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TEN WAYS THE BAR METHOD MAKES YOU MORE BEAUTIFUL, PART 1

Keri RussellWhen I was a little girl in Georgia in the 50s, women wanted to have a small waist, lots of curves, or both. It wasn’t desirable to be toned or athletic, rather to appear soft, fragile and mysterious.

Our standard of beauty has changed dramatically since then. We now admire women who are lean, strong, athletic, confident and more diverse in their features. Why this shift happened is not the subject of this blog (the women’s liberation movement, etc.), but I’d like to talk about one driving force behind this change that has directly influenced our idea of what is beautiful: science’s growing knowledge of how we can look our best. Since my childhood, scientific discoveries about health have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that strong, athletic bodies enjoy longer lasting youthfulness, not to mention a winning edge in the game of life.

Don’t get me wrong! Our obsession for being as beautiful as possible by any means natural or artificial is not going away any time soon. What’s different about our current pursuit is that, unlike the old days we got our beauty tips handed down to us from an archive of old wives tales, and now we get advice that has a solid foundation in science.

What is the top beauty tip that we keep hearing from this source? Exercise! As one researcher, Tim Church M.D., put it, “Every cell in the human body benefits from physical activity.” Spa treatments, facials and makeup tricks can’t hold a candle to exercise when it comes to beautifying you in multiple ways. Here are ten of my favorite beauty benefits of exercise and how you can boost these results with efficient full-body workouts like the Bar Method.

1. More collagen

basic anatomy of the skin epidermis dermis stratum corneum fibroblastsFibroblasts are skin cells that produce collagen, a factor in youthful-looking elastic skin. “As we age, fibroblasts .. get lazier and fewer in number,” says dermatologist Audrey Kunin in an article by Catherine Guthrie for Experience L!fe. “But the nutrients delivered to the skin during exercise help fibroblasts work more efficiently, so your skin looks younger.” Bar Method exercises work large muscle group repeatedly until they are thoroughly exhausted, facilitating this cellular process.

2. Better functioning lymph nodes

lymph nodesWhy is this important to your looks? The hundreds of lymph nodes in your body “take out metabolic trash,” says Guthrie. “But the nodes can’t haul garbage to the curb without the help of nearby muscles. When muscles contract during exercise, they squeeze the lymph nodes, helping them pump waste out of your system.” So when you’re working your way through all the intense muscle contracting and stretching during a Bar Method class, you’re not only shaping your muscles but also fueling your body’s natural waste removal system. The results, in Guthrie’s words: “You look less puffy and polluted.”

stress-diagram-and-cortisol small2Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress. It increases your blood sugar, suppresses your immune system, and decreases bone formation, all for the purpose of devoting your full energy to handling the source of that stress. When you suffer from chronic stress, excess cortisol production can cause collagen loss and inhibit protein synthesis, impacting your skin and health! Exercise enables your body to turn on cortisol when you need it, then turn it off when you don’t. The Bar Method’s strength-stretch sequence gets cortisol out of your system without beating you up in the process, so that afterwards your body can turn its attention to repairing and regenerating your muscles and skin.

4. Better sleep

Almost 20 percent of Americans suffer from stress leading to poor sleep, according to the National Institute of Health. Studies have found that moderate-to-intense exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply. The Bar Method workout provides the intense exercise that facilitates sleep, while its focus on stretching and breathing makes for a relaxed body and a good night’s rest so that you look fresh the next day.

5. Enhanced sexiness

andrea-davis text smallWe know by now that the Bar Method makes you look sexier. It also happens to literally make you sexier. Huffington Post blogger David Katz, M.D., reports that exercise can “Increase blood flow in a way that has a direct affect on sexual function.” Not only that! Researchers have learned that exercise increases levels of testosterone, the hormone most responsible for making us feel sexy, and HGH (human growth hormone), also found to boost libido. A British study found that a group of middle aged men who exercised had 25% more testosterone and 4 times more HGH than sedentary men. When it comes to workouts that optimize your sexiness, the Bar Method, with its targeted strengthening and stretching exercises for the muscles around the hips, tops the list! “We all know the obvious effects of the Bar Method…” says teacher and studio owner Andrea Davis, “an enhanced sex life.”

RhondaRhonda Vassello, a 32 year old Bar Method student in Carlsbad, California, agrees. “I have done almost EVERY type of workout out there, Boot camps, Circuit Training, Cycling and even the dreaded task of running,” she wrote me in a recent email. “Each time my body reached a plateau that I just could not overcome… THIS WORKOUT has done it… and let’s be honest ladies when you feel good your confidence peeks and that is the sexiest feature any woman can have!

