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THE AMAZING RICHES WE CAN REAP FROM REGULAR PRACTICE

Caitlin at barWhen most of us embark on a new activity that involves practicing on a regular basis, we typically hear a voice inside us saying “I don’t wanna.” Even though we’ve been excitedly thinking about making this change in our lives, actually doing the work towards learning something or changing our habits is not a walk in the park. At the beginning the practice is boring, and it’s tempting to decide instead to have a snack, do our laundry, reorganize our files, or watch the news. How long do most people have to struggle with feeling this discomfort while turning in a new direction? Sports psychologist Gregory Chertok wrote in this week’s San Francisco Chronicle that, “for a behavior to become an ingrained action…it takes four to six weeks of ‘consistent’ action,’” that is, regular practice.

Don’t be discouraged if in the past you’ve been derailed by the tedious process of “engraining” a new behavior and given up! Our brains and muscles are hardwired with a surplus of potential to learn countless skills, and we keep much of this resource for life. You can tap into it any time and acquire a dazzling new piece of yourself, plus a surprising bonus for having stuck with it: a new-found pleasure in doing the very task that was such a drag at first.

My father, who died three years ago this month, knew of these riches. He wrote about them in his book about learning called “Mastery,” and towards the end of his life he personally demonstrated that you don’t have to be young to benefit from practice. To illustrate how someone can use practice to sharpen a skill and find joy, even during his last days, I want to reprint this story about my father that I wrote for this blog shortly before he died:

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In the summer of 2003 my father George Burr Leonard had most of his stomach and esophagus removed. He lay in the intensive care unit for three weeks falling in and out post-surgical psychosis as we hopelessly tried to reason with him. We were overjoyed when he came to. We were also relieved to learn that the doctors had gotten out all of the cancer. My father was declared okay to go on with his life.

george leonard masteryAnd what a life he had to go back to. My father is a pioneer in the emerging field of human potentialities, the investigation into just how far we humans can go towards maximizing our inborn potential for growth in mind, body and spirit. He is the founder of three life-enhancing techniques that have touched tens of thousands of people the world, is past-president of Esalen Institute and The Association for Humanistic Psychology, is the author of twelve books on the human potential (my two favorites are “Mastery” and “The Silent Pulse”), is a fifth-degree black belt in aikido, an accomplished jazz pianist, and the writer and lyricist of musical comedies. In person, my father is funny, sweet, enthusiastic and playful. His favorite words are “joy” and “generous.” He, as they say, lights up a room.

Dad never planned to retire, no less to get sick, or even old. After his recovery he leapt right back into his life. The problem was, he had trouble eating. At first we family members figured he wasn’t trying hard enough. We advised him to eat fattening foods, eat more often, drink Ensure, see specialists and healers, take pills and remedies, and he did them all. Nevertheless, in the face of all the wizardry the medical and healing worlds could offer him, he became thinner and weaker.

In 2008 when my father hit his 5-year survival mark, a supposed measure of post-cancer recovery, he was no longer joyful. His disease had seriously affected his body and mind. He couldn’t drive and became house bound except for increasingly frequent visits to the emergency room. He stopped writing and playing the piano. His friends didn’t visit him as much. He became despondent and at times could not be consoled.

Then four months ago, one of Dad’s many doctors prescribed something he had never tried. “He took out his prescription pad,” my father told me, “scribbled something on it, and handed it to me. It said,

‘Practice the piano 15 minutes a day, seven days a week.'”

And that’s exactly what my father has done.

George Burr Leonard and Burr Leonard

I visited my father today. He is still stooped, but his eyes are lit up with his old good humor. He eagerly told me about his piano playing and to my amazement of his enjoyment of being retired. “It’s fun,” he said. “I can stand back, look at the world, and laugh at it.”

What amused me about the prescription that finally healed my father’s spirits is that it was for his own medicine. Most of his books give emphasis to the power of daily practice as the foundation for positive change. In “The Life We Are Given” he writes:

“Any significant long-term change requires long-term practice, whether that change has to do with learning to play the violin or learning to be a more open, loving person.”

As a reader and fan of his books, I took this idea when I was in the process of developing the Bar Method and used it to guide both students and teachers. I discovered that, just as my father prescribed, regular practice – whether it be simply attending class three times a week or, just as important, really practicing the exercises while doing them – changes us inside and out more than we initially believed possible.

