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CALORIES BURNED DURING A BAR METHOD CLASS: WHY IT’S NOT A ZERO-SUM GAME

CALORIES BURNED DURING A BAR METHOD CLASS: WHY IT’S NOT A ZERO-SUM GAME

One of the most commonly asked questions I get at the Bar Method is how many calories you burn during a workout. No scientific assessments of caloric burn-rate in Bar Method classes have yet been done, but here’s what I can tell you based on burn rates of comparable exercise techniques. A 125-pound woman in good shape burns about 350 calories with the Bar Method DVD workouts (and closer to 400 calories in a beginning/intermediate studio class due to the faster pace). In addition, Bar Method workouts give an approximately 100-calorie additional post-workout burn-off from the build-up of lactic acid.

Advanced classes burn more, as a Bar Method student named Kristen reported a few years ago. “I wore my heart rate monitor for a couple of level two classes, and burned almost 500 calories [per class];” she said. “I burn about 600 on an hour long run.” Another student, a guy who took his first class wearing a heart rate monitor, told me he burned 800 calories. Students in other bar fitness classes who wore calorie counting devices reported burn-offs of between 136 and 701 calories.

Heart Rate MonitorThe variation in these numbers is due to differences in these students’ body size, gender, age, muscle mass, level of fitness, when they last ate, the level of the class, their familiarity with the workout, etc. Another reason for the variation in results is the heart rate monitors themselves. As one researcher wrote, “All caloric expenditure information that you read off of a heart monitor or an exercise machine like a treadmill or indoor bike, are estimates of calories spent and usually not very accurate.”

Nevertheless people are fascinated by the idea that we can make a zero-sum game of calories in/calories out, but in practice, this approach may not live up to all the interest it generates. If we could actually tweak our caloric intake and outtake by measuring it – even if heart rate monitors were 100% accurate — it wouldn’t matter how many extra calories we burned in a particular workout. As long as we burn at least some additional calories, they’d add up, and we’d lose weight sooner or later. The truth is, weight loss doesn’t routinely result from exercise, not because of our inability to measure calories “out,” but because of our inability to control calories “in.” The real culprit is, in a word, food. Our deep attachment to this substance has ways of tricking us into refueling after we work out in spite of our intentions. Consider two of food’s lesser strategies for getting us to eat:

Your Moment Dove commercialFood as pleasure: Many people grow to expect a certain amount of pleasure from food, apart from their need to satisfy their hunger, so that it becomes an entitlement. We ate dessert as children and through sheer habit feel we warrant it indefinitely. TV commercials play to this mindset by showing us beautiful young women eating candy as if it contained the secret of happiness.

StarbucksFood as comfort: The comforting feeling food gives us can serve an emotional sedative. In the new movie “No Strings Attached” Natalie Portman, when upset with her love life, wolfs down three boxes of donut holes. Donut holes are 220 calories each, and let’s say there are six of them per box. That would mean that she’d be consuming almost 4,000 calories, two days worth of fuel, to make herself feel better (great movie by the way – except that it was hard to believe that Natalie Portland’s size zero character ever ate an excess calorie in her life).

If these emotional addictions to food don’t do the trick of seducing us into replacing our calories just burned off, food pulls out its big guns, namely hunger pangs. After an intense workout, hunger will scream at you to replace those calories. Even if you succeed in resisting the Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha (630 calories), you might distractedly go for a second helping at dinner or an extra piece of the birthday cake served at the office, all devoured before you put much thought into doing so.

The good news in this state of affairs is that exercise absolutely will change your body dramatically if you commit to it for the long term. Numerous studies made of people over decades have found that those who lead sedentary lives tend to gain weight from age 30 – 60 while those who exercise stay lean and youthful. Other research found that exercise performed regularly has appetite-suppressing qualities.

I’d like to add that Bar Method workout in particular includes a few additional features that help you lose weight and keep it off.

