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WHY INTERACTIVE EXERCISE CLASSES GIVE YOU BETTER RESULTS

Old lecture hallDo you get a better workout in a class that uses a “see and do” or “Simon says Simon does” format, or in a class that includes teacher-student interaction? Competitive athletes routinely get lots of feedback from their coaches during their practice sessions. But when you’re simply working out, do you get any extra value from your exercise instructors interacting with you about your form and focus?

I decided to get an educated answer to this question by researching what regular teachers think about interactive teaching. It turns out that the world of teaching is in the midst of a major tectonic shift in its approach to this issue. Overwhelming evidence that the old-style lecture format doesn’t work very well is inspiring teachers to switch en mass to “active learning.” “Active learning may overthrow the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years,” declared a Harvard professor last year. “Thousands of studies indicate that active learning,” explained another Harvard expert, ‘is the most effect thing,” One of these these studies took place at the University of British Columbia in 2011. A research team held two week-long classes on identical subject matter that were attended by two groups of students as closely matched as possible. The only difference was that one of the classes was in a lecture format, and the other in an interactive format, which engaged students in discussions and active problem solving. The results? After the course, the interactive class participants scored twice as high as those in the lecture-style class.

Eric MazurWhat’s more, women are turning out to benefit more from the interactive teaching style than men. Eric Mazur, a Harvard physiology professor, noticed this when he switched to an “active learning” technique, and his women students quickly closed the gap between themselves and their male counterparts. “The verbal and collaborative/collegial nature of peer interactions,” Mazur speculates, “may enhance the learning environment for women students.”

Can these discoveries about interactive learning be applied to exercise, especially to exercise favored by women? In my experience, absolutely! I give you that simple aerobics workouts, during which you just want to keep your heart rate elevated for a time can pay off without much focused concentration. Getting good results from a strength-work however depends on your level of mental alertness; how attentive you are to your form, how precise your movements are, and how well you gauge your exhaustion point. Without coaching, it’s hard not to lose focus on the challenge and allow your body to take the easy route and shift away from the effort. Competitive athletes for this reason use coaches to maximize their focus, and the Bar Method gives its students the same caliber of feedback and guidance. Teachers verbally coach individual students on their form, alignment, mental focus and individually acknowledge them when they improve. By means of this guidance, students continue to advance their skills and get the results they want.

The experience of being in a class where interacting teaching is going on is, at least for me, fun, exhilarating and collegial. My body reflexively responds to the verbal adjustments I hear my teacher give my fellow students. For example, when I hear “Sally, lengthen your back.” My back lengthens. “Gina, square your shoulders.” My shoulders square. “Nicole, come up less.” I come up less. These cues thereby become a conversation among all of us. The teacher talks to a student. The student responds by adjusting how she’s working. The rest of us get in on the tips by adjusting our own bodies accordingly. This back-and-forth not only gets me involved and “in the moment.” It gives me a deeper connection to my body and to the athleticism and power of the exercises.

Active learning in Bar Method workouts doesn’t stop at verbal interaction. Students are of course learning with their bodies, so Bar Method teachers are trained to interact with them on a physical level too. This “hands-on” guidance is essential in order for most students to get good workout, without which, try as they might, they would be unable to recruit difficult-to-reach muscles or to work safely. Here are a few examples of how students learn better form with interactive teaching.

blog matrix

The students in these photos are, from top to bottom:

1. Slumping due to habitual posture,

2. Leaning weight into the joints of shoulders and wrists instead of the triceps muscles, and

3. Bending at the lower back and neck rather than engaging the glutes.

By receiving this ongoing supportive feedback from their teachers, students develop better body awareness and alignment, as well as learn to target muscles instead of joints.

There’s simply no turning back the clock once innovations like “acting learning” demonstrate their power to enhance our lives. It’s left up to each of us to take full advantage of the benefits.

THE BAR METHOD’S INNOVATIVE TECHNIQUE FOR ATTAINING A NEUTRAL SPINE

bad posture at starbucksLook around on a busy street or in a store, and you’ll probably see a few people whose spines are clearly not in “neutral,” or in a well-aligned position. This is an issue that those of us exercise field would love to help with. “Everywhere you look people are talking about the benefits of being able to achieve and maintain a neutral spine alignment” Pilates instructor and author Nuala Coombs says on her website. “It is important to maintain the neutral alignment of these curves to assist with cushioning the spine from excessive stress or strain.”

neutral spine right and wrongI agree. Walking through life without a neutral spine invites a host of physical ailments. Slumping on a regular basis can give a person’s back ligaments “creep.” “Creep” is the physiological term for the damaging deformation of the lower back tissues when someone leaves her lower back out of neutral for an extended period of time. And that’s just what happens to the back! Bad posture adversely affects the neck, hips, knees, ankles – just about every major joint in the body.

