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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.”

HOW BAR METHOD’S WORKOUT CAN HELP KNEE ISSUES, PART 2

Last week I looked into why knee pain is so common and how the Bar Method can help students who have knee issues. To recap, if your knees hurt because of ligament damage or moderate arthritis, The Bar Method workout can help you regain stability in the joint by strengthening and balancing the major muscles that extend across your knee, principally your quads, calf muscles, and hamstrings.

The cause of your knee discomfort could also be a matter of having leg muscles that are of uneven strength and length. In that case you will need to use some minor modifications during the workout in order for your knees to feel comfortable and get better. This problem arises when the muscles on the outside and front of your legs become very strong but those on the inside of your legs don’t, an imbalance that causes your stronger muscles pull your kneecaps off track towards the outside of your legs during exertion. Runners and dancers can both suffer from this problem for different reasons. Runners are prone to IT band syndrome, which involves a tendon on the outside of the leg becoming too tight and pulling on the knee. Both runners and dancers can suffer patella displacement by developing strong quads while letting their hamstrings and inner leg muscles remain relatively weak. If you think you have one of these conditions, here are some modifications you can try:

High thigh for kneesDuring thigh-work:

• Instead of the narrow V position, do “parallel thigh.” If needed, bend your knees to a lesser extent as I’m showing in the photo. This adjustment prevents your stronger outer quad muscles from over-engaging. In this position you can also squeeze a ball, small mat or cushion between your legs to help strengthen your inner quads (see last week’s blog for details).

During standing seat-work:

Standing seat modification for knee• Instead of bent-knee standing seat, do straight knee standing seat. Under normal circumstances standing seat is a great stretch for the quad muscles, which have just been worked. The reason the exercise might be uncomfortable for you is because your outside leg muscles might be not only stronger but also tighter than those on the inside and so are pulling your kneecap outwards. Until your leg muscles regain more evenly balanced strength and length, simply keep both legs straight in this exercise.

Now we come to students who have more problematic knee issues, those that involve something going on inside the joint itself. Here are a few of these conditions:

Meniscus tears: You have two menisci in each knee. They’re a kind of cartilage but with a specialized cushioning and stabilizing ability. A sudden twist is what often tears a menisus, usually causing enough pain and disability to need medical treatment before you return to exercise. When you do come back to class, after your initial treatment the exercises can help you strengthen your knee if you take it easy at first.

Patellar tendonitis: Your patella or kneecap kind of floats inside your quad tendon, a big tendon that extends across your knee and fastens to your shinbone. (Your kneecap itself has a smaller tendon of its own.) Patellar tendonitis, which you get when these tendons become inflamed, is a stubborn condition that doesn’t go away easily. It causes pain and swelling in the front of your knee when you bend it. If you have this condition, some thigh exercises will be uncomfortable for you.

Hamstring tendonitis: You have three hamstring muscles, the tendons of which stretch across the back of your knee. These tendons can also become inflamed (another obstinate problem) and cause pain in the back of your knee.

Bursitis: Your knee has three bursae whose function it is to help lubricate the joint. When your bursa is inflamed, usually from kneeling for long hours, your knee will experience swelling, tenderness and redness. Excess swelling around the bursa will cause an accumulation of synovial fluid behind the knee, a condition known as “Baker’s Cyst.”

Obstruction in the knee joint: Your knee might have an obstruction in the joint due to a piece of cartilage, menisci or other tissue stuck between the bones. Obviously in this situation you wouldn’t be able to straighten your knee without a lot of pain.

Greater than average “Q angle”: Women’s “Q angle,” that is, the angle between the quad muscle and the patellar tendon, which is greater than mens’ due to a wider pelvis. Women’s knees are beset by this issue because evolving humans found it to their advantage to produce ever smarter babies with bigger heads. Women’s knees have as a result ended up with “a narrower femoral notch, increased ‘Q angle,’ and increased ligamentous laxity” according to James A. Nicholas, M.D., the founding director of the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, thereby making women’s knees inherently more vulnerable to injury.