  • It builds dense muscle mass in our large muscle groups. Dense muscles increase metabolic rate, plus make us feel more energetic and less in need of sweet pick-me-ups throughout the day.
  • It boosts confidence and mental toughness, strengthening our ability to make resolutions and follow through on them.
  • It rewards us for leaning down because the exercises are more doable the lighter you get. Over time, students learn on a visceral level that fewer pounds translate into more ability to get through the workout.
  • It gives us beautiful bodies that become a source of continual positive feedback for staying lean.

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None of these weight-control techniques involve calculating calories but there is plenty of evidence that they work. Thousands of Bar Method students have transformed their bodies, and hundreds have written in to tell us about it.

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.

FOODIES, EXERCISE, AND THE BAR METHOD

People have varying attitudes towards food. Some people cherish it as a major source of pleasure. Some struggle with eating too much of it, and others are simply obsessed with it. I myself am the type of person who’s relatively uninterested in food. I don’t cook, I eat mostly take-out, and I don’t know much about recipes, restaurants and what makes a meal memorable. For this reason I’ve always found the world of “foodies” somewhat intriguing and mysterious. I learned a little bit from “Julia and Me” (with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep) which taught me that Julia and Julie loved butter and spent a lot of time in the kitchen.

beth griffinThe last thing I would have imagined is that a lot of foodies are as addicted to exercise as they are to food. Recently a Bar Method student named Beth Griffin, who happens to be a foodie, set me straight. Beth is a “food blogger” (another phenomenon heretofore unknown to me) with gorgeous photographs and great recipes at http://www.sweetlifekitchen.com/. We met at a teacher training session in L.A. where Beth was training to be a Bar Method instructor. Foodies, she told me, tend to love exercise, and they blog and tweet about it all the time. When I looked her up on twitter at http://twitter.com/oursweetlife I saw that she had tweeted to a friend: “I’ve made it MANDATORY MONDAYS at #BarMethod, it makes my week so much better & I can burn off wht I ate thru the weekend!”

diana hossfeldAnother Bar Method studen Diana Hossfeld has a popular food blog http://dianatakesabite.blogspot.com/ In the blog, she describes herself as follows:

“I eat, I run, I write, I read I Bar Method, and then I do it all over again. (especially the eating part)…”

Some of the tweets on her profile page on Twitter at http://dianatakesabite.blogspot.com/ are:

“A new way to look at dessert: how many Bar Method classes is it worth?”
”Abs still sore from Bar Method class on Wednesday night – nice change from usual source of stomach pain (eating too much)”

Then it hit me: Food. Exercise. Of course they go together! Where have I been? Foodies need exercise to burn off what they eat. Plus, foodies love physical sensations (butter on the taste buds for example) and exercise, plus its aftereffects, happen to be physical sensations.

To find out if my new theory was right, I asked another foodie who is also a Bar Method-ite to tell me how she feels about exercise. Her answer told me that I my assumptions are right on.

Jamie Cantor“The more sugar I eat the more time I spend at the Bar Method!” Jamie Cantor told me. Jamie is the owner of Platine Cookies at http://www.platinecookies.com/ – an amazing, highly reviewed bakery with sweets and savories based in Culver City.  She also has been a Bar Method teacher for six and a half years. She confirmed the pleasure-seeking link between eating and exercise: “Chocolate contains some chemicals that interact with the brain to make you feel good. In a similar vein, good exercise sends endorphins that can boost your mood as well. So I really see a connection between being a foodie and a Bar Method junkie!”

Diana of “Diana Takes a Bite” came clean about the addictive appeal of combining working out with eating: “The hunger factor plays a role in the link between physical activity and ‘foodie-ism’,” she said. “Exercise – especially intense exercise – makes us hungry. And food always tastes better on an empty stomach.” Like Jamie, she is also up front about the “calories in/calories out” factor. “I turn to exercise as an antidote for my less virtuous eating behavior,” she admitted.

Foodies, I’ve decided, are some of the most enlightened people around because they’re experts at appreciating the simple pleasures of life. “I’ve been known to buy one pound boxes of See’s chocolates — for myself,” Diana freely admitted to me. “Sometimes I even have the counter girls wrap them up like I’m giving them to someone else.” Who but a foodie could conceive of such a wonderful act of pleasure-seeking whimsy? Cheers!

