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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

THE BAR METHOD IS IN A CLASS BY ITSELF

joey and jenThe “Bar fitness” trend has become so popular in the past half decade that when you tell a friend, “I’m going to a barre fitness class,” she’s probably going to visualize you holding onto a ballet bar, not lifting some kind of detached bar or swinging yourself around a pole. It’s definitely time for these bar-based classes to have their own name, but grouping them together can also be misleading. Unlike Pilates, which grew from an established technique developed by Joseph Pilates, “bar fitness” can apply to any workout that happens to use a bar. You won’t necessarily get the same experience when you take different versions of it. Bar Method students who’ve gone to classes elsewhere, for example, often come and back tell us that, “they just weren’t the same as the Bar Method.”

Like these students I’ve taken bar classes at other studios, and I agree with them that the Bar Method is different. Here are 10 ways that, in my view, the Bar Method stands out.

1. Bar Method teachers know what they’re talking about.

The Bar Method rigorously trains its teachers. All Bar Method teachers learn anatomy and physiology and are tested on their knowledge of them. Then before being certified every Bar Method teacher-in-training must demonstrate that she knows and understands the technique and can teach it effectively.

2. The Bar Method is safe.

The Bar Method keeps students’ joints safe by following the recommendations of physical therapy and sports medicine. In a Bar Method class you will never do unapproved moves like lifting free weights to the side above the shoulders, doing pushups with the shoulder blades pressed together, doing “reverse pushups” with the shoulder blades and upper arms at different angles, dropping down to the heels during “thigh-work,” and over-flexing the spine by pressing the waist into the floor during “round-back.” You will exclusively perform exercises that are endorsed by our medical consultants.

3. The Bar Method custom-tailors its exercises to a variety of body types.

Bar Method teachers give options to students with different bodies-types and conditions. Students with short hamstrings, for example, have lower bars to stretch on available to them and straps to hold onto. Petite students get “risers” to sit on. Tall students have a “high bar.” Those with sensitive shoulders get options that allow them to keep their arms below shoulder height. In a Bar Method class you’ll see a wide variety of students, one reason being that the Bar Method accommodates all of them.

4. Bar Method studios rooms are equipped with inch-deep rubber padding under carpet:

This feature may seem like a detail, but in my view it’s one of the fundamental differences between the Bar Method and other workouts. A hard floor is an ideal surface on which to do aerobics, but bar fitness classes press students’ balls of feet, insteps, shins, knees, hips, spines, elbows and shoulder blades into the floor. The Bar Method enables its students to work comfortably and safely by equipping its studios with cushioned floors and thick floor mats.

5. The Bar Method keeps students “in the muscle” long enough to change their bodies.

The Bar Method changes students’ bodies quickly by using an interval training format. Each class leads them through eight rigorous strength intervals ending with a “grand finale” of 10, 20, or 30 reps that give students an exciting challenge to work through. Other bar classes give more but briefer intervals with final counts or only four or five, lessening the body-changing potential of each strength set.

6. The Bar Method then stretches muscles deeply:

The Bar Method intensely stretches muscles to make them look and feel longer and more graceful. Other bar techniques give fewer stretches, more like steady-state aerobics but a less body-elongating approach.

Checking in with a student in St Louis7. Bar Method teachers face their students.

A key component of the Bar Method teaching style is that teachers observe their students throughout the class. Teachers of other techniques lead their students in a “Simon says, Simon does” manner, consequently turning their backs to them. This practice harks back to the aerobics classes of the 80s that didn’t call for the attention to form that bar workouts require in order to keep their students safe and in the right muscles.

8. The Bar Method supports, connects with, and guides its students.

Bar Method teachers address their students by name to encourage and motivate them. Uniquely in the bar fitness world, teachers stop speaking at moments just to watch their students and “give them the stage.” The effect is a fun, interactive and social experience that’s distinctively Bar Method.

9. Bar Method teachers count accurately and on the beat!

How accurately teachers count may seem like a minor detail, but try getting through the last reps of a strength set when your muscles are on fire, and you’ll get a new appreciation of how important an accurate number sequence can become when you’re pushing through the last counts of a strength set.

10. Last but not least, the Bar Method is consistent in the high quality of its classes everywhere.

Becoming a Bar Method teacher involves passing an audition, a three-month training course, and a series of exams. Teachers then undergo yearly evaluations. This system has established more than 60 studios all over North America where students can be sure they will always get a great body-changing workout.