So should people exercise with their spine in neutral? Many exercise spokespeople say yes including Coombs. “Most exercise regimes,” she says, “and especially Pilates based exercise programmes encourage working with the spine in a neutral position.”

experience pilatesI’m with Coombs with regard to her point about exercise routines needing to be safe in order to protect students’ spines and their surrounding tissues. But should spines literally stay in neutral during exercise as Coombs suggests? In theory, this seems like a good idea. In practice, less so. First of all no core workout — least of all Pilates with all its rounding, arching, rotating and side-bending — actually keeps the spine in neutral. Second, back movement during exercise is a good thing. The spine has 24 joints and is designed for a certain amount of bending. Arching and contracting the back in a controlled manner is healthy and therapeutic for the spine’s discs and surrounding muscles.

Coombs nevertheless recommends that people hold their spines in neutral during exercise just the way they do in daily life, even to the extent of allowing their core muscles to be just barely “on” when working out. “The muscles of the core,” she says, “only need a mild contraction to become activated and function effectively…Once they are on you can confidently use the large muscles for the action phase of a movement now that you have stabilised the spine…”

The Bar Method tuckCoombs is right about the core muscles needing simply to be “on” during normal activities. The problem with just keeping them merely “on” during exercise is that not much change results. To significantly strengthen muscles you have to work them harder than normal. Exercise can do this for core muscles and so improve their function outside of class. To this end the Bar Method has developed exercise positions that work the core muscles while at the same time keeping the back muscles in neutral. One such stance is “the Bar Method tuck.” To assume this pose, a student slightly lengthens her lower back and slightly shortens her upper back by lifting her chest. This position keeps the ligaments and joint capsules in her back in neutral, while her glutes, abs and upper back muscles – the three groups responsible for good alignment – grip tighter than usual, gaining strength.

“The Bar Method tuck” makes other important contributions to core stability: First, it stretches the long muscles that run through the hips and kness. As Physical Therapist Sydney James, one of the Bar Method’s consultants, explains, “It’s important to keep the quads and hamstrings reasonably flexible and balanced so that the lumbar spine isn’t overly jostled by walking, running and other motion.”

Waterski seat adjustmentSecond, it teaches students to hold themselves straight with their chests over their spines, a practice that helps correct habitual slouching. Bar Method students’ back muscles gain energy, and students themselves start to enjoy standing up straighter. Walk into a Bar Method studio and you’ll see lots of people with beautiful posture. One reason is “the Bar Method tuck.”

nora luongoLast but not least, the Bar Method trains its teachers to give their students individual coaching on good posture throughout class. The Bar Method tuck – since it requires the use of all three core muscle groups – provides both teachers and students with the basic building blocks of good alignment in a way that is simple for everyone to follow. During bar-work when it’s especially important to focus on alignment, teachers search for students who look like they could use extra help on posture and encourage them to “lift your chest,” “keep your head over your spine,”“look straight ahead,” and if needed give them gentle “hands-on” adjustments to their form.

Nora Luongo of Summit, New Jersey is one Bar Method student who has benefitted from this approach. “All the instructors at the Bar Method are so precise in their vocal directions and hands-on in their adjustments,” she wrote me, “that just a few months of doing it has really gotten to where it took me years of training in yoga to understand…. I find myself consciously standing straighter even when not in class.”

TEN NON-EXERCISE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR EXERCISERS

TEN NON-EXERCISE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR EXERCISERS

I don’t care what the skeptics say. I love making New Year’s resolutions. Coming up with a yearly list of life-enhancing projects gives me a fresh look at what I want out of my life going forward. Plus it reminds me that opportunity is always lying on my doorstep waiting if only I would walk over and take it.

Making my resolutions this year made me want to think of some for people who exercise. I decided that all my suggested resolutions would be non-exercise-related. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already exercise and so would not need a resolution to do it. Instead the resolutions would leverage the focus, discipline and fighting spirit you already have developed from sticking with exercise and carry those assets over into other spheres of life. After all, people who exercise know that change is possible. They’ve done it with their bodies, so they’re primed to make it happen elsewhere. With this idea in mind, I came up with the following ten projects that you might think of taking on in the New Year the same way you tackled exercise in past years.