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.
Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

EXERCISE AND AGE

Exercise affects people differently at different ages. I never gave much thought to how age would impact the results I got from exercise; that is until it did. At age 36, three Lotte Berk Method classes a week – all I could afford at that time — were enough to give me thighs and buns like rocks. In my 40s I opened my first exercise studio, so I bumped up my attendance to four times a week. That extra weekly class made me even stronger and more toned, which led me to believe that I could hold onto my level of fitness indefinitely simply by continuing to work out at that rate.

I’d love to report that over the next 20 years, exercising that much protected my body against aging, but that is not the case. By my late 50s, I began to notice that skipping class for more than a few days in a row left me feeling weak, and that I had to struggle through a week’s worth of classes after such a lapse to recover my strength. When I hit 60, my muscles started to feel like sieves, the strength draining out of them unless I attended class very regularly. Now that I’m closing in on 63, I find that the Bar Method is still giving me great results, but I need to take class five times a week to get them.

exercise and ageMy story is typical of regular exercisers. According to a report by Dr. Stephen Seiler, a leading sports scientist, “after about age 60, strength levels fall more rapidly” in people who strength train on a long-term basis. ”The good news,” he writes, are that these declines “are diminished by continued training.”

What happens, then, to people who don’t exercise?  The study cited by Dr. Seiler found that their decline in muscle strength starts decades earlier, in their 30s, and then accelerates relative to their active peers. The way to avoid this loss, it turns out, is exercise more often as you get older.

Sedentary people not only get weaker by the way. They also get heavier.  A recent study of 34,079 non-dieting middle-aged women published last month by the Institute of Medicine found that over 13 years these women gained an average of six pounds each. A subgroup of 13% of the women, however, did not gain weight. These were the women in the study who did moderate-to-intense exercise for about hour a day every day. Even the ones who exercised a half-an-hour of a day, which doctors have recommended for years, didn’t keep the extra weight from coming on.

These findings make sense when you consider a long-known fact about our bodies. Without exercise we lose on average about a half a pound of muscle mass a year. That adds up, over 20 years, to 10 fewer pounds of muscle to burn the calories consumed.

I’m happy to know that upping my number of classes per week has special benefits related to my age. That is good news but the really good news according to Dr. Seller is that you can begin strength training at any age and make significant gains in your muscle mass. I also feel fortunate that I do the Bar Method because it continues to feel good on my body as I get older. It is so safe and gentle that it’s something I can do all my life to maintain my strength.

ab strength

Click here to see how Bar Method creates lean and shapely muscles.

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.

Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

HOW FLAT-BACK GIVES US THE ABS OF OUR DREAMS

If we could have the abs of our dreams, what are the two top features we would ask for? First, I think most of us would want abs that are flat and firm. Second we’d want our abs to perform well as core muscles, supporting our backs and giving us better coordination.

core strengthening exercisesThe Bar Method’s flat-back exercise is vital to giving us abs with both these attributes. Without it, Bar Method students’ core muscles would neither be as toned nor as well-trained as they are. It’s one of my personal favorite Bar Method exercises because it makes you sweat while it carves just about every muscle on your front side from shoulders to knees.

Our panel of physical therapists – introduced in last week’s blog – have their own reasons for appreciating flat-back. Yesterday Mary Dellenbach, a PT in Fort Collins, CO took my class in the Bar Method studio in Boulder. When I asked Mary about flat-back she told me it “really focuses on your rectus abdominus [the ‘six-pack’ abdominal muscle] which in strengthening assists in proper spinal alignment…preventing and relieving back pain.”  (Read about how the core works in my blog “Core Strengthening, Fact and Function.”)

core strengthening absHeidi Morton, our consulting physical therapist in Summit, New Jersey sees many benefits to be gained from flat-back. “Flat-back really engages everything,” she says. “It establishes ‘the proper underlying core motor pattern.’” Jayme Anderson, our PT advisor in Walnut Creek, likes flat-back because it helps students make the connection between their abs and their breathing patterns. In her words the exercise is a “good position for allowing one to focus on the connection between the abdominals and breathing.”

