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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.

MAKING THE SUPER SCULPTING II EXERCISE DVD, PART TWO

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you find most fun?

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

Sharon: Shopping for blue tank tops.

What was the funniest moment?

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

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

What do you think of the workout?

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

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

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

Thank you for your support during this change.

Burr Leonard

THE MAKING OF SUPER SCULPTING 2 EXERCISE DVD PART 1

THE MAKING OF SUPER SCULPTING 2 EXERCISE DVD PART 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUNNERS’ LEGS AND DANCERS’ LEGS: THE DEFINING DIFFERENCE

RUNNERS’ LEGS AND DANCERS’ LEGS: THE DEFINING DIFFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenni Finley

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

HOW THE BAR METHOD EXERCISES HELP STUDENTS WITH HIP CONDITIONS

BURR FLATBACK“I will be 63 in December and have had two total hip replacements,” Mary Brauch, (shown right) a former marathon runner, emailed me this week. Mary is now training for a walking marathon and has discovered that The Bar Method, which she’s been doing at home in Chesterfield, MO with The Bar Method DVDs, is helping to get her in shape for the event. “It is very important to have strong legs with muscle (lean, strong) muscle,” she wrote me. “The Bar Method accomplishes that…I am addicted.”

Most Bar Method students like Mary with common hip conditions like hip replacements and arthritis find that the non-impact, controlled nature of the workout offers them an ideal way to get strong without jarring their joints. Other types of hip conditions aren’t as easily adapted to the Bar Method workout as Mary’s. Still, they won’t prevent students who have them from doing the workout provided they use a few simple modifications.

Hip Dysplasia and Labrum Tears:

One such disorder is hip dysplasia, a congenital deformity of the hip that causes the ball and socket not to fit together well, making it vulnerable to dislocation. Another condition is a tear in the “labrum”, a fibrous tissue deep in the hip socket. Students with either condition feel discomfort or instability when their leg moves inwards and upwards towards the center of their body. In order to take class in comfort, they should simply avoid exercises that move their legs in that way. In place of pretzel, which requires students to sit so that one hip is flexed and drawn inward, they can do standing seat. Instead of the “butterfly stretch,” a seat stretch at the end of class that requires students to cross one leg tightly over the other, they can do a “figure 4” stretch, thereby allowing their legs to remain slightly open

Tendonitis:

describe the imageInflamed muscles and tendons, usually due to overuse, are another source of hip problems. The hip muscles that are most likely to get tweaked in this way are the “rectus femoris,” a thigh muscle that helps elevate the leg, and the iliapsoas, which is actually comprised of two big muscles that join to flex the hip. Dancers as you can imagine are known for getting tendonitis in their hip muscles from repeatedly extending their graceful legs upwards. One such dancer, a beautiful Rockette named Jacey who is now a Bar Method teacher in New York City, developed sensitive hips from all the kicks she performed over the years.

describe the imageDuring “flat-back,” an intense Bar Method exercise that works the hip-flexors, Jacey has found that sitting on a “riser” mat eliminates the problem (shown left). This solution works for any student with easily irritated hips.

As I’ve said in more than one blog, I believe that the overwhelming majority of students with limitations due to joint issues benefit from intense exercise as long as they can do it safely. The reason the Bar Method is a great fit for such students is, to put it in Mary’s words, “because of the results…especially for people who should NOT do high impact but want a good, worthwhile workout.”

ADAPTING THE BAR METHOD WORKOUT TO STUDENTS WITH FOOT PROBLEMS

Look closely enough at the Bar Method’s technique and you’ll find a second Bar Method technique inside of it. This auxiliary Bar Method is similar to the original with the exception that it’s tailored to students with physical limitations or injuries. If you’re someone who is lucky enough not to have issues, you might be surprised at how many of your fellow students do.

Students have come to me about how to deal with inflamed joints, torn ligaments, strained muscles, exercise headaches, diaphragm cramps, bunions, vertigo, carpel tunnel syndrome, IT band syndrome, compressed disks, numbness in certain positions, diastasis split, plantar fasciitis, scoliosis, pelvic floor disorder, MS, whiplash, frozen shoulder and varicose veins. Others have consulted me about recovering from surgery and having immune diseases that cause weakness and pain.  Don’t underestimate the frustration these students feel! They didn’t chose to have these problems, and I commend them for seeking an exercise routine they can do safely.