THREE FOR YOUR BODY:

  1. For one day eat only foods with no added sugar. Whether you weigh more or less than you want or are just right, a day free of sugar will get you of the roller coaster of sugar rushes and crashes. You’ll gain extra mental stamina, energy and concentration, plus you’ll sleep more deeply.describe the image
  2. Ask friends, members of your family and your exercise teacher to give you feedback on your posture. The way we stand gets deeply engrained in all of us from early childhood. For this reason our perception of our stance may not reflect the way you truly look. Get a reality check in 2011, and if your posture is found wanting, consider making serious effort to improve it.
  3. On one occasion when you’re walking, sitting or standing for some time, try to keep your abs pulled in for 20 consecutive minutes. You already have strong abs from your workouts. Now train them to perform for you all day. This effort will challenge your concentration.

THREE FOR YOUR MIND:

  1. Banish one bad habit for 24 hours. Whether it’s biting your nails, swearing to yourself at other drivers when you’re driving, watching too much TV – anything – try to do without it for a day.
  2. Set your cellphone stopwatch to 20 minutes; sit in a chair, close your eyes and meditate until you hear the ringtone. Meditating, at least in my experience, is like Bar Method thigh-work for your brain. One session of meditating can clear out the debris in your mind and begin to firm up your cerebral muscles.
  3. Decide on one activity or skill you’d like to do better or learn to do. Mull over the idea of pursuing it. This is a purely mental resolution, so you can choose anything that excites your imagination. File it away in your mind where you can call it up later.

THREE FOR YOUR HEART:

  1. Let someone you have a relationship with win an argument even if you believe you’re right. Your generosity of heart will probably be repaid to you with dividends.
  2. Call up from your mind the skill or activity you picked out for resolution #6 and look on the internet for a class or a coach on that subject. Try one session. If you like the teacher, consider carving out the time to attend regularly.
  3. Starbucks in SausalitoLearn the names of all the café baristas who make your drinks. If you don’t go to cafés, take it upon yourself to learn the names either of the clerks at your bank, the cashiers at your supermarket, or the servers at restaurants you attend. Research has found that people have an amazing capacity to learn names if they work at it. We Bar Method teachers know this is true since we’ve all developed the ability to learn as many as 30 students’ names during the 15 minutes before and after a class begins. If you make a project of collecting names, you’ll find as I did that people are always pleased to know that you remembered them.

And last but not least…

  1. One resolution carried out is definitely worth ten that have fallen by the wayside. To that end, my last suggestion is to pick out one of the nine above – or one you’ve created – and repeat.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Burr Leonard

THE BAR METHOD AS A PATH TO MASTERY

“I have grown bored at The Bar Method,” a student named Gabrielle wrote me a few months ago. “The Method has become too repetitive, too predictable, and I’ve lost most of the fun.”

Gabrielle started attending the Bar Method in the early 2000’s, lost inches around her hips and waist, and fell in love with the class. Gabrielle and I exchanged a few emails on the subject of her dissatisfaction with class, and I learned that her work schedule had limited her to taking classes at times where there were a lot of beginners.

Burr leg lifts PasadenaEven so, I wondered if Gabrielle was missing out on what to me is most fun about taking the Bar Method whether or not beginners are present in the class: working towards mastery. This mind-set can mean one thing to you – possibly learning how to pull in your abs as you breathe – and something else to another student — maybe achieving a dancer’s posture. Whatever your goals, if you perform the exercises with the objective of mastering them, the Bar Method’s consistent structure becomes anything but boring. It becomes the very thing that empowers you to push the limits of your potential for coordination, strength, beauty and mental toughness. Repetition + focus = practice, and focused practice, experts on learning tell us, is the ultimate key to achieving significant, long term change, in other words to gaining mastery.

The Bar Method is especially suited to the pursuit of mastery in the physical realm. Its tight structure, precise positions and small muscle isolations give you a chance to overcome movement habits such as tensing your neck when you raise your arms. The mirrors in the classrooms allow you to check your alignment and performance, and – most fun of all – the ever-present possibility of going “deeper,” “higher,” “lower,” or “farther” keep the door open for new change. Have you been reluctant to work lower in thigh-work because you’re not strong enough yet? Or are you really holding back because you’re afraid of the burn? If you stay focused, eking out the answer to this question in the heat of the moment can strengthen not only to your muscles but your mental toughness as well.