Julie Bolanos, both a PT and a Bar Method teacher, sees three positive results that her students get from flat-back:
–greater strength in their abs plus many other muscle groups including the anterior upper extremity muscles, posterior muscles (scapular stabilizers/postural muscles), hip flexors, quads, and intrinsic foot muscles,
–better alignment of the knees and shoulders, and
–more endurance and stamina because flat-back produces “cardio bursts similar to interval training…enhancing, fat-burning.”

The fat-burning effect that Julie mentions works so well because flat-back takes place about 40 minutes into class when students are working aerobically (that is, burning a larger portion of fat calories) and because it is so darned challenging. That second half of class is the perfect time to jack up the intensity of the workout for the best results. Students thereby are burning fat off from around the muscles that they sculpted during the bar-work in the first half of class.

For me, flat-back is the exercise that gives the Bar Method its unique rigor. Twenty-eight years ago when I first struggled through that section of the workout, I liked flat-back because of the long, lean shape it gave my legs. Today, I appreciate it for furnishing me with a level of stamina I never imagined I’d have at age 62.

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.

Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

MY MOST POPULAR BLOG OF 2009

As the year comes to a close, I would like to republish the most popular blog I’ve written in 2009. At the bottom of the article, I have also included links to my other blogs which make up this year’s five most read.

See you in 2010!   Have a very Happy New Year!

HOW THE BAR METHOD SLIMS YOU DOWN AND KEEPS YOU AEROBICALLY FIT

Since the 70s, millions of active Americans have been led to believe that aerobics slims you down and strength work tones your muscles.  The truth is not so simple. 

In fact most kinds of exercise that keep us moving continuously for more than a few moments, strength work included, are aerobic.  Stored fat is our most convenient energy source, so our bodies use it as soon as possible, that is, after you’ve finished the warm-up stage of your workout.  Walking, running, vacuuming, anything that raises your heart rate above resting level, burns both carbs and fat.

The question we should really be asking is: how do we maximize the number of fat calories burned from exercise?  To find this out, experts now rely less on how aerobic a particular type of exercise is, and more on how intense it is.  Want to know which exercise routine to choose when you’re trying to drop a few dress sizes?  Experts now suggest you rank them by level of intensity.   Pretty straight forward: work harder; use more fuel.

So how do you determine intensity?  Think back to that old adage: “feel the burn.”  The burn in your muscles is a good clue that your workout is getting intense.  To find out just how intense, try clocking the amount of time you spend during your workout while experiencing a muscle burn.  If it’s zero, you’re not using a lot of calories.  If it’s a good part of your workout, you’re cooking with fire.  Want to up your caloric expenditure?  Increase your level of muscle burn until you can barely continue.  Now you’re cooking with dynamite!

Using intensity as a gauge, you can now see through the old adage that walking’s a better fat burner than running.  Truth be known, walking does not burn a lot of calories per minute of exercise.   Go for a two-hour run and you’ll burn about a half a pound of fat.  You’d need to walk for five hours to match that result.  Yes, compared with running, walking can burn a somewhat higher proportion of fat calories than it does carbs, but compared with running, it simply does not do a good job when it comes to burning total calories.  Intense aerobic activity burn calories like crazy and so is doing away with a lot more fat calories per minute of exercise, even if its fat-to-carb ratio is lower than that of walking.   Bottom line: walking is not an efficient calorie burner because it’s not intense exercise.

For the same reason, yoga and pilates use relatively little energy.  Kick up the intensity with running, biking and other aerobic sports, and you get a much better result: more calories consumed and a gain in aerobic stamina to up your caloric burn during your next workout.

Granted: Running, biking, rowing and other high-energy exercise all do an okay job on the “calories out” side of the fuel equation.   To do better – to burn even more calories during exercise and to drop even more jean sizes – you’d need to up the level of intensity you experience during aerobics.  But how?