Next month: TEN WAYS THE BAR METHOD MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL, PART 2

WHY THE BAR METHOD WORKS SO WELL

Leandra Rouse and Burr Joyus“You use light weights, so I don’t understand why Bar Method students have such sculpted arms.” Leandra Rouse, a fitness expert and trainer, made this remark to me last month when we were working together on a video shoot to promote the Bar Method DVDs.

I got a similar comment a few days later from a Bar Method student named Robin. “I’m curious about why Bar Method classes all follow the same routine,” she said. “I’m not complaining because I’m getting great results. Can you just explain to me why the class is so structured?” In asking her question, Robin had unknowingly hit on the answer, namely that the secret of the Bar Method’s effectiveness lies precisely in its structured design.

If you’ve ever taken a Bar Method class, you might have noticed as Robin did that the order of the exercises is mostly the same. To illustrate how this structure works, I’d like to take you on a virtual tour of the workout and explain along the way.

First, it’s important to mention that the safety of exercises allows you to work deep “in the muscle” long enough to change your muscles without risk to your joints. Your teachers give you extra help staying in this intense “zone” by providing you with clear-cut counting and interesting choreography. Just when an exercise becomes too intense to bear, your teacher introduces a new tempo or move that revitalizes your spirit and energy.

alternating sides of legsAbout halfway through the class, you notice that you’re alternating between working the front and the back sides of your body. This pattern stretches and elongates the muscles you just worked in the previous exercise while you’re sculpting the muscles on the opposite side. Early in the class you work the front of your arms, then the back of them while you stretch the front of them. Then you work the front of your legs during thigh-work, the back of your legs during seat-work, the front of your legs again during “round-back,” and finally the back of your legs again during “curl” and “back-dancing.” In effect, you’re usually doing two exercises rolled into one: toning one side while elongating the other side, which has been primed for stretching by having just been worked to exhaustion.

Burning off fatLater in the class you hit what feels like an aerobic section. Your teacher explains that you’re maximizing fat burn-off by performing aerobic-style exercises just when you’re beginning to burn a high portion of fat as fuel. Your lungs pump oxygen as you perform “flat-back” and do more pushups, both quick-moving sections that spike your heart rate. These exercises are a key to the Bar Method’s special ability to create sculpted arms. They burn the fat off from around the arm muscles, plus they give the arms two additional intense sculpting intervals.

Another feature to bring to your attention about the structure of the class is that it’s working each major muscle multiple times. You thought you’d gotten thigh-work over with after the thigh section. Then you find yourself working your thighs all over again during “round-back” and “flat-back.” Every bout of challenge digs deeper into these muscles, and by the time you walk out of class, you tingle with a thoroughly “worked-out” feeling.

And as you probably already know, the Bar Method ensures that you get into the right muscles, those “muscles that I didn’t know I had.” This is an important ingredient in its recipe for quick body change. Some muscles when left to themselves become habitually lazy over time, and others get overused. Bar Method instructors teach you how to find these lost muscles and they have time to give you clear, easy-to-follow instructions on how to work in good form.

Finally during this virtual class, it’s become clear that the Bar Method requires you to lift not just light weights but a very heavy weight: your own body! During pushups you lowered and lifted your body with your arms. During “thigh-work” you lowered and lifted your body with your thighs. During “seat-work” you lowered and lifted your body with your glutes and hamstrings. During “flat-back,” an ab and leg exercise performed under the bar, you raised your legs with the power of your thighs, hips, pecs and shoulders. This was not in any sense a “light weight” workout!

The Bar Method gets surprising results, in sum, because it arranges its exercises strategically; then it targets muscles with precision, multiplying the benefits you get from each exercise.

THE BAR METHOD OR AEROBICS: WHY YOU DON’T HAVE TO DECIDE

Chelsea pushupsWhich is more important to do, aerobics or strength-work?

Bar Method studio owners, myself included, get asked this question by new students who are in the process of fitting the Bar Method into their lives. A recent email from a student at the new Montclair, New Jersey studio is a case in point. “We know that everyone who starts the Bar Method LOVES the Bar Method. A lot,” the student wrote, “But they still need to do cardio, and they’re having a hard time paying for you AND for spin, or a gym. I hear a lot of ‘Well I STILL have to go to New York Sports, the Y, or Spin.’’