Focusing on mastery pays off as well by giving you a second wave of dramatic body changes well after the initial sculpting and slimming down have been achieved. Take posture for example. I often wonder why some advanced students who regularly take Level 2 classes don’t take advantage of the opportunity to work on theirs. If they would just focus on that one change, they could radically change their appearance. In the same way, students who hunch their shoulders whenever they lift their arms, who lean forward during thigh exercises, or who have trouble pulling in their abs could transform their bodies by using the hour to focus on their weak areas.

Next time you go to class, try taking it with your own customized set of challenges in mind. You might find that the class can feel as exciting as a triathlon. The almost 30 years that I’ve taken this method of exercise has taught me to love the the classes that I struggle through most or want to do better at than before. Here are some private goals I set for myself during the class:–During one-weight lifts trying to keep my arm parallel to the floor,–During push-ups, getting my chest down to elbow height while staying in good form,–During thigh-work maintaining a more intense burn than the last time I took class,–During standing seat-work keeping my back absolutely vertical,–During arabesque looking in the mirror and seeing my working foot above my shoulder,–During round-back keeping my working leg absolutely “ballet” straight, and–During flat-back, lifting my feet up towards the height of my knees (pretty impossible!)

If you’ve been bored by class lately, make a no-holds-barred list of every conceivable way the Bar Method could change your body and spirit for the better. Then see how close you come to making them happen!

Read about the Seattle Bar Method’s fitness challenge and all the different ways people changed after taking The Bar Method for four months!

FITNESS CHALLENGE BEFORE AND AFTER STORIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EXERCISE AND EVOLUTION: HOW THE BAR METHOD EXERCISE TARGETS BACK MUSCLES

For the past couple of weeks, I ve been discussing the vulnerable areas in our human bodies and how The Bar Method strengthens them. Our back is certainly one of our most susceptible body parts. The origin of our back issues goes way back to when we stood up on two legs, losing the relative stability that comes with having four of them. Our back problems got worse when modern conveniences enabled most of us humans to lead very successful lives without doing much upper body work. Twenty-First Century Man could scarcely move all day and still make Forbes 100 Richest list at the end of the year.

It’s a fact that, as reported by the New York Times, people who do not exercise regularly face an increased risk for low back pain. Is it any wonder then that low back pain is the second most common cause of missed days of work (next to the common cold) in the United States? Close to 80% of all Americans experience it at some point and about 50% of us experience each year.

A common misconception about lower back pain is that we can eliminate it simply by doing abdominal exercises. The logic here is that a strong front of the body will give you a strong back. The truth is, to have a healthy back, you have to strengthen not only the front of your trunk but the back itself, and develop good posture and alignment.

back muscles

Look at the chart above. It shows the superficial layers of the muscles in our backs. I‘m struck by the beauty of these intertwined muscular groupings and impressed by the obvious importance of each of these muscles in keeping us upright and healthy. When I talk to new Bar Method students who tell me they have problematic backs, I rarely hear them ask me about how to strengthen their back muscles. Yet clearly our back muscles were meant to be used and strengthened, especially given that they have a unique role in holding us upright unlike our distant four legged ancestors.

How can we minimize our risk of suffering from back pain or injury? Jonathan Clutt, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and About.com writer, recommends “sustained use of back muscles performed two or three times a week at least.” Sports injury expert Owen Anderson of Sports Injury Bulletin reported on five different studies on lower back pain, which all lead to the same conclusion. In the article he urges us to: “consider one last study, a beauty carried out in Teheran, Iran, with a grand total of 600 subjects. These 600 individuals were subdivided into four groups: 150 asymptomatic men, 150 asymptomatic women, 150 men with low-back pain, and 150 women with the same….. As it turned out, among all of the physical characteristics measured, the endurance of the back-extensor (erector-spinae) muscles had the highest (negative) association with low-back pain. The Iranian researchers suggested that low-back-muscle endurance could be used as a screening tool to predict which individuals would be likely to develop low-back disorders.”  In other words, just as as Dr. Cluett said above, people should do exercises that employ sustained use of the back muscles and the erector-spinae muscle group is a particular important one to keep toned.

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching Bar Method classes and hanging out in the waiting room with students before and after class is hearing from some of them how much The Bar Method has helped their backs.  The Method does that in a variety of ways. In addition to strengthening the abdominals, it strengthens, stretches and aligns students’ backs.  Stretching on the stall bars at the start and end of class lengthens the spine and reverses some of its constant compression from gravity. The first 15 minutes of classes specifically strengthens the shoulder, arms, and upper body muscles including the posterior deltoids, rhomboids, and lats. Students use their upper backs consistently during this segment.