The issues listed above of course require medical attention. Meanwhile, provided that you’re being treated and are on your way to recovery, can you take the Bar Method? The answer is a qualified yes. If your doctor says it is safe for you to do strengthening and stretching exercises you can take class by using some modifications during some of the exercises. Here are some substitutions you can try:

chair resized 600During thigh-work: Knee problems vary, so try the following substitutions and see which ones work best for you:

• Instead of parallel, leg-together and narrow V thigh work, do “chair.” This position keeps the feet flat on the floor and the knees right over the ankles. It’s also great for distributing the effort from your quad muscles evenly across your knees.

leg lifts• Instead of “diamond thigh” and “second position,” both of which are performed in a wide turn-out, do “second position” with your feet flat on the floor. Like chair, this position allows you to keep your heels down and your knees over your ankles.

• When all else fails, you can always do leg lifts during thigh-work. Leg lifts work your thighs with no weight on your knees. You can do leg lifts both in a parallel position and with your legs turned out (always keep your leg directly in front of your hip, whether the leg is “parallel” or turned out).

During stretches that involve kneeling or bending your knee:

stretch knee• Your knees might be simply sensitive, or you may not be able to bend them completely. In these cases, you can modify the leg stretches in a number of ways. Here are two modifications for example that you can use during the thigh-stretches.

• Throughout the whole class anyone with limited flexion in a knee can keep it straight during any stretch or perform the stretch standing while holding onto the bar.

In the long run, finding a way to workout rigorously without joint pain will help your knees. In my view the Bar Method is an ideal workout choice first of all because its tight structure enables you to anticipate each next position and adjust accordingly, and also because its modifications accommodate as many knee issues as possible.

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.

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Read more about exercise and the human body:  EXERCISE AND EVOLUTION: THE COMPLEX, MOBILE AND BEAUTIFUL SHOULDER

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.

THE BAR METHOD AS A PATH TO MASTERY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUCCESSFUL STRATEGIES FOR BEATING EXERCISE HUNGER

Does exercise make you more or less hungry? This is the question I asked in my last two blogs, and many of you responded by describing your personal experience with exercise hunger. More input came from The Bar Method Southern California facebook page, which polled its fans on this issue.

If you’re one who wrote in either to the blog or facebook that exercise makes you more hungry, you’re not alone. Ninety-five percent of the facebook respondents said that exercise definitely makes them “more hungry.” Some of the specific comments were:

“I’m a monster when I work out, all I want to do is eat. :(”

“a LOT hungrier, such a bummer.”

“More hungry. It sucks.”

“insatiable after Bar…..during abs all I think about is what I wanna eat…”

The Bar Method clearly can make students very hungry! What about the alleged appetite-suppressing power of exercise (see blog-before-last)? Is the Bar Method doing something in particular that makes people feel starving? In fact it is. The human body is genetically programmed to preserve homeostasis — that is, to change as little as possible in order to keep all its internal systems in a steady state. That’s why habits, both good and bad, get so entrenched. Activities that cause quick change set off metabolic alarm bells. It follows that the rapid increase in firm muscle that the Bar Method initiates in students’ bodies sometimes causes them to feel somewhat disoriented, which can translate into hunger.

Now for the good news: A number of the responses I got were from students who’d figured out by trial and error some effective ways of beating their exercise hunger. Their solutions are worth sharing:

1. Make sure to eat some healthy food before or after working out.

Ellen: I have a snack before I work out and then eat breakfast after, usually egg whites, oatmeal and berries and it seems to keep me satisfied

Ilona: I’m always hungry right after a work out so I make sure to pack a banana in my bag to munch on afterwards.

Vera: Since I started doing early a.m. Bar Method, I was starving, half way through class. Now I drink a protein shake before class and it makes all the difference in the world in my workout, appetite, weight, and strength. Now I’m seeing results!