Undoubtedly, both kinds of workouts these students are trying to decide between give benefits. A rigorous aerobics workout like a spinning class helps make your heart stronger and more efficient, burns calories, and increases stamina. It does not build muscle and sometimes burns muscle for fuel, resulting in a decreased resting metabolic rate. A rigorous strengthening workout on the other hand prevents the loss of muscle mass, one of the major side affect of aging, and guards against the weight gain that can result from muscle loss. It strengthens your bones and heart, and it makes you look toned and sexy. Most importantly in my view, it extends the life of your joints and rehabilitates any you might have previously injured. Because we’re a relatively delicate species in terms of our physical structure, our joints wobble when our muscles get weak, wearing down their cartilage. The resulting arthritis causes us pain, inflammation, more weakness, and more pain in a downward spiral of dysfunction. School age soccer and basketball players who aren’t pre-conditioned, for example, are prone to injuring their knees and ankles and starting down this road at a young age unless they build strong, balanced muscle to re-track their strained joints and lock them into proper alignment. In my 20 years of teaching the Bar Method, the largest portion of emails I’ve received are from students thanking the Bar Method for helping them heal their backs, hips and knees.

CHELSEA 3 3-12 B&W smaller1So if you have to choose between aerobic and strengthening, decide on the merits. By this measure strength-work would come in first because it offers a greater bang for your buck in terms of overall health and extended quality of life. Conventional aerobics classes such as spinning, for most fit people, would rank second.

This said, I can now give the Montclair students good news: You don’t really HAVE to choose between one or the other. There’s a third kind of workout out there that offers most of the benefits of both aerobics and strengthening. It uses more reps than conventional weight lifting (which can total a little as eight) but far fewer reps than aerobics (which can add up to the tens of thousands). Its weight exercises last for somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 reps each, so it builds stamina, burns away fat, and strengthens your cardiovascular system while it’s toning and elongating your muscles. It’s called interval training, and the Bar Method is one form of it. So don’t feel guilty about not making it to the spin gym! Your Bar Method classes are building stamina – and burning calories – more than you might have been thinking. Aerobics is a plus when you can fit it in.  But if you just have time for one workout, listen to what your body is telling you about how much you love the Bar Method, and enjoy!

MAKING THE SUPER SCULPTING II EXERCISE DVD, PART TWO

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you find most fun?

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

Sharon: Shopping for blue tank tops.

What was the funniest moment?

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

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

What do you think of the workout?

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

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

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

Thank you for your support during this change.

Burr Leonard

THE MAKING OF SUPER SCULPTING 2 EXERCISE DVD PART 1

THE MAKING OF SUPER SCULPTING 2 EXERCISE DVD PART 1

describe the imageThis month I finished shooting two new Bar Method DVD workouts with me as the lead performer, which will be coming out in April. What I enjoyed most about making this set is that they are pegged to be intermediate-to-advanced, so when it came to designing the routines I could pick from just about any exercise in the Bar Method and even create new ones if I wished. I love using the ball in Bar Method classes, so I used it throughout both workouts. Pretzel is one of my favorite exercises, so it went right into the first Super Sculpting routine. Super Sculpting II includes “diagonal seat,” a recently developed Bar Method exercise that never fails to hit me in all the right places. For curl I chose variations that look beautiful when you’re doing them, that are really challenging, and that are different from the ab-work in the other DVDs.

When the choreography was in place and I stood back and looked at both routines as whole, I was pleased to see that they each ended up with a different focus. Super Sculpting concentrates on toning. “SS II” moves faster and is more aerobic. Each DVD includes a set of aerobic exercises mid-point through the workout. SS II takes its fat-burning component one step farther by adding one more set of thigh-work, a second “seat” exercise designed to elevate the heart-rate, and a few “zingers” (Bar Method speak for short, fun, surprising and extra hard moves) during the ab section.

Cast of Super Sculpting 2What did I find hardest about the DVD production process? Rehearsing! I was lucky to have a different group of terrific Bar Method teachers for each DVD to help me get through this stage. Both teams encouraged me as I fumbled through the first few run-throughs and continued to support me all the way through the two back-to-back on-camera performances we finally did for each DVD. In a blog I wrote last summer I described my wonderful Super Sculpting team (See “Making the ‘Super Sculpting’ Exercise DVD.”). Now I’d like to tell you about my amazing Super Sculpting II performers.

