at the beginning of the set, and often it flashes again during particularly challenging sets, as I wonder if I am going to have to come out of the position or work higher…This is immediately followed by that rush of adrenaline and excitement that stiffens my resolve to keep going.”

Seat-work: “I literally feel like a sculptor creating my body.  It is a very individual part of class for me. Everyone is working on their own individual piece of art, and there is less of the camaderie that I feel during thigh or say flat-back.”

Fold-over: “I think of fold-over as kind of the redheaded stepchild of seatwork.  I used to hate fold-over, probably because it feels more ‘blunt’ and less subtle and beautiful than the other seat exercises. Over time I have developed a grudging truce with fold-over, pretty much because at some point I realized that it really worked.  It’s kind of a scrappy little exercise, and because it works my booty AND burns all that extra fat, I will accept it as a means to an end.”

Curl: “The exercise feels very layered to me, like you are unlocking different levels of the exercise.  Curl almost feels like a dive to me. You just keep going deeper and deeper into the exercise.”

Back-dancing: “Back-dancing for me is honestly like a little party at the end of class.  It’s fun and kind of funny and the music is fun PLUS it is the end of class.  I want my clients to have a blast during back-dancing and get a jump start on that ‘post workout’ glowy feeling.”

Your terrain might look different from Mandy’s as you make your way through class.  Even so, if you’re a regular student, you probably travel an inner landscape that’s just as colorful as hers, and that gets more interesting with each class you take.

HANDS-ON ADJUSTING: ONE SECRET INGREDIENT OF BODY SCULPTING EXERCISE

Look at a class in progress and everyone seems to be working contentedly.  Listen to their interior monologue, and you might get a different impression. Here is what students tell me they are sometimes actually saying to themselves: “I wonder if I’m doing this right.”  “I don’t think I’m in the right position. ”  “I know I’m off, so why is the teacher walking right by me?” “I wish someone would HELP me.”

This kind of thinking challenges the conventional belief that students don’t want to be touched or singled out while taking exercise classes.  If you go with this idea, teachers would do best to simply show the moves and let everyone figure them out on their own. The Bar Method doesn’t buy into this view. Most students we’ve consulted on this issue tell us that they are highly motivated to do the exercises right and are frustrated when they don’t feel cared for and tended to by their teachers.  As long as teachers adjust their form supportively, they tell us, they appreciate the help.

good formOur students are smart to feel this way. Isometric systems like the Bar Method, unlike aerobics and boot camps, work by means of precise positioning. If students don’t get in the right positions, while they may get a good workout, they are not sculpting their bodies effectively. The better a student’s form, the faster the incredible results we are known for occur.

Of course, we Bar Method teachers must first overcome our students’ unfamiliarity with the idea that their exercise teachers will be adjusting their form. Our first step towards learning how to “adjust” without being intrusive takes place during teacher training.  Trainees practice on each other until they learn to administer “adjustments” with so much skill, confidence and positive spirit that they are able to dispel any reluctance on the part of students to receive this kind of guidance – and ultimately leave their students more relaxed and energized.

Here are a few guidelines we Bar Method teachers follow in order to make hands-on adjusting as positive an experience for our students as possible:

Touch the bony places, not the squishy places. We definitely don’t want to mistakenly put our hands on the squishier body parts. The double benefit of this tack is that the bony structures such as the hips, shoulders and the back of the ribs work better anyway when you’re straightening someone’s back or correcting their posture.

Smile (and try not to over-state the issue). When you’re making a physical adjustment, we try not to confuse the issue by talking. Students don’t want attention drawn to them, and too much conversation breaks their concentration.

Aim for improvement rather than perfection.  Improvement is the goal we’re looking for. It’s fun for teachers to acknowledge – and students to be reminded – that those little steps of progress add up until they become significant change.

Watch! Some teaches develop an uncanny ability to sense their students’ needs by reading their body language and facial expressions. These gifted and caring teachers can thereby eke out the students who are most hoping for help.

All told, “hands-on adjusting” helps students get workouts sessions that feel targeted.  “I like that the Bar Method is never random,” a Walnut Creek student told me last summer. “The teachers are great because they help me find every muscle from head to toe.”

Read more about sculpting your body.

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