WHY BAR WORKOUTS NEED TO PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO ALIGNMENT

One-weight liftsI started teaching bar fitness in Greenwich, Connecticut in May of 1992 when my husband and I became licensees of the Lotte Berk Method, the bar fitness pioneer based in nearby New York City. During my first few weeks as a studio owner, my students told me they loved the workout, but some of them mentioned that they were feeling some pain in their knees, backs and shoulders.

I consulted a physical therapist, Rick Stebbins, about these complaints. Rick watched a few classes. Then he gave me the good news and the bad news: The workout was generally terrific. As a physical therapist, he believed everyone should do strength-work to keep their joints healthy, and the Lotte Berk Method did that well. But, he added, some of the positions I was teaching could tweak joints.

reverse pushupsI enlisted Rick to help me find safer ways to teach the exercises, and over the next months, we worked together to rethink them. “One-weight lifts,” for example, an exercise for the back of the shoulder, was taught by the Lotte Berk Method with a rounded back. We repositioned the spine so that it was neutral. Reverse pushups were trickier. The Lotte Berk classes extended students’ bodies forward away from their arms, which Rick said put the shoulder and wrist joints at risk. We almost eliminated reverse pushups entirely, but both of us really loved how it quickly strengthened the triceps. Finally, we agreed that if students pressed their ribcages and upper arms together and maintained vertical arms, the exercise became sufficiently safe, as Amy illustrates at right.

reverse pushupsThe result of our efforts turned out to be better than either of us expected. The workout became safe enough to be rehabilitative for students with pre-existing injuries. What’s more, the class got harder and more targeted, and it was changing students’ bodies faster. One reason is that I could now give more reps with confidence that my students were in good alignment. By 2001, the workout had diverged so much from Lotte Berk’s that our two companies mutually agreed to part ways. We became the Bar Method.

Today, 20 years later, bar fitness is exploding. You can take a bar class at hundreds of studios around the country as well as at gyms and yoga studios. All I can say is, what took them so long to get here? Bar-based routines are fantastic at making bodies beautiful. They use weight loads (students’ own bodies), so they shape students’ muscles, and their strength intervals can last for enough reps to build stamina and burn fat.

These benefits, however, come with a caveat: bar workouts to be safe need to pay special attention to alignment. Take a closer look at what happens in a bar fitness workout, and you’ll see why:

From Strength Training AnatomyBar exercise is strength-work. Unlike purely aerobic exercise it loads a muscle with more weight than it’s comfortable supporting. Unlike classical strength technique however, bar routines require loaded muscles to perform up to 100 reps at a time. Strength training limits its sets to eight to ten reps that are performed with focus and under the guidance of spotters.

Bar classes give their students less weight than strength work does and fewer reps than cardio. But the fact remains: bar classes load muscles for minutes at a time, so they need to bear in mind the alignment of the underlying joints. bernadetteSpeaking for the Bar Method, I can say we do our best to make our bar exercises safe.

Bar Method students tell us that they appreciate this effort. “Bar has been invaluable to me over the past few years,” a student named Bernadette Collins wrote me. “I tore my hamstring a few years ago and it has helped tremendously with rehab and strengthening… I believe there are other ‘similar’ classes out there. However, having tried one or two, they aren’t as well conceived or safe as the Bar Method, in my opinion.”

WHY TRIATHLETE BEN WINSLOW IS HOOKED ON THE BAR METHOD

Ben Performing Thigh WorkAt the Bar Method, we are dedicated to the proposition that some of our students will be men. We supply our studio rooms with larger weights than women would use and in most facilities provide men’s changing rooms and lockers. We make sure our exercises and stretches are designed to be entirely doable for students with tight hamstrings, and we train our teachers to use instructional cues that are “gender-neutral ( no “ponytail,” “high heels,” “bra-line,” and “ladies” for example) to make sure guys don’t feel as it they’re in a chick flick. Even so – and this is no secret – the overwhelming majority of Bar Method students are women. When you do see a man at the Bar Method, he’s usually the only member of the opposite sex in the class. I was curious to get some insights from a man’s perspective on why more men don’t come, so I asked Ben Winslow, one of our most regular male students, to shed some light on this issue.

Ben is one of the fittest people I know. A graduate of the infantry officer school and a lieutenant in the army, he put himself through college and became a successful litigator. For the past 38 years, he has run his law firm in the San Francisco Marina while pursuing the sporting activities that he loves: biking, swimming, running, golfing, endurance training, and competing in amazingly challenging triathlons. Ben, who turns 68 next month, has completed many “Escape from Alcatraz” triathlons, (a harrowing 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz, followed by an 18-mile bike ride and an 8-mile run), bike races and other competitive events. .