The Bar Method’s leg exercises also plays a role in stabilizing students’ backs. At the bar, Students’ back muscles get the very kind of sustained isometric work which strengthens the erector spinae to protect against lower back pain. Then they work their glutes, which act as a support for the lower back and must be strong to protect the spine.

After the glutes are exhausted and stretched, we turn to a series of core exercises. One of the most important of these is called flat back. This move cleverly forces the transverse abdominal muscle (which acts like a girdle around our entire middle) to fire and stay strong as it gives support to our spines. (Read more about this exercise for the deepest layer of muscle in our cores in HOW FLAT BACK GIVES US THE ABS OF OUR DREAMS.) Stretches punctuate the work to stretch and elongate all these muscles as we strengthen them. Towards the end of class, we do a pose specifically for the erector spinae after which we stretch the back while strengthening the glutes in an exercise we call back dancing but is known to many as a common physical therapy move for people with low back pain.

People know that The Bar Method gives you flat abs, toned thighs, and a lifted seat.  What they might not have known until now it that it also gives you a strong, stretched, supple back!

Strong Backs

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THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION, BEAUTY AND THE BAR METHOD

“My tuck is VERY OFF!” a Bar Method student named Katie wrote me yesterday. “I know that if I could really get the tuck down, it would help keep me completely safe and strong…” The “tuck” that Katie is talking about is a Bar Method position that engages students’ core muscles – namely the glutes, abs and upper back – while it allows their lower backs to relax. To “get the tuck”, students like Katie must first get out of the habit of inadvertently contracting their back muscles when they engage their glutes.

Katie is right about the importance of learning good coordination. The way you move, like good posture, plays a big role in how good you look as well as how you feel. Carry yourself gracefully, and you will come across as more confident and attractive. The Bar Method helps you to attain this feature in two ways. First it trains your core muscles to turn on when you need them. (Read CORE STRENGTHENING – FACT AND FUNCTION for more about the core.)  Second – and less common among exercise techniques – it teaches you good coordination, which is your mind/body connection’s ability to choose the best possible muscles to use for each movement, and to relax those you don’t need.

Why do people use unnecessary muscles in the first place? They might do this because the muscle group that is supposed to do the work is weak, so the muscles around it have gotten into the habit of trying to help. Other reasons might be bad movement patterns picked up during childhood, or storing emotional tension in certain muscles.

core strengthening exercisesWhatever the cause, if you haven’t had serious athletic training, you probably unnecessarily use too many muscles at least on occasion. What are the hardest muscles for most Bar Method students to turn off? They’re the ones in the lower back, which is why Katie and so many other students find the tuck position so elusive at first. The reason lower back muscles have so much trouble letting go in general is that our glutes unavoidably spend much of their time resting in chairs and so become weak and, yes, lazy. This reduced strength on the part of our glutes causes our lower back muscles to compensate, but they can’t perform the work our glutes are supposed to do. So students end up arching their backs instead of contracting their seats.  To counteract this phenomenon, Bar Method teachers use an arsenal of training techniques, including visual imagery, gentle hands-on adjustments, frequent reminders, and breathing exercises.

Retraining your muscles to work more efficiently takes patience. You have to actually rewire your brain circuits in some cases so that the your brain doesn’t send the message “contract your lower back and glutes” when you really wanted to simply contract your glutes. The brain’s aptitude to fire specifically called upon muscle groups is what they call good mind/body connection.  This connection is learnable and the results are transformative. Some students take weeks or months; others take years to get the tuck or learn to keep their shoulders down. Here are four tips on how to improve your coordination during class:

1. Look at your form in the mirror. Try to look at yourself without pre-assumptions on what you see.  Try to notice whether or not your back is vertical or on an angle and whether or not your back is arched or straight.

2. Exhale deeply and sharply with each rep. Your diaphragm can get you in better touch with your core muscles if you let it help you. Try puffing out softly through your lips as you work on your form, and you’ll find that your back muscles will tend to release and your ab muscles will start to take over.

3. Ask your teacher for help. She or he will be happy to guide your body into the correct positions.

4. Stay alert during class. Avoid letting your mind wander. When it does, return to your breathing. Your added mental focus can work wonders on your form.

Most of all, be proud that you’ve set out to develop a trained and graceful body. It’s an enormous undertaking that, with patience and persistence, will transform your body.

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