The first advice I give those who ask me how to adapt the class so that it works with their health issues is to consult a medical professional. I also let them know that most doctors recommend exercise to patients with most medical conditions since it’s an activity that strengthens both the immune system and the skeletal joints. By all measures the Bar Method would seem to an ideal choice for many of people with special conditions. It’s non-impact, rehabilitative and gentle — not to mention tremendously effective at strengthening the muscles around joints – and it comes with a comprehensive set of modifications designed for students with a wide range of physical limitations.

physical therapyTake for example one of the most common physical problems that students encounter while exercising: sensitive feet. Due to fashion’s enduring fondness for putting women in super high heels, many students have beaten up their feet by wearing them, and I’m no exception. I have legs that are on the short side, so throughout the 70s and 80s while living in Manhattan I stuffed my feet into high heel boots, clogs, pumps, strappy sandals, skin-tight jazz shoes – whatever made me feel taller. By the early 90s I was hobbling and in 1994 had to have a bunion operation. This experience finally wised me up, and I switched to wearing medium heels. People with foot problems didn’t necessarily get them the way I did. Students have been injured by falling down the stairs, being run over by a bicycle, spraining their ankle, rupturing their achillis tendon, running marathons on pavement, or simply stubbing their toe really badly.

In whichever manner students came to have their foot conditions, my own past experience gives me a personal reason for making the class totally doable for them. Here’s how I’ve tailored the workout, exercise by exercise, so that such students can do it with minimum stress to their feet:

— During heel lifts, you can either raise both of your heels just an inch up and down, or alternate your heels.

–During thigh-work:

thigh workout• If you’re a student who takes in a studio: do “chair” in place of parallel and legs-together thigh-work. “Chair” is a thigh-work position during which the feet stay flat on the floor (the teacher will show you how to do it).

• If you’re a student who does the Bar Method DVDs, simply keep your heels low and bend your knees less than the DVD instructor is doing.

• If you simply have sensitive feet, try standing on a small Bar Method mat (shown at right), which you’ll be able to buy on our website starting this week.

• Whichever Bar Method workout you’re doing, feel free to substitute leg lifts for any other thigh exercise.

Whatever your foot issue, I hope these guidelines enable you feel the burn in comfort!

In the coming weeks: modifications for your knees, hips, back and shoulders. Stay tuned for the release of our new DVDs!

Click here to read how exercise can function as preventative physical therapy.

Find Bar Method exercise classes near you.

Sample and buy Bar Method exercise DVDs.

HOW THE BAR METHOD’S SPECIAL EQUIPMENT KEEPS STUDENTS’ JOINTS SAFE

no impact exerciseThis morning while I was taking the 7 am class, I noticed two students, Raymonde and Rose, who were working across from me. The three of us are regulars at this hour, so I’ve had the pleasure of watching Raymonde and Rose develop from struggling beginners into students with good form. Their improvement has been especially satisfying for me to watch because their height could have interfered with their progress had they not been at the Bar Method. Both are on the petite side, especially Rose, and Raymonde also has delicate shoulders. Here their stature and joint sensitivity are not a problem due to the availability of “riser mats,” a piece of equipment that you can find in every Bar Method studio. Riser mats are two inches thick and filled with dense rubber. Students who are petite or have sensitive shoulders can sit on “risers” so that they can reach up to the bar from below without straining their necks and shoulders. Raymonde as you can see is also using a stretching strap to hold her leg elevated, which helps her do the exercise without running the risk of overworking her hip-flexors.

The idea to make riser mats an essential piece of equipment came from The Bar Method’s long-standing effort to make its workout as safe as possible. When your joints are comfortable, you can concentrate on your muscles, not to mention that you feel intrinsically safer. With this aim in mind The Bar Method has developed not only its risers but a variety of equipment that contributes to its goal of creating a workout that is gentle on its students joints, the better to be challenging to their muscles.

Rubber Underlayment: On first sight a Bar Method studio looks like a normal carpeted room. In fact, the flooring in the room is quite unusual. Under the carpet lies not regular carpet padding but rubber underlayment that is three-fourths-of-an-inch thick. Walk into a Bar Method studio in your socks and you’ll notice that your heels sink down slightly with each step. During class this underlayment gives extra protection to students’ feet, knees, elbows and hips.

Large Mat: Yoga mats are popular in many exercise studios but can feel uncomfortable during strengthening and stretching exercises. The Bar Method’s mats are filled with dense, inch-and-a-half-thick foam that protects students’ spines and hips during ab work.

ab exerciseSmall Mat: During thigh-work students sometimes press The Bar Method’s small mat between their thighs to tone their legs. The main purpose of the small mat however is to protect two particularly boney parts of the body. First, students with sensitivity around the balls of their feet can place it under their feet during thigh-work. Second those with stiff or delicate backs can tuck it under their ribs as shown above during ab work. If you want a small mat to use at home, you’ll be able to buy one on our website in late October along with the new Bar Method DVDs, “Dancer’s Body,” “Beginner’s Workout,” and “Pregnancy Workout,” all of which use this piece of equipment.

