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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.

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

EXERCISE, MUSIC, AND THE BAR METHOD

I love music, like a lot of people. When I’m working out, rhythm and melody inspire me to move gracefully and to feel strong inside and out. One reason I love the Bar Method is that it is an exercise form that resembles music itself.  Like music it has an orderly structure, an intense focus on form, and it has drama.

Margaret WacykLast month I was delighted to get an email from a professional musician who gave me her expert view of these similarities. Margaret Wacyk is an award-winning concert pianist, composer and writer who has performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall and other cities in the US and Europe. She is the founder of a music school, lead artist in numerous classical CDs, and is working on a book on playing the piano. Even with her busy career she finds the time to take four-to-five Bar Method classes a week at the Bernardsville studio in New Jersey.

“I see so many parallels,” Margaret wrote me, “between the methodology of the Bar Method and that of music: Focus, small range of movement, and intensity on each and every repetition, which in music translates to being intentional and shaping each note you play.”

Like Margaret, I think that the Bar Method is unusual in the realm of exercise techniques in its musicality. Bar Method exercises use simple rhythmic units — “on-tempo,” “pulses,” “in threes,” “two-counts,” and others – just as songs and concertos do. These simple tempos when combined into phrases create an infinite number of patterns. Our human brains love to follow such patterns, whether we find them in a song or – for us Bar Method lovers – within the design of an exercise sequence.

The Bar Method also shares with music its devotion to form. Music sculpts melodies, while the Bar Method shapes bodies. “Meter organizes musical time on the small scale, while phrasing organizes musical time on the large scale,” writes Robert Jourdain in his book, Music the Brain and Ecstasy. The Bar Method is similarly built of “sets” (exercises) that require focused precision and that, like musical phrases, end with a final dramatic release. According to Jourdain, listening to melodies makes our brain more alert. Bar Method’s precise, structured choreography has the same awareness-enhancing effect on its students’ minds.

Finally, music and the Bar Method share the ability to make life feel beautiful and ecstatic. (See last week’s blog DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: THE INNER WORKOUT for more on the intensity students experience under their seemingly calm exteriors.) In this realm where exercise and music meet, Bar Method classes can create a cathartic experience for its participants.

”The Bar Method has not only changed me physically,” Margaret told me in her email, “but it has really proved once again, that all great principles connect and stretch interdisciplinary lines. Thank you.”

Burr Leonard

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

DESIGNING YOUR EXERCISE CLASS

Since opening my first exercise studio in the early 90s, I’ve made many changes in the technique as it was taught then. I had not anticipated this role. My plan was simply to teach the exercise method that I had enjoyed as a student over the previous decade.

The story of how I started modifying the original workout begins shortly after I became a studio owner in 1992. I’d spent two years preparing for this event by training and teaching at the Lotte Berk Method in New York City. Now as a teacher and owner I felt an increased responsibility to keep my students safe from injury as well as to give them the results they desired.

Imagine my concern when a few weeks after opening, some students came to me with back, knee and shoulder strains. I located a physical therapist, Rick Stebbins, and showed him our moves. Rick was impressed with our exercise program because it was non-impact and focused on key muscle groups. However, he said, some of our positions could indeed impact students’ joints. The good news was that he could suggest ways to modify these positions so that they were safer.

exercise classesWhen I put Rick’s changes into place, I made an unexpected discovery. The safer positions were also harder. What Rick had done was re-work our exercises so that students’ body weight fell directly onto their muscles rather than their joints. At first, we teachers had to prod our students to get out of the easier, less joint-friendly poses and into the harder, safer ones. Once everyone grew accustomed to the new form, they grew to love the changes in their bodies. In the following years, I sought advice from more PTs – some of them now Bar Method teachers – and their expertise gave me the confidence to be innovative on an ongoing basis. The Bar Method is like a “living language” that continues to evolve. Consistently, whatever changes we made also gave students better results.

I got so much satisfaction out of this process that I began to look for other ways to update the workout. I looked at how well we paced the class, how effectively we targeted the right muscles, how much more intense and challenging we could safely make every exercise, and whether we could teach it better. Today, thanks to the help of both our consulting physical therapists and my fellow Bar Method teachers, the Bar Method class has evolved in all these areas. It has become, for example, faster paced. Old exercises that used to let students rest at moments have been removed. The remaining exercises are now inter-linked so that the next exercise begins on the last beat of the former one. Students now tell us on a more regular basis that, “the hour flies by.”

The workout has also become more targeted. Former exercises that gave mediocre results are gone. New super-effective sculpting moves have been added. Along the way I’ve been careful to preserve the overall intensity of the Bar Method by resisting the trend towards packing exercise routines with lots of different moves. I learned through trial and error that the more you crowd into a workout the less intense it becomes. Exercises need time to work, and the Bar Method gives them time to get the job done, which is one reason students tell us that the Bar Method has a unique ability to make them feel “done” from head to toe. Read more about how the body sculpting technique works.

Last but not least, Bar Method teachers have gotten better at keeping students in form. The family of exercise to which the Bar Method belongs involves isolating muscles. Without precise positioning, students will miss out. Bar Method teachers, therefore, have learned to work harder to observe their classes and adjust form. More than any other element, this one wins us the most appreciation from our students.