Recently a new student walked into a Bar Method studio to sign up for classes.  “I’m going to take the Bar Method once a week, because I love it,” she told the front desk manager.  “But I’m trying to lose some weight, so I’m going to run on the other days.”  If this student had chosen instead to take the Bar Method four days a week, she probably would have ended up a dress size or two smaller.  Like this student, most fitness consumers believe the best remedy for extra pounds is running.  It’s only when Bar Method students see their bodies shrink beyond what they were able to accomplish by running do they begin to understand that there’s something more you can do to shrink your body besides run. To read how Bar Method shapes muscles as well, read How To Sculpt a Dancer’s Body. 

The problem with running is that by its very nature it’s limited in the degree of intensity it can produce.  Unless you’re planning a brief sprint, running leaves you no choice but to proceed at less than top speed, simply in order to keep going.  If you did attempt to run at top speed, your body would give out after a few moments.  This is running’s catch 22:  It challenges you, but there’s a kind of glass ceiling of intensity beyond which it won’t let you go.

Here are four other blogs that with the one above make up 2009’s most popular.

GETTING IN SHAPE: A BODY SCULPTING TRANSFORMATION STORY

THREE BODY SCULPTING SECRETS USED BY THE BAR METHOD

FITNESS TIPS: WHY YOU MIGHT JUST BULK UP BEFORE YOU SLIM DOWN 

HOW TO SCULPT A DANCER’S BODY 

GETTING IN SHAPE: A BODY SCULPTING TRANSFORMATION STORY

Before becoming a Bar Method student, Marilyn Catis never thought of herself as athletic. “I tended to be on the normal-to-thinner side, so I didn’t need to exercise,” she told me. Marilyn grew up one of three children within a warm, tight-knit family in a New Jersey community about 50 miles from New York City. She married at age 28 and two years later, in 2000, started trying to have a child. Her plans did not bear fruit. In six years, Marilyn miscarried all of her pregnancies, six in all. “I was very stressed out,” she recalls. “I would gain weight, lose weight, gain weight, lose weight. I wasn’t exercising at all.” Needless to say, her weight was the least of her concerns at this point in her life. In 2006, Marilyn and her husband Demetri underwent two IVF cycles that both failed. “That’s when I said to myself, “‘Forget it,’” Marilyn remembers.

In spite of her disappointment, her dreams for a child did not die. That year the couple started to fill out the paperwork for adoption. So now with her sights on another route to motherhood – and after so many miscarriages — Marilyn was not overjoyed to discover that she was soon pregnant again. To make it worse, she was spotting, a sign that she would yet again miscarry. Marilyn wondered if at this juncture she should have a hysterectomy. “I can’t have another miscarriage,” she told the nurse at her fertility clinic.

Luckily Marilyn didn’t have a hysterectomy. No one knows why, but this time her pregnancy hung on, and in March of 2007 she joyfully gave birth to a healthy son, Elias. During the months when she carried her child, Marilyn had been thrilled to finally experience pregnancy. “I gained 40 pounds and felt like a goddess.”

before storyHer reality check came seven months after delivering her baby. She was still carrying 25 pounds of baby weight on her petite 5-foot 3 ½-inch frame. On her 37th birthday, her sister Chrissy decided her sister needed some tough love. “You’re the fattest you’ve ever been,” she told Marilyn. “Why are you cutting yourself that big piece of cake?”

before story twoMarilyn took Chrissy’s remarks to heart.  She cried, did not eat the cake, and joined a gym, where she took aerobics classes. Her body became more fit but at a cost. “I had to pop two Advil every day,” she told me. “My knees were clicking. My calf muscles were knotted up.”

Marilyn was able to stick with her new fitness route only a short time. She soon became pregnant again naturally and delivered a second healthy son, Chris, in August 2008. She had weighed 117 pounds before Chris’ birth. She weighed 142 after having him.