2. Eat small meals more often.

Kelly: …small more frequent meals help me to not feel so hungry after my bar method workouts! Love the bar method 🙂

3. Try changing the time of day you work out. describe the image

Harmony (right): I noticed that the time of day I work out affects my appetite. If I work out early morning, I am more hungry throughout the day, but if I workout after lunch or at the end of the day, it suppresses my appetite. That gives me one more piece of information to work with when trying to balance exercise and calorie intake for overall results.

daisy_jumping_cropped med-resized-6004. Go to sleep a bit hungry.

Daisy (left): Totally agree about the tidbit about going to sleep a bit hungry, but not ravenous! I have found if I do that consistently, I can eat a healthy balanced meal of protein, fiber and sweet and still look awesome (don’t forget my bar method work outs!)

5. Take a serious look at your relationship with food.

Rali: Being ravenous after workouts used to be my MO until I realized I had an eating disorder. It took years to rebalance body and mind, but the result is that I now eat whatever I want and whenever I want it without adding weight. Funny how the mind works…

6. Stick with it! (and stay away from sugar).

julie_021 med-resized-600Julie (right): The Bar Method has really changed the way my body looks and feels. Doing the workout 3 to 4 times a week has added muscle and cut down on the hunger. I do agree with Burr cutting out the white sugar is very important and eating healthy foods in key. At 51 years old I have never felt so good!

Read how the production of lactic acid in intense exercise helps you lose weight!

EXERCISE AND EVOLUTION: HOW THE BAR METHOD STRENGTHENS YOUR KNEES

Four million years ago, our ancestors stood up and walked on two legs. Now our two knees, which are the body’s largest joints, do the job that four knees used to do and they help keep us in balance, which is an issue when you’re more vertical than horizontal. Our knees need all the muscles around them to be as strong and balanced as possible.

By systematically strengthening all three muscles groups that run through the knees – the calf muscle, the quads, and the hamstrings – Bar Method students keep them strong and pain free, which may be especially important for runners or participants in other high impact sports. Here’s part of a blog that I happened to run across:

JaMarcus Russell“My current fitness obsession is The Bar Method.  Check out Burr Leonard’s Exercise blog at  http://blog.barmethod.com/.  I have Burr’s two CDs and do the workouts at home.  At one point I plan to sign up for classes too – the studio is comfortably close to the Embarcadero Bart station in San Francisco.  The effect on my abs and lower back is astonishing, and my genetically weak knees do not bother me anymore.” (Click here to read the entire blog.)

Even if you are not an athlete, the health of your knees is important. Knees carry the weight of most of the body with every step we take. Keeping them strong and youthful requires a pretty simple formula: strengthen and balance the muscle groups that extend across the knee joint.

strong kneesThe long calf muscle (the “gastrocnemius”)is the first of three that intersect in the knee.  You can see them toward the bottom of the picture to the right. This muscle enables us to come up onto the balls of our feet in what could be thought of as a “high heels” position. The great thing when it comes to knee stabilization is that the calf muscles extend across the back of our knees, thereby helping to hold them aligned and straight.

If you have an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury, the gastrocnemius can stabilize the back of the knee in its place. This is why physical therapists give calf strengthening exercises to their patients with ACL injuries. The Bar Method’s starts its leg-exercises with heel lifts for this reason.

Above the knee on the back of the body are the hamstrings. The picture above shows this group of muscles (the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus.) The Bar Method is know for it’s “seat-work,” which is really a series of exercises for the backs of your upper legs including the glutes. These exercises target your hamstrings, the third major muscle group that extends across our knees. Feel those kinds of sharp cords that run across the backs of your knees. Those are your hamstring tendons. When your hamstrings are strong, they help hold your knees in place. When these muscles aren’t toned, our knees get less support. A side benefit of strong hamstrings is the beautiful slightly rounded shape of the back of fit thighs.