Read more on Mastery vs. Fitness Trends.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR FIRST BAR METHOD CLASS

“All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, and I promise you something great will come of it,” Benjamin (played by Matt Damon) says to his son in the movie “We Bought A Zoo.” A first class at the Bar Method is one of those acts that can take a bit of insane courage, and just as Damon’s character promises, great things — in this case getting a more beautiful, healthy body — can come of it.

Jen's Class bicepsIt’s understandable that that walking into your first Bar Method class takes at least some courage. It has a reputation for being challenging, and friends are often so darned devoted to it that they can make you wonder. These friends are well-meaning, but their enthusiasm for the Bar Method can backfire and churn up inner cascades of self-doubting questions among the uninitiated: “Am I going to get addicted? Will everyone be, and look, better than me? Will I feel singled out when the teacher calls my name? Will I even get through the class!?”

If you’re wondering how you’d do in your first class, I want to reassure you that the overwhelming majority of new students of all ages and fitness levels have a positive experience. Bar Method teachers are skilled at making their new students feel safe and welcome, letting them know what they’re going to feel, explaining the benefits and mechanics of the exercises, and getting them into a focused workout “zone” that makes the hour go by fast. But don’t just take my word for it! Hear about the first day experiences of three students who almost never got there, and were glad they did.

Rachael, Summit, New Jersey

Rachael on right with her daughterFor a long time Rachael walked by the Bar Method studio in Summit without going in. A single mom in her mid-40s, Rachael “dismissed it as an option for me,” she says, “because the word ‘bar’ implied ballerina and that was something I certainly wasn’t.” One Thanksgiving, her daughter came home from college, and the two of them decided to give the class a try. “I changed three times before I left the house,” Rachael recalls, “not sure what to wear. I was sure I would be the only person there who would not be able to lift her leg to her ear. I was so nervous when I turned the corner into the studio, but everyone was so lovely and welcoming. As I made my way through the class, I was amazed at the extensive options given within each exercise…options for those who were advanced and options for novices like me. The instructor offered specific encouragement and suggestions to each student using their names! It was clear that each student was so involved in their own progress that no one had time (including me!) to notice anyone else.”

Mary Ann, Redmond, Washington

Mary AnnFor two years, Mary Ann’s California-based daughter called her to talk about the positive effects the Bar Method was having on her body. Then a Bar Method studio opened in Mary Ann’s area. She was placed on the mailing list but didn’t attend for another year. Finally Mary Ann signed on “and I might add without too much enthusiasm,” she admits, “because I was suffering from a lower back injury. However, once I began taking classes under the watchful eyes of Bev and Maika (the studio’s owners), I was nurtured with kind comments, disciplined corrections and happy faces. I got the message; this is working for me.”

Grace, Bernardsville, New Jersey

A busy mother of three young boys, Grace would not be dragged to a first class for a long time in spite of the persistent efforts of her best friend Margaret. “I can be a little sarcastic and a physical underachiever,” Grace says by way of explanation. At last Margaret prevailed. “As I entered the class,’ Grace remembers, ‘I was really impressed by the instructor’s desire to not just learn the names of students, but to engage and take a serious interest in each individual’s progress and development. Honestly, on that first day, I was a “D” student, but that did not matter. What struck me is how much and how often these instructors encouraged me and others and made constructive adjustments in order for proper form to be achieved. Also, every exercise is explained along with its function and benefits. It is fascinating to submit to this level of instruction. Not only did it stimulate my muscles, but a switch was flipped in my brain, too. This Bar Method became my Mt. Everest and I was hooked.”

Thank you, everyone, for you support this past year.

Happy New Year!

Burr

WHY ONE HOME-WORKOUT BUFF SWITCHED TO THE BAR METHOD

Linda before classThere are clear advantages to working out at home. You pay nothing, you get fit your way, and you save travel time. Most of all, you enjoy the unbeatable convenience of exercising at home. At the same time there are some downsides associated with home-workouts that are worth talking about. First, there’s the well-known fact that most people find it a struggle to stay challenged day in and day out without being egged on by a teacher. DVD workouts can help by providing someone on video who can motivate you.

“DIY” workouts can also subject you to some less commonly known risks, especially if they’re your chief means of staying fit and even if you use DVDs. At home, you can be tempted to pick and choose among an infinity of vaguely-recalled routines or pieces of DVD workouts, and these choices might not always be the safest and most results-oriented ones you could make for your body. In any case, there’s no one at home to check your form.