This time Marilyn had a new option for getting in shape after her baby. The Bar Method had just opened in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, a few minutes from her home.  Even better, this Bar Method studio happened to be co-owned by her sister Chrissy, the same sister who had confronted her at her birthday. Shortly after the Bar Method’s October 2008 opening, Marilyn began taking two classes a week. “I was a spaz,” she admits. “I was struggling with the form. Chrissy kept correcting me.” After about six classes, however, Marilyn said she “got it.” Her form fell into place, but her two-class-a-week schedule proved not to be sufficient to jump-start any significant body change. (To read more about “form,” click on the secret ingredient of body sculpting exercise.)

In January Marilyn saw the light.  Her body didn’t look much different, but those of her fellow students who had been coming three or more times a week were changing. “Everybody else was looking fantastic,” she remembers. “They were very inspirational, these women in their 30s and 40s. They got these beautiful lean bodies. And to see Chrissy with her shape and knowing that she had two C sections!”

after storyInspired by her fellow students, Marilyn decided to try coming to class five times a week. “Once I upped it, I saw my body completely transforming. The weight was just melting away.” Over the next nine months Marilyn lost her 25 pounds and then a few more. “I’m now at around 113, but it’s not just that I’m lighter. I was flabby before and now I’m not. My upper body is defined, and my back is getting toned, things I didn’t experience at the gym. And I’m getting the results without the pain.”

Marilyn is so impressed by her experience at the Bar Method that she decided to become a teacher. “The Bar Method has changed my perspective on how to work your body without jarring it,” she told me. “You have the best of all worlds just wrapped up in this methodology. I’m excited to be on this path.”

Click here for another body sculpting success story.

Click here to find Bar Method exercise classes near you.

Click here to sample and buy Bar Method exercise dvds.

FITNESS TIPS: WHY YOU MIGHT BULK UP BEFORE YOU SLIM DOWN.

“My jeans are tight.” “I’m having trouble buttoning my pants. I’m bulking up!”

fitness tips muscle densityI sometimes hear complaints such as these from new Bar Method students.  Mostly these comments come from students who are doing strength work for the first time.  They are, as they say, “surprised to see muscles I didn’t know I had.” They are clearly acquiring some muscle definition. But are they bulking up? In the long term, no. After six-to-twelve months of classes, most of them will have lost a few inches around their hips and waist and have gone down a few pant sizes.

In the short term however, yes, these students aren’t imagining it. The Bar Method really has made their jeans fit tighter. “Hang in there,” I always tell them. “After about four months, your body will start to shrink down.” I know that what I’m saying is true because I’ve witnessed this yoyo effect many times. I’m also aware that I sound a bit like I’ve got some land in Florida I want to sell them.

The truth is, there are really well-established reasons for this awkward stage, and if students knew them, they would be less freaked out by tighter-fitting outfits and more likely to stick with the workout until the ultimate results come into view. Here then is the true story of what happens inside muscles that cause them to get bigger before they shrink down. (For more on the overall body sculpting results of The Bar Method, click here: HOW TO SCULPT A DANCER’S BODY).

First, after the first few weeks of classes, muscles that were formerly not worked stop sagging and become firmer. “Within 2 or 3 months of the onset of training,” writes Tetsura Tamaki, a Japanese physiologist, “Muscle hypertrophy [growth of muscle fiber]…may be observed.” The effect of this change can be scary. Butts and thighs that had easily conformed to the shape of whatever piece of clothing they were being shoved into now start pushing back against the fabric with a shape of their own.

Second, newly strengthened muscles retain water. We use stress to strengthen them, and the resulting soreness causes the surrounding tissues to swell until things calm down. “Extracellular water increases transiently in the muscle to relieve inflammation of the muscle soft-tissues,” Tamaki says.

Third, fat becomes an issue when you’ve just started shaping your muscles. Students unaccustomed to strength work often start out with a higher body fat percentage than regular exercisers. Unfortunately, fat takes a lot longer to get rid of than muscles do to change shape. So until the fat burning component within the Bar Method workout catches up, students’ old bodysuits of fat are what get showcased by their newly lifted muscles. Yikes.