Riser Mat: As I mentioned earlier in this blog, riser mats come in handy if you’re petite or have sensitive shoulders and you’re doing “round-back” (shown above) or “flat-back” (similar to round-back but with a straight, vertical back). Its biggest success however has been with students who have hip issues. When these students sit on one or two risers during “flat-back,” their feet drop lower down than their hips. This adjustment makes their legs easier to lift and their hips experience less strain – while still offering plenty of challenge to their abs.

Heather in flat back with strapStretching Strap: The Bar Method’s stretching straps mainly make hamstring stretching more doable. Students with shoulder issues have also found them useful during “flat-back,” which Heather is demonstrating.  By looping two straps over the bar and holding onto their ends, students can perform this challenging exercise while keeping their upper arms lower than their shoulders.

How much of a difference does all this equipment make? One student named Jen who emailed me awhile ago put it this way:  “I have joint problems and arthritis from numerous sports injuries, and this is the ONE workout that actually makes my legs, hip and back feel better. Thanks again.”

Read here how exercise itself helps keep your joints safe: Why People Need Muscle  

Find a Bar Method Exercise Studio near you. 

Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

STRENGTHEN AND STABILIZE YOUR KNEES WITH THE BAR METHOD

The theory that the knees should not go forward of the toes during exercise has long been discounted by fitness experts.  Squatting, a form of which students practice during Bar Method’s thigh work, is actually one of the best and safest knee strengthening exercises we can do, according to many recent studies.  One research center, Cambridge Consultants based in the UK, found that: “squatting actually often puts less strain on internal knee ligaments, compared with conventional and popular isometric and isokinetic knee-flexion and knee-extension exercises.” Doing non-impact, controlled quad exercises that bring the knees forward of the toes functionally strengthen and stabilize the knees.

Knee StabilizationI’ve been keeping track of students’ feedback on how their knees do after taking class, and most Bar Method students with knee problems have reported significant improvement after taking class regularly for a few months. The reason the Bar Method helps most knee issues, including arthritis, is that its small, non-impact moves strengthen and balance the quads, hamstrings and calf muscles, which we methodically work in Bar Method. These muscles all extend across the knee joint and, as they become stronger, your knees do, too. A Chicago resident named Christina, for example, discovered that the Bar Method helped her to exercise without knee pain. “I’ve had problems with running and many other exercise forms due to a previous knee injury,” she wrote me, “and this has been pain-free for me.” (Read about how Bar Method sculpts a dancer’s body.)

There are however several knee conditions that, if you have them, call for some modification of Bar Method’s thigh-work, at least temporarily. You have a small chance, for example, of there being a slight malformation in your patella or knee cap, giving it a tendency to scrape against your knee cartilage during exercise. If you’re a Bar Method student and think you have this kind of patella, you’ll probably need to limit your thigh-work section to the following positions: “chair,” “second position,” and “leg lifts.” (see below for details.) You can also restrict the thigh-work section to “holds” rather than the little down and up moves that are usually part of every thigh routine. These modifications will enable you to do the workout with no “bad” pain, plus they will add more strength and stability to your knees.

Another reason you might feel your knees during thigh exercises is that your outside quads are tighter and stronger than your inside quads. A lot of athletes such as former runners and tennis players develop excessively tight outer quads because they use them so much. As a result, bending their knees during thigh strengthening exercises pulls their knee caps out to the side and causes pain. Fortunately, this condition is correctable over time, and the Bar Method can help. If you suspect you’re one of these students, first go to your doctor and get a diagnosis along with a rehab routine. You can then speed up the healing process during your Bar Method workouts by squeezing a ball or a piece of foam between your legs during thigh-work, ab-work and “back-dancing.”

Whatever the reason for experiencing knee pain in or out of class, make sure to tell your teacher about your problem and ask her or him to help you to do the modifications that are right for you. If you use the Bar Method dvds, try holding the thigh poses rather than moving within them for a few weeks. You’ll know that the modifications are working when you start to feel intense muscle burn in your quads and no discomfort in your knees.

A note to dvd users: Watch for the upcoming thigh-work modification section on our website.

For more information on the knee, read Exercise and Evolution: How Bar Method Strengthens Your Knees.

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.

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