Super Sculpting II as I mentioned is a workout that highlights the fat-burning power of the Bar Method. Fittingly as it turned out, the three teachers who signed on to do it with me are all built like racehorses. Sharon Demko has danced most of her life and has the body to show it. She started teaching at my Bar Method studio in the San Francisco Marina eight years ago when she was the mother of a one-year-old son. A few years later she taught through most of her second pregnancy. Now her sons are nine and six, and Sharon is as slender and defined as I’ve ever seen her.

High Curl Sequence in SS2Kiesha Ramey-Presner, also a San Francisco Marina teacher, is the mother of a 15-month-old son named Dylan. Kiesha has one of those spectacular model’s bodies that looks like it’s been long and lean from birth. She started taking the Bar Method five years ago not to change her body but because she was looking for an overall workout she would enjoy as much as she had running. “I was surprised when I ended up dropping one jean size,” she told me. “And I got so much stronger, to a pentacle of strength.”

Juan Barba, a senior teacher at the Burbank, California studio, is quietly charming, “scary-smart,” and a true Bar Method fanatic. In his three years as a Bar Method teacher, he has noticeably buffed up from doing the workout (and nothing else, he says). To me he is living proof that the Bar Method can and does significantly change men’s bodies.

Next week: The Super Sculpting II performers talk about their hardest and funniest moments during the shoot. Stay tuned…

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.

describe the image

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.

CELEBRATING THE BAR METHOD 3|60 CHALLENGE CONTESTANTS: KAREN DODGE

CELEBRATING THE BAR METHOD 3|60 CHALLENGE: KAREN DODGE

Bar Method 3|60 ContestantsLast fall our flagship studio in the San Francisco Marina held its second “3|60 Challenge” (we held our first of these events in 2009). Three neophyte Bar Method students were chosen by our staff to take class free for 60 days and write about their experience. We asked the contestants to submit a 300 word statement about why they thought they would benefit from The Bar Method. The prize: an additional month of free classes, to be awarded based on a combination of overall results and enthusiasm. Our three finalists were Lianne, Karen and Ryan. What impressed me most about their stories is that each of the 3|60 contestants gained something unique and personal from their 60-day regime. In  my view  Karen’s, Lianne’s and Ryan’s very different experiences  are testaments to the power of exercise to change not just people’s bodies in general ways but also the unique fabric of their lives.

Karen Dodge, 37, became a 3|60 contestant because she had just given birth to her first child, a daughter, just six weeks earlier and felt that the Bar Method was her best option for getting back in shape. “I used to be a competitive runner and swimmer, and the two classes I took at the Bar Method kicked my butt”, she wrote us. “I was sore with the shakes and never felt better about getting in shape.” Here is her blog about her first week into the challenge:

Bar Method SF Marina 3|60 Challenge: Karen Week #1

The Bar Method proved to be a challenge this week due to juggling both physical fitness and my daily routine. For the last six weeks I have been adjusting to motherhood and keeping my daily routine pretty simple. I have incorporated a hike or shopping trip when the baby sleeps, but I had not tried to schedule my day outside of her routine. Luckily, baby Kate is getting into more of a routine this week just in time for my Bar Method classes. The challenge was in coordinating childcare and getting out the door on time. As a new mom, all things breastfeeding are still awkward and time consuming, so getting out the door will require some practice and good planning. I think it will become easier in the coming week or two and I am excited to challenge myself in this way because The Bar Method is a great reward.

Karen DodgeThe Bar Method has been physically challenging this week for sure. My first class, I experienced cramping which made me panic a little. The second class, I did not cramp at all which is a small success. I read on the website that the thighs and glutes are the largest muscle groups and if I work them, I will burn more fat and thus loose the belly. I try to keep this in mind when my muscles begin to burn and shake. I remember when I was in labor and was eight centimeters going on ten centimeters and I began to shake uncontrollably. The nurse told me that trembling was “good” for the upcoming birth. I keep this in mind when I become uncomfortable or embarrassed that I am shaking.

I am so excited to have the Bar Method Beginner’s workout DVD! This way I can work on my form at home when baby Kate sleeps. The teachers have been very kind to correct my form in class and I want to do my own homework so I can get the most out of class. This DVD is very informative and fun to do at home.

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.

FINDING AND FLATTENING YOUR ABS

“I can’t feel my abs!” “When I try to pull in, nothing happens.” “My abs just aren’t changing.” I hear these statements from new students all the time. More than any other muscle group, the abdominals are typically the hardest ones for people to find, work and change. Even when the students’ themselves command their abs to get going, they seem to just sit there. Frustrating!