Last but not least, newly shaped muscles are tight. Think of the way your body felt the first few weeks after starting a new workout. All sculpting exercise basically consists of contractions.  Freshly toned muscles, therefore, tend to be bunchy until they allow themselves over time to become more elastic and wrap themselves closer to the underlying bone.

When I add up everything that muscles go through when they’re in the process of changing, I have to admire all the students who have the focus and faith to plow through their first few months without looking back.  The slender, sculpted bodies they end up with are well deserved.

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.
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KICK MY BUTT PLEASE! THE ADDICTION FACTOR

The previous sections have revealed the truth of old adage “no pain, no gain.”  You burn more fat, for example, when you struggle through your workout than when you breeze through it.  You also gain more stamina and strength, nourish your organs, keep yourself youthful and even lift your buns.  There is yet one more benefit to be added to this list, one that turns out to be the most significant of them all.  Butt-kicking exercise is habit-forming.

Believe it or not, the benefit Bar Method students mention most often – even more than its body-changing powers – is its addictive hold on them, and rightly so.  In the end, what matters most in the realm of exercise is that you stick with it, and what better way to succeed than by getting hopelessly hooked?

Why exactly are highly challenging workouts such as long distance running and the Bar Method (which has been called “worse than childbirth” and “ooooow! but in a good way”) so addictive?  For one, we human beings love challenge.  We instinctively seek tests that push us to the farthest end point of our endurance.  This end point  – we sometimes call it “the edge” — is a place we humans uniquely find interesting, sometimes even enlightening.  It’s that moment before we’re afraid we’ll cry out “no more” when we witness a showdown between our courage and our cowardice.  How will we handle a moment that seems to be lasting an eternity?  How close to the edge do we dare to play it today?  Has our courage grown since last time?  We become immersed in this plot more passionately than we do in an exciting movie or elaborate puzzle.    If we’re lucky, our inner action figure – the guy or girl who leads us to this very personal edge – not only comes through but then keeps fighting for us for the rest of the day, empowering us to deal with problems that formerly seemed insurmountable.

Your fighting spirit isn’t the only part of you that gets swept into the fray during those burning last moments in an intense workout.  Your mind is also taken captive.   The final push is too demanding for you to be simultaneously thinking about that unanswered email or what you’ll eat for lunch.  You’re compelled to give the situation your total attention.  In this way, a heightened mental focus becomes part of the exercise.   Corporate executives, mothers of multiple small children and others with high stress lives appreciate the Bar Method’s power to temporarily shut down their gridlocked brains, allowing them to re-set their interior monologues.  Other less stressed students enjoy the intellectual appeal of having their minds directed so sharply.

Then of course as we already know, there are all those endorphins.  What’s especially great about the high that you get post-workout is that it lasts.   Soothing massage stimulates endorphins mostly as you’re being worked on.  Physical challenge cooks up a pot of endorphins that are still bubbling hours later.  As a Jane Magazine reporter wrote after taking her first Bar Method class: “Endorphin Quotient: Magnificent.”

What’s better, the Bar Method keeps delivering, even after students make gains.   Hard core endorphin junkies are delighted to find that the Bar Method can always be relied on to give them a butt-kicking workout followed by a hormonal all-day high.  To be sure, the Bar Method is only one within a vast field of endorphin-generating pursuits. Other choices include mountain climbing and biking, running marathons and triathalons, body-building, boot camp, pole dancing, gymnastics…the list goes on and on.  All of these sports will change your body and bolster your spirit.

Chart the pros and cons of these choices, however, and you’ll find three checks in the Bar Method’s pro column that are missing in most of the others.  First, the Bar Method class supplies the thrill without the taped-up knees.  Its moves are safe and gentle on the joints while still able to deliver something akin to a runner’s high.  Second, the Bar Method’s burn hits you squarely in the solar plexus.  Gym routines may be tough, but they usually leave some part of you uninvolved.  A Bar Method strength set rams itself inescapably against your gut and doesn’t disengage until the final “release!”