The quads are the muscles in the fronts of our thigh and happen to be our bodies’ largest muscle group. The quads extend across the front of our knee. The intense, non-impact plies, little knee bends where the muscles stay engaged that we do in a Bar Method class, are tremendously effective to strengthen and balance the quads. The Bar Method’s knee bends are safe because students do them while bringing their heels up off the floor, thereby engaging the calf muscles to lock the knee in place.

healthy kneesEvery Bar Method class includes at least three different sets of these plies with the quads at slightly different angles. These multiple positions assure that the quads get worked evenly. The four muscles in the quads include the vastus muscles and the rectus femoris as you can see in the picture to the left. Runners, tennis players and athletes in other sports tend to use their outer quad muscles (vastus lateralis) more than their inner one (vastus medialis). That can ultimately pull their patellas to the side with flexion, causing pain. The Bar Method emphasizes inner quad work to help address this issue.

This blog is the fourth in a series on special challenges we humans face due to our evolutionary journey from four legged creatures to bipeds. Shoulders, backs, and knees changed radically as we stood up, walked, and used our arms to reach over our heads. We can stay supple and healthy by producing and toning muscle around these especially vulnerable areas. Click on any of the links below to read other sections of the series.

EVOLUTION, WORK, AND WORKING OUT OR WHY PEOPLE NEED MUSCLES 

EXERCISE AND EVOLUTION: THE COMPLEX, MOBILE, AND BEAUTIFUL SHOULDER

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

EXERCISE AND EVOLUTION: THE COMPLEX, MOBILE AND BEAUTIFUL SHOULDER

A major focus of The Bar Method workout is to increase the stability of one of our most delicate joints, namely the shoulder. People injure their shoulders so much for a simple reason. The human body developed through ages when our upper bodies did a lot of heavy work, which served to develop enough muscle around the shoulder joints to stabilize them. Today our survival needs don’t include much upper-body strengthening activity so we have to add it in. The Bar Method addresses this situation by paying special attention to the shoulder muscles.

After a brief warm up of leg lifts, the first exercise in a Bar Method
class is for the shoulders. Called “shoulder walks,” we do it off the beat of the music and it serves as a quiet, nearly meditative start to class allowing students to turn inward and click on their “mind-body connection.” From there, the class continues with biceps and triceps exercises, push ups and reverse push-ups focusing on pecs, triceps, and deltoids. Upper body muscles continue to play a major but supporting role in all the exercises for the rest of the hour up until the last cool down glutes work before final stretch.

shoulder joingIn last week’s blog, EVOLUTION, WORK AND WORKING OUT OR WHY PEOPLE NEED MUSCLES, I talked about how the human evolutionary journey from four legged to upright creatures caused certain vulnerabilities in our bodies, especially in the shoulders, knees and backs. Man’s ability to rotate his arm 360 degrees enabling him to climb, throw, and carry require the most complex and delicate combination of coordinated muscles in our bodies. According to Dr. Lev Kalika of Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization, “The anatomy of the shoulder joint is in fact the highlight of human evolution. The versatility and mechanics of the motion of the shoulder is far more complex than of any existing precision machine.”

SHOULDER MUSCLESThe shoulder joint is often compared to a golf ball sitting on a tee. There is no snug, safe socket enclosing the end of our arm bone. This is what makes the shoulder so vulnerable. Instead, it relies on a complex system of muscles called the rotator cuff to girdle the shoulder joint in place. In addition to the rotator cuff, which is not visible, the deltoids and triceps, as shown in the picture to the right, are visible and, along with other nearby muscles, contribute to the workings of the shoulder.

Here’s a letter that a grateful Bar Method student wrote to Summit, New Jersey Bar Method studio owners Jen Hedrick and Angie Comiteau:

I want to let you both know how thrilled I am to have found Bar
shoulder health
 Method! It really has changed my life. I have belonged to gyms, played organized sports, dabbled in road races, had stints with personal trainers…you name it…for as long as I can remember.  
 