Linda Greenberg, a recent Bar Method convert, is a good person to ask about what happens when you work out at home over the long term, something she did regularly for 40 years. Staying motivated certainly wasn’t one of her problems. At an early age, Linda came to understand that she possessed an abundance of determination. “If I believed in something,” she realized, “I could do it well.” Linda, 57, was born and grew up in San Francisco and always loved to work out. When she was a teenager, she spent her monthly $25 allowance on training sessions at her local Jack LaLanne, and during college at UCLA and Wharton School of Business, she biked, ran and lifted weights. By her mid-20s, she’d become a five-mile-a-day runner, and that’s when she ran into her first setback: her knees started to bother her.  Not being one to give up easily, Linda pushed through the pain until age 30, when she finally gave up her long runs.

With a vengeance, Linda launched into a search for a perfect exercise routine that did not include running. She watched exercise channels and combed through fitness magazines for good exercise routines. She tried Pilates, but it was a little too mellow for her. She hired a personal trainer, but that turned out not to be the answer either. “He was this crazy muscle-bound macho guy,” she remembers. “We did a lot of squats and lunges, militaristic things like burpies. I expected him to take out a whip any minute. Why did I keep going back? To prove to myself how strong I was. I actually dreaded going, but I went for about a year. It was a kind of masochistic thing. I ended up putting on a bunch of weight and built bulk, the exact opposite of what my intention was.”

After that experience, Linda decided to forego assisted exercise and step up her home workouts, which she’d been doing all along, to two hours every other day. “I bought a Bowflex and committed myself to “hitting every hit every part of my body with 30-to-100 reps while wearing 5-pound ankle weights,” Linda says. Therein, for the next two decades as she built a successful career in the home loan industry and raised twin daughters (now 16,) Linda exercised on her own.” “It’s just what I did for years and years. I’d get on some music. My dog would be there. My husband would come in and think I was crazy with the weights. He would call me ‘Lucy.’”

Linda in round-back 6-24-11 edit 1-5 200Finally last summer, Linda suffered a game-changing ill effect from her workouts. She developed bursitis in her hips, a painful injury that brought home to her the extent to which she’d been overdoing it. “I’d been doing massive reps with massive weights,” she admits, “pushing my body. It was so stupid. I had to go to the orthopedist. He said it was because I was working too hard on the weights.” Ironically, Linda’s extraordinary willpower, which had first enabled her to exercise by herself, had ended up derailing her. She resolved to find some guidance, and her search led her last September to the Bar Method.

Linda in kneedancingLinda now takes four to five Bar Method classes a week and uses the treadmill two days a week. She began to see changes after a few months. “My body is leaner now. My muscles have elongated for the first time ever instead of bulking up.” she says, “My kids say, ‘mom, you have no butt left.’ I’ve dropped some inches and feel better.” Another plus side to exercising at the Bar Method, Linda found, is its friendly environment. “I love all of the instructors,” she told me. “They’re enthusiastic, and they push you, but not in an offensive way, and I’ve made friends here. It’s a community.” Three months ago, Linda lost her mother, and her Bar Method classes became an unexpected source of support. “To be around cheerful people with upbeat music has helped me take care of me first while I’m taking care of all this other stuff.”

Does Linda have any plans to return to her home workouts? “I don’t miss anything,” she told me. “For the last 40 years I was bulking up when I wanted to be elongating. Finally I have the right combination of contractions and stretches.” As for the future, Linda declares with her usual hutzpah, “I’m going to do the Bar Method until the day I go.”

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…

RUNNERS’ LEGS AND DANCERS’ LEGS: THE DEFINING DIFFERENCE

RUNNERS’ LEGS AND DANCERS’ LEGS: THE DEFINING DIFFERENCE

Dancer's LegsIf you were shown two pairs of legs, one belonging to a runner and the other to a dancer, would you be able to tell which was which? You’ll probably say “no problem.” The runner would have the lean, straight legs with angular quads, lean hips but little definition in their outer glutes, and tight rears but not especially lifted ones. The dancer would have the curvier legs, the defined, lifted glutes, and the more compact, firmer looking muscles.

As straightforward as these differences might seem to us, there isn’t much scientific validation for them. Fitness experts have written that the two types of legs are equally strong, and a Swedish study has added its weight to this speculation by discovering that the legs of dancers and runners have the same amount of “slow-twitch” (stamina enhancing) muscle fibers.

What’s missing in this discussion is the question of how and to what extent the legs of dancers and runners differ from each other. In my view, which is based on 20 years as an exercise teacher, running and dancing do produce legs that look and behave differently from each other, and I’d like to suggest some reasons why.