Last and not least, a Bar Method class leaves you feeling de-stressed and peaceful.  Other hard-hitting choices will energize you, but they’re also likely to beat you up a bit.  For this reason, many athletes whose injuries bar them from full participation in their sport consider the Bar Method a god-send.   Don’t get me wrong.  Peaceful, undemanding exercise has a huge role to play of its own.  Walking on the beach with your dog, going to a yoga class, playing Frisbee with your kids, dancing: these pastimes create the texture of our lives.  But when your goal is to make positive changes in your body and spirit, bear in mind that your body not only benefits from challenge but also craves it.

HOW THE BAR METHOD SLIMS YOU DOWN AND KEEPS YOU AEROBICALLY FIT

Since the 70s, millions of active Americans have been led to believe that aerobics slims you down and strength work tones your muscles.  The truth is not so simple. 

In fact most kinds of exercise that keep us moving continuously for more than a few moments, strength work included, are aerobic.  Stored fat is our most convenient energy source, so our bodies use it as soon as possible, that is, after you’ve finished the warm-up stage of your workout.  Walking, running, vacuuming, anything that raises your heart rate above resting level, burns both carbs and fat.

The question we should really be asking is: how do we maximize the number of fat calories burned from exercise?  To find this out, experts now rely less on how aerobic a particular type of exercise is, and more on how intense it is.  Want to know which exercise routine to choose when you’re trying to drop a few dress sizes?  Experts now suggest you rank them by level of intensity.   Pretty straight forward: work harder; use more fuel.

So how do you determine intensity?  Think back to that old adage: “feel the burn.”  The burn in your muscles is a good clue that your workout is getting intense.  To find out just how intense, try clocking the amount of time you spend during your workout while experiencing a muscle burn.  If it’s zero, you’re not using a lot of calories.  If it’s a good part of your workout, you’re cooking with fire.  Want to up your caloric expenditure?  Increase your level of muscle burn until you can barely continue.  Now you’re cooking with dynamite!

Using intensity as a gauge, you can now see through the old adage that walking’s a better fat burner than running.  Truth be known, walking does not burn a lot of calories per minute of exercise.   Go for a two-hour run and you’ll burn about a half a pound of fat.  You’d need to walk for five hours to match that result.  Yes, compared with running, walking can burn a somewhat higher proportion of fat calories than it does carbs, but compared with running, it simply does not do a good job when it comes to burning total calories.  Intense aerobic activity burn calories like crazy and so is doing away with a lot more fat calories per minute of exercise, even if its fat-to-carb ratio is lower than that of walking.   Bottom line: walking is not an efficient calorie burner because it’s not intense exercise.

For the same reason, yoga and pilates use relatively little energy.  Kick up the intensity with running, biking and other aerobic sports, and you get a much better result: more calories consumed and a gain in aerobic stamina to up your caloric burn during your next workout.

Granted: Running, biking, rowing and other high-energy exercise all do an okay job on the “calories out” side of the fuel equation.   To do better – to burn even more calories during exercise and to drop even more jean sizes – you’d need to up the level of intensity you experience during aerobics.  But how?

Recently a new student walked into a Bar Method studio to sign up for classes.  “I’m going to take the Bar Method once a week, because I love it,” she told the front desk manager.  “But I’m trying to lose some weight, so I’m going to run on the other days.”  If this student had chosen instead to take the Bar Method four days a week, she probably would have ended up a dress size or two smaller.  Like this student, most fitness consumers believe the best remedy for extra pounds is running.  It’s only when Bar Method students see their bodies shrink beyond what they were able to accomplish by running do they begin to understand that there’s something more you can do to shrink your body besides run. To read how Bar Method shapes muscles as well, read How To Sculpt a Dancer’s Body. 

The problem with running is that by its very nature it’s limited in the degree of intensity it can produce.  Unless you’re planning a brief sprint, running leaves you no choice but to proceed at less than top speed, simply in order to keep going.  If you did attempt to run at top speed, your body would give out after a few moments.  This is running’s catch 22:  It challenges you, but there’s a kind of glass ceiling of intensity beyond which it won’t let you go.

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