About a year and a half ago I started having severe shoulder/rotator cuff problems. Normal everyday activities such as lifting the kids or even a carton of milk out of the fridge became excruciating. At times the pain prevented me from sleeping. I saw doctors and physical therapists and was very discouraged. Eventually I turned to The Bar after hearing how great it was….I have a lot to learn as far as technique and positioning are concerned, but I thoroughly enjoy and learn in each and every class and constantly feel challenged, energized, and overall, simply healthier. Most importantly, my shoulder pain is totally gone! It’s nothing short of miraculous. I’ve got my life back and no longer feel incapable.  
 
Thanks guys…I appreciate all that you do…Elizabeth

Shoulder exercises, however, are not only good for you; they look good on you. Sculpted arms and shoulders are perhaps the hottest red carpet trend in physical fitness today.  Harper’s Bizarre says, “Arms are the New Face”  Michelle Obama’s gorgeous upper body created an uproar as people gossiped about her sleeveless wardrobe. Self Magazine talks about “A-List Sculpted Arms.”

shoulder musclesJust as Bar Method creates a distinctive looking butt with a lifted base and a slimmed down side punctuated by a dimple, so does it create a distinctive arm and shoulder.  The deltoid is augmented making it more prominent and it tapers off in a triangular point like the end of a heart on the top of the upper arm. The neck muscles or trapezius above it is lengthened and unbulky. The biceps are shapely but not too big. There is a small tear drop shape right below the collar bone that is formed where the deltoid and pecs meet. Firm triceps and defined pecs make up the rest of the look.

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EXERCISE AND AGE

Exercise affects people differently at different ages. I never gave much thought to how age would impact the results I got from exercise; that is until it did. At age 36, three Lotte Berk Method classes a week – all I could afford at that time — were enough to give me thighs and buns like rocks. In my 40s I opened my first exercise studio, so I bumped up my attendance to four times a week. That extra weekly class made me even stronger and more toned, which led me to believe that I could hold onto my level of fitness indefinitely simply by continuing to work out at that rate.

I’d love to report that over the next 20 years, exercising that much protected my body against aging, but that is not the case. By my late 50s, I began to notice that skipping class for more than a few days in a row left me feeling weak, and that I had to struggle through a week’s worth of classes after such a lapse to recover my strength. When I hit 60, my muscles started to feel like sieves, the strength draining out of them unless I attended class very regularly. Now that I’m closing in on 63, I find that the Bar Method is still giving me great results, but I need to take class five times a week to get them.

exercise and ageMy story is typical of regular exercisers. According to a report by Dr. Stephen Seiler, a leading sports scientist, “after about age 60, strength levels fall more rapidly” in people who strength train on a long-term basis. ”The good news,” he writes, are that these declines “are diminished by continued training.”

What happens, then, to people who don’t exercise?  The study cited by Dr. Seiler found that their decline in muscle strength starts decades earlier, in their 30s, and then accelerates relative to their active peers. The way to avoid this loss, it turns out, is exercise more often as you get older.

Sedentary people not only get weaker by the way. They also get heavier.  A recent study of 34,079 non-dieting middle-aged women published last month by the Institute of Medicine found that over 13 years these women gained an average of six pounds each. A subgroup of 13% of the women, however, did not gain weight. These were the women in the study who did moderate-to-intense exercise for about hour a day every day. Even the ones who exercised a half-an-hour of a day, which doctors have recommended for years, didn’t keep the extra weight from coming on.

These findings make sense when you consider a long-known fact about our bodies. Without exercise we lose on average about a half a pound of muscle mass a year. That adds up, over 20 years, to 10 fewer pounds of muscle to burn the calories consumed.

I’m happy to know that upping my number of classes per week has special benefits related to my age. That is good news but the really good news according to Dr. Seller is that you can begin strength training at any age and make significant gains in your muscle mass. I also feel