These people have come up against a maddening feature of our abdominals. They take their own sweet time to respond. In my experience, students’ abs typically take about four times longer than most other muscle groups to gain strength and look tighter. Why are they so slow on the uptake? The main reason is that they’re much thinner than other major muscles groups. You could (hypothetically) hold Arnold Schwarzenegger’s abdominals in one hand, while you could barely lift his quads. Their small mass makes it hard to get your brain around contracting them, especially when they’re weak. There’s not enough muscle fiber to get the job done.

ab workFortunately our abs have a built-in solution to the problem of their puny size. Our deepest abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis (“TA”) and our diaphragm are interconnected. This muscle-to-muscle relationship gives us all the ability to jump-start our abs by doing such things as sneezing, coughing, laughing or exhaling sharply with our diaphragm. Now you know why Bar Method teachers are always telling you to “exhale” as you work your abs.

I remember going through the process of getting my own abs up to speed during my first months as a Lotte Berk Method student in the early 80s. I would be doing the “curl” exercise, and the teacher would tell us, “exhale and pull in.” I would exhale, but my abs would not pull in. Then one day after coming to class regularly for about three months, I suddenly felt them come alive. When I later became a teacher, I noticed that many of my students also needed to concentrate on breathing and pulling in for the same three-month interval before their abs kicked in. Now I can happily reassure my beginning students that there’s nothing wrong with their abdominals. Tighter abs are on their way. Their biggest challenge in the meantime: patience!

Of course if you’re carrying excess intramuscular fat between the layers of your ab muscle, you have some additional work to do. Our bodies burn fat “systemically.” That is, it comes off our body as a whole. You can’t “spot” reduce fat. The best way to shrink your waist is to work your largest, most calorie-hungry muscle groups, specifically those in your upper legs and arms. Your abdominals on the other hand aren’t great calorie burners because they’re so thin, the better to wrap tightly around you.  So The Bar Method places ab work toward the end of its workout. That way, your already reved-up cardio-vascular system will continue to burn away fat as you focus on your breathing and pulling in.

Read more about The Bar Method’s Body Sculpting Secrets.

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.

Sample and Buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

A WORKOUT’S EXERCISE SEQUENCE AFFECTS ITS RESULTS

A few years ago I took a class from a new teacher who accidentally reversed two exercises called “round-back” and “flat-back” (they are taught only in the studio-based classes and not on the dvds). Most students, myself among them, find these exercises two of the toughest in the workout. That day when the teacher reversed them, they became easy. My heart-rate slowed down, and I did not feel challenged for the rest of the class. Was it my imagination, or did switching the order of these exercises rob them of their edge?

ab sculptingThe answer is yes, exercise order can make or break your workout. The Bar Method recognizes this dynamic and uses it to maximize results. Take the above example: Round-back and Flat-back are designed to raise your heart-rate and burn away fat. Flat-back is the harder and faster exercise, and placing it second makes it exponentially harder because your muscles are already pretty fatigued when you get to it. That state of near exhaustion is what you want to get to if you’re aiming for quick body change.

Similarly, The Bar Method places push-ups after its free-weight exercises so that push-ups become intense enough to serve as a bout of interval training. That way, you wrap up the upper-body work section by burning fat off the muscles that the free-weight exercises just sculpted. Why end with push-ups? Because they work a larger portion of your body’s muscles than free-weights do. Yes, if you reversed the order and did push-ups first, the free-weight work will seem more challenging, but free-weights just don’t engage enough of your body’s muscles to ever be a serious burner.

Safety is another reason the Bar Method puts free-weights before push-ups. The human shoulder tends to be vulnerable to injury because of its unusual flexibility relative to other joints. To have our cake (sculpted arms) and eat it too (less fat), the Bar Method starts with the gentler exercises to allow the shoulders to warm up before launching into push-ups.

Most important of all for body change, the Bar Method’s exercise sequence sculpts long, graceful muscles like those of dancers. Their ballet bar workout starts with plies to warm up their thighs and ends with battements to stretch their hips. The Bar Method class uses the same progression. It starts with leg raises that engage your thighs and ends the standing bar work section with seat exercises that extend your leg behind your hip. In the second half of the class, the Bar Method starts with thigh and hip work (round-back and flat-back) and ends with hip stretching (back-dancing). (For more on stretching, see “How to Sculpt a Dancer’s Body”)

The three-fold beauty of this sequence is that it generates plenty of intensity to slim down your body, maximizes joint safety, and constantly elongates your muscles from the initial warm-up to the final stretch.

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