You’d think these activities would be enough to satisfy the most hard-core athlete, but Ben is unusual and not just in his love of physical challenge. He also has an uncommonly open mind. About a year and a half ago when two female lawyers in his firm told him about the Bar Method and asked him, “Why don’t you come with us?” Ben didn’t hesitate. He liked the workout so much that he got his wife to go to the Bar Method studio in Marin County where they live. Over the past year he has made a habit of walking from his office to the studio three-to-five times a week between business appointments to take class.

Here’s what Ben told me about what it’s like to be a male student at the Bar Method:

Ben Performing Armwith with Sharon DemkoWhat first attracted you to the Bar Method?

As you get older, you’re stooped over. Old guys get stiff. I don’t want to be a person who can’t tie my own shoes.

What do you like about the workout?

I like the discipline. I like the routine of knowing what’s going to follow what. I like knowing what we’re going to do next and how many reps so I can do my maximum effort. And the instructors are great, well trained, friendly. They greet you by name. It may help I’m the only guy.

What results have you gotten from the class?

I’ve become a much better golfer. My golfing friends say ‘Wow, you’re really turning your body when you swing!’ I’ve strengthened my core, gotten more limber. Bike riding I don’t have back pain anymore. I used to get an achy low back. In general I have no more low back issues.

I think my body’s changed. I’ve always been very thin and lean. I’m now more muscular with more developed abs and biceps. I like the look you promote which is long and lean, not chunky and muscular. I have more spring in my step. More energy. I always go to guys (touching his toes) and go ‘hey, can you do that?’

Ben Peroforming Round BackDo you ever feel intimidated by what the women in class can do?

It all evens out. I can do more pushups. They can do other things.

Why don’t other guys want to come?

I tell a lot of guys to come and run into the same thing all the time: ‘It’s a chick thing.’ ‘Let me get this right: you get a fabulous workout. You’re around 30 beautiful women. I don’t get it.’ If guys come and try it once or twice, they’d see that it takes a lot of muscular ability, strength, and coordination. If you apply yourself, it’s hard. You’re sore after you do this. These days with more enlightened men, I think they’re missing out on something.

What could guys get out of the Bar Method that they can’t get elsewhere?

Guys will go down to Gorilla Gym and work with a personal trainer, do that. Personal trainers charge a hundred an hour. I look at them and think they’d get much more out of the Bar Method. If you really want to change your life, you go to a class like this.

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

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: THE INNER WORKOUT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW FLAT-BACK GIVES US THE ABS OF OUR DREAMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.

Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

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.

Find Bar Method exercise classes near you.
Sample and buy Bar Method exercise dvds.

EXERCISE IMPROVES MOOD

Exercise is good for our mood. This we know this from experience and hearsay, and scientists agree. Exercising, they found, reduces depression and anxiety by releasing mood-lifting hormones such as serotonin and endorphins, and that’s not all it does to make us feel better. Exercise relaxes tensed up muscles, increases our body temperature (which according to experts reduces stress), takes our minds off problems we may be obsessing about, and gives us a sense of accomplishment.

It follows that different kinds of exercise work on us in different ways according to which physiological after-effects they’re best as producing. Running is famous for generating endorphins, yoga for relieving stress, lifting weights for making us feel better about ourselves, and simply going for a walk for brightening up our day.

Amy,_Emily,_between_FB_&_RB_edit-resized-600Does the Bar Method produce its own special mood enhancers? According to hundreds of students who have told me their personal stories, the answer is overwhelmingly yes. Here is one story from a San Francisco student named Tracy: “I’m turning 50 in September, but taking the Bar Method makes me feel much better about my newly approaching decade — physically, psychologically, and sensually,” she wrote me. “As a psychologist spending my days seeing patients and doing therapy, it’s been a most appreciated therapy for me.”

Another student named Cheryl had a similar outcome: “This is the first time in my life (and I am 43 years old) that I have felt this good about myself. I am short (5’3″), but Bar Method has made me feel taller, more lean and sculpted and even my posture is better. I have a positive self image now and feel great. “ A Los Angeles student in her 20s wrote in that “these classes are like magic!! They’ve helped keep me sane, limber, and mentally and physically happy too!”