Runner's LegsFirst of all, I’ve observed that the legs of beginning Bar Method students who are runners usually shake uncontrollably during the thigh-work section, causing them to have a hard time getting through the exercise. I think the reason this happens lies in the mechanics of running. Each step by one leg gives a brief rest to the other. Additionally, the front and back of each leg get a second tiny rest due to each side’s firing separately, first the quads, then the hamstrings. Running is thereby highly efficient at conserving energy, affording leg muscles built-in instants of regenerative rest so that they are never completely exhausted. Put a runner’s quads or hamstrings in a situation that calls for sustained muscle tension – or strength work — and they experience quick fatigue. Dancers on the other hand train to hold sustained positions such as plies, extensions, and balances. Bar Method exercises go a step farther and increase the time spent holding such positions from seconds to minutes. This strengthening technique forces every possible muscle fiber to fire, thereby exhausting the muscles through and through.

Second, running favors some leg muscles over others. When runners use their legs to propel themselves forwards, two muscle groups, their quads and the hamstrings, do most of the work. Their glutes kick in only when they are sprinting full out or jumping, motions that demand a large range of motion through the hips. Serious runners do practice laps composed of wide leaps for this very reason. Those who stick to jogging-sized steps end up not providing their glutes with enough challenge to change their shape.

Tensor Fasciae LataeThird, running tightens the muscles around their hips. This loss of mobility restricts runners’ ability to recruit the muscles that connect their legs to their torsos, causing these muscles to atrophy and their legs to appear less toned. One muscle that can get especially tight on runners is a hip-flexor called the “tensor fasciae latae.” Any gait faster than a walk, if performed frequently, can cause the “tensor fasciae latae” to tighten and restrict the function of other muscles such as the outer glutes. (A tight tensor fasciae latae can also cause a painful condition called IT band syndrome.) Dancers on the other hand develop every muscle at their disposal by extending their legs outwards and upwards in every direction.

Fourth, every step runners take impacts their joints and muscles with a force of 1 ½ to 5 times their body weight. These steps add up (Runners take around 35,000 steps on one 10-mile run.) and eventually shake the muscles and skin a bit loose from their bodies. Dancing rarely involves repetitive pounding, and the Bar Method uses no impact at all. This way, as the leg muscles of Bar Method students develop strength, they wrap tightly around their underlying bones.

Finally, intense running without sufficient fuel sometimes forces runners’ bodies to burn its own muscle. This loss of muscle mass can cause runners’ legs to lose tone and appear flabby. Dancers and Bar Method students share the objective of building dense muscle, though for slightly different reasons — dancers to gain the power to jump, Bar Method students to develop firm, sculpted legs.

Jenni Finley

Don’t get me wrong. Running creates nice looking legs. Dancing and the Bar Method however can take them into the realm of beauty beyond the scope of what running by itself can achieve. Jenni Finley (shown above), currently a Bar Method teacher in Southern California,  noticeably slimmed down her legs during her first year of doing the Bar Method. The shape of her legs — slim, smooth thighs, defined hamstrings and a high, round seat – gives Jenni an appearance that is less like that of a runner and clearly more like that of a dancer.

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!

WOOING THE GUYS WITH VALENTINE’S DAY “MAN” CLASSES

Valentine's Day HeartWOOING THE GUYS WITH VALENTINE’S DAY “MAN” CLASSES

It’s February, and Valentine’s Day is two weeks away. In keeping with the spirit of the day, many Bar Method studios hold special “man” classes to which men can come free either by themselves or with their girlfriends or spouses. My home studio in the San Francisco Marina is holding three of these “man” classes on Saturday, February 12th, and I’m teaching the last one. I love teaching these special men-oriented classes. The Bar Method has the power to “up” a guy’s fitness level above and beyond what he gets from his usual gym routine of weights, abs and cardio, and it’s fun to talk about these benefits as the men make their way through the exercises. Two things I definitely don’t say are that they’re lifting their seats and ripping their arms. Men already have lifted seats, and many have ripped arms. What guys do get from the workout is stronger legs, tighter abs, more flexibility, relief from back pain, stability in their knees, a better functioning core, and – if they’re athletes – amazing sports conditioning.

Bar Method Seattle Owner Luke CurreirWith all these fitness benefits to be had by men, why aren’t Bar Method classes full of guys? One reason, in my estimation is that the classes are full of girls, beautiful ones at that. You’d think this would be a big draw, but no. Guys don’t like thinking they’re being shown up by more flexible, dance-y females. What’s more, they don’t like the idea of standing at a ballet bar wearing socks. The problem with this rational is that, one, we female students are actually in awe of guys who brave the class (but most of them never get this), and, two, the ballet bar and the socks are non-material details that don’t reflect the true machismo-like essence of the workout.