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

SECRETS BEHIND SCULPTING THE BAR BUTT

Gorgeous high, tight “butts” don’t come easy.   Bar Method students and dancers are among the few who achieve this sculpted feature, and it’s no wonder when you look at the struggle many exercise students have just recruiting their glute muscles, let alone changing their shape.  Glutes are among our largest and strongest muscles, so why do they behave like our laziest ones? To begin with, glutes are specialized muscles designed for intense activity.  Unless we intensely challenge them they tend to let our hamstrings do the work.  How, then, do we get to these muscles?

For the answers, let’s take a quick look back at how our glutes grew to be so large compared to those on other primates.  Our ancestors’ glutes made their leap in size around the time pre-humans wandered onto savannahs. (Click to read more about our evolution and how Bar Method sculpts our backsides.) This new environment called them up to become quick enough both to escape fast predators and to be predators themselves.  To meet this challenge, their legs developed the ability to push the ground behind them with considerable force, enabling them to leap forward in a series of powerful jumps, a gait we call running. Jogging, a slower form of moving forward, doesn’t work the same way, since joggers’ legs are still relying largely on their hamstrings and quads, the muscles that are designed for walking.  Today you have to be a dedicated sprinter, professional dancer or competitive athlete to lift your seat the old-fashioned way.

Butt SculptingMost of us don’t fall into these categories, so we’re lucky that the Bar Method offers an accessible technique for sculpting a gorgeous butt that is compatible with the original purpose of our glutes.  The Bar Method’s “seat” exercises simulate the powerful backward thrust of the runner’s leg by locking it tightly against its glute muscles – the same position a leg reaches just as its glutes work hardest during a sprint – and keeping it there for minutes at a time.  When you’re in a Bar Method class, you’re not running or jumping.  Just the same, you’re making your glutes work just as intensely as if you were.  New students say doing this exercise is “using muscles I never knew I had.”  Actually they always had these muscles.   What they’re using that’s new is a workout that their glutes can finally relate to.

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.  
 
Order the Bar Method Exercise Dvds.  

HOW THE BAR METHOD RESHAPES MUSCLES

By now most of us know that you can’t “spot reduce”.  That is, you can’t burn fat off of one part of your body by working that body part.  

What you can do is “spot strengthen.”

That is, you can develop certain muscles in your body more than others.  “Spot strengthening” however, is easier said than done.  First, working just one muscle group doesn’t generate the caliber of intensity you need to change the visible shape of your body.  Second, that one body part you want to change is inseparably connected to a lot of other body parts that are affecting its shape.  So leaving out surrounding muscle groups in your exercise routine will not produce an all around change in shape.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to lift and define your glutes.  So you buy a glute-lifting exercise video and get to work.  After a few months you do feel firmer in that area, but you don’t see much change in the way you look.  The reason for the frustratingly meager results is that your thighs, hips, lower back and calves haven’t changed, and they play a role in determining the appearance of your rear.  Add thigh-work, and your thighs will lift forward from the front and help make your rear look narrower.   Add lower back stretching, and your glutes will sit higher and to grip more firmly.  (Read more about the importance of stretching exercises to sculpt your body.) Work your calves and your hamstring muscles, which overlap your calves, will give more definition to the lower part of your rear.

There’s second reason bun lifting exercise videos don’t work.  Our glutes are built for power and endurance: deep, tough and interlaced with fat for extra energy and armor.  Therefore bun exercises by themselves don’t make a dent in the fat component in your glutes.  For your rear to become leaner and more defined, multiple muscles must be competing for fuel at the same time.

Third, that same power and endurance possessed by glutes makes them a tough customer when it comes to getting enough challenge.  Spinning, dockey kicks, stair climbers, Pilates, yoga — you name it – work the hamstrings but barely touch the glutes.  The Bar Method has thus far been a lone voice in the wilderness calling for a new look at how glutes function and what challenges them. (Read this article to learn our secrets to sculpting a Bar Butt.)

There’s a second key element in the Bar Method’s unique ability to reshape muscles: its emphasis on technique.  Unlike its imitators, the Bar Method trains its students to identify and use the muscles they want to work – those that truly change the shape of the body.  Just as important, students learn not to engage overused muscles such as those in the neck and lower back.  This difference is subtle but vital to safe and effective muscle sculpting.  An outsider comparing a Bar Method workout with one of its imitators might not see that the students in both classes are using entirely different muscles.  This skill is called “differentiation,” or the power to use one muscle without unconsciously engaging another.  Bar Method teachers are highly trained to help their students learn this important – and up-to-now much neglected – kinetic ability.

In sum, the Bar Method succeeds at reshaping by rewiring the muscles’ interconnection.  In a Bar Method class, for example, thigh-work and seat work are performed in sequence.  During the thigh section,  the seat muscles come alive towards the end of the exercise to intensify the elongating contractions of the thighs.

Then during seat-work, the warmed-up, worked out, and now exhausted thighs act as a break against the glutes’ and hamstrings’ contractions.    The result is beautiful scissor-like legs that have narrowed when viewed from the front or back.