My own experience as a new student of the Lotte Berk Method in the early 80s was dramatic. I was in my 30s and very shy. I also did not like the shape of my body. Yoga and jazzercise had not changed my body as much as I’d hoped, so I started Lotte Berk with only body sculpting in mind. I could not have predicted the enormous change in my state of mind I ended up with. After a few months of classes, a new, more confident and outgoing person began to emerge from my old persona. I got a better job, began to date, and eventually got married. Today after decades of classes, I credit The Lotte Berk Method, and the Bar Method after it, for transforming my self-esteem and spirits.

There are several components within The Lotte Berk and Bar Method workouts that appear to have a unique power to lift our spirits. First, for women at least, the Methods’ exercises fix physical problem areas that can cause private grief. Hips, inner thighs, seat muscles, posture: I know these female body issues get dealt with big-time in a Method workout making women feel and look and feel prettier and stronger.

Second, the interval training format used by the Bar Method generates a level of intensity even greater than you get with running or boot camp classes. (Read more about the benefits of Interval Training.) The feat of taking on such a challenge gives students a shot of empowerment along with a dose of endorphins generated by the intense exercise. When students walk out of the studio after finishing a class, they take with them both a new outlook and a measure of uplifting triumph. Add that to the serious stretching exercises performed throughout class, and it is clear how much stress reduction the classes offer.

I wasn’t surprised to learn recently that several rehab centers send their recovering patients to the Bar Method and Bar Method is a favorite among many AA communities. “Maybe it’s really sweating out toxins or more of a mental thing,” a young LA student speculated. “Whatever it is, it feels REALLY good.”

Click here to find Bar Method exercises classes near you.
Click here to sample and buy Bar Method exercise dvds.

EXERCISE CLASSES AND YOUR SKIN

Does exercise make your skin look younger? Science is just starting to investigate this question. Our skin is our largest organ taking up 16% of our body weight, so changing the makeup of our skin’s underlying muscles and simply raising our heart rate must certainly have a significant effect. But what, and how much? I was curious to find out what dermatologists and skin clinics agree is fact – and what is still speculation, so I looked into the current state of our knowledge on exercise’s effect on skin. Here’s what I found out:

MUSCLE DENSITYStrengthening your major muscle groups will improve the appearance of the skin above them. If you’ve been in Bar Method classes, think of your fellow students who have the most muscle definition. The skin on their arms usually looks smooth and silky due to the fact that the underlying muscles are lifted and firm. In this way strength-work usually improves the appearance of the skin on your arms and legs provided you stay hydrated and out of the sun. Don’t count on getting the same result on your face however. You can’t sculpt facial muscles. For this reason exercise won’t tighten the skin on your face, though it can give you more prominent cheek bones by shrinking the subcutaneous fat in your cheeks.

Some studies have found that exercise can reduce acne by lower stress hormones. Workouts, especially if they include stretching and systematic breathing, lessen the production of testosterone-related hormones. “By reducing stress,” says Dr. David Berman, a dermatologic surgeon, “there is less hormone output which in turn helps control acne.” The catch is that the heat and sweat that are an inevitable byproduct of exercise can counteract this benefit. The Bar Method is optimal on this front because it reduces stress without producing the kind of heat and sweat you get with aerobics.

Exercise increases blood flow to your skin. Better circulation gained from exercise gives you prettier skin tone. It also enables cuts and lesions to heel faster, and it delivers nutrients to your skin more efficiently than if you didn’t work out. Aerobics is great for flooding your skin with oxygen. Strength work is best at maintaining good circulation all day long by adding oxygen-rich muscle density under your skin. Meanwhile the jury is still out on some claims that have been made about exercise’s power to change skin. We don’t really know whether or not exercise out can reduce cellulite, smooth facial wrinkles, or rid your body of toxins.

INTERVAL TRAININGI’m looking forward to the day when science turns its lens on such workouts as the Bar Method and confirms what I’ve observed for years: that it’s doing something good for students’ skin. Scientists are now offering some preliminary evidence that intense interval training routines like the Bar Method stimulate the production of growth hormone, an anti-aging substance. The active ingredient within the interval training format is its ability to keep muscles burning for minutes at a time, which is not the case with conventional strength routines. (Read more about Interval Training News.) The Bar Method’s special brand of interval training adds the benefits of being non-impact and stress-reducing. Bar Method students in their 50s and 60s who’ve been taking class awhile, based on my observation, have exceptionally youthful-looking skin. Is this a result, at least in part, of their workout? I will be interested to hear what science has to say.

Click here to find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.
Click here to sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.