In spite of this general male mind-set, a small group of men do come regularly across the spectrum of Bar Method studios. Who are these unusual male students? Some are athletes who’ve found that the class makes them more competitive at their sport. Others are husbands whose back problems disappeared from the workout. A handful are runners who use it to strengthen, stabilize and increase flexibility their knees and hips, ultimately adding longevity to their running careers. My boyfriend Michael is among the atypical guys who come regularly simply because he likes the workout (see my blog “GUYS AT THE BAR” about his experience.) We studio owners are proud that these men are among our students, but the truth is, most of us could count the number of men who come regularly to each studio on the fingers of one hand.

Luke - Low Curl

But there’s always hope. Every Valentine’s Day lots of men come to our “man” classes; they work hard, they seem to get it, and every year I think excitedly to myself, “this is the year!” Then these guys don’t come back. One student from a “man” class I taught a few years back gave me an insight as to why. “I’d love this, “he said, “if I knew there’d be at least a few other guys in class.” Alas, it seems a chicken and egg type situation. The guys won’t come because their buddies aren’t there.

Maybe on the 12th, things will change…… 🙂

Happy Valentine’s Day
Burr Leonard

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.

CELEBRATING THE BAR METHOD 3|60 CHALLENGE WINNER: LIANNE ZHANG

Bar Method 3|60 Challenge Winner Lianne ZhangMy last two blogs featured testimonials by two of the three contestants in our San Francisco Marina studio’s annual 3|60 Challenge, Karen Dodge and Ryan Salma. To fill you in if you didn’t read last week’s post, the Challenge pits three beginning Bar Method students against each other for sixty days of class taking and testimonial writing. The contestant who turns out to be best overall new student in terms of attendance, enthusiasm and gains in health wins a month of free classes. The winner this time: the third contestant in the Challenge, Lianne Zhang. “The other two did well,” studio manager Mike Najjar told me. “Lianne won because she was here quite often, and she was so enthusiastic.”

Lianne, 26, is a brand promotion and event strategist who recently moved to San Francisco from New York City. She had worked 70-hour weeks during her four years in New York. Now that she was a San Francisco resident, she was determined to create a more livable pace for herself. “I wanted to embark on a new lifestyle,” she told us, “one ensuring me a good work/life balance – a concept foreign to New Yorkers.”

After a month of classes, Lianne noticed that the Bar Method was doing more than improving her appearance. It was also having a positive impact on the way she was experiencing her new, adventurous life in San Francisco. This is how she describes the differences she felt in her body during her travels around San Francisco week four into the Challenge:

SF MARINA 3|60 BLOG: LIANNE WEEK #4

Lianne ZhangI can’t believe four weeks have flown by. As I notice differences not only in my lifestyle choices but my body- I’m also noticing how useful Bar Method technique is to my everyday life.

Here’s a little guide to how Bar Method has improved this recent transplant’s daily life in SF:

1) It absolutely trains you for crowded places where hanging off various street fixtures is a necessity in order to gain full view of the event.

For example, I went to the Giants Parade and in the madness, the only available space that offered a decent view of the players’ float was to hang off of these metal gates. Because of the Bar Method, I was able to hang on for a full thirty minutes- it was all the Posey, Lincecum, Huff and Cain I needed to bring myself closer to being a San Franciscan!

2) It helps provide better balance on MUNI buses.

SF MUNIAs a former New Yorker, I tend to ride subways better than buses. In fact I am not a fan of buses. Since I live in lower Pac Heights, I’m forced to take buses anywhere that I can’t walk to. I tend to tumble all over the place as I’m not used to standing on lurching vehicles above ground. However, ever since I started doing Bar Method, I found myself able to use my core muscles to stable myself much better. It sounds silly but it’s been extremely helpful. As for the lady that likes to booty shake at the front aisle of the 22,…no amount of Bar Method will remedy.

3) It strengthens my muscles, allowing me to have the confidence and capabilities to try things I never could try before.

I’ve always wanted to try rock climbing but because I have an embarrassingly low amount of upper body strength, I always put it off for fear of making a fool of myself. However, since I started doing Bar Method, I’ve realized that my arm strength has increased significantly and tonight I am going for my first session! Wish me luck! (Especially after five straight days of Bar Method!)

Congratulations, Lianne, for being our 2010 3|60 Challenge winner!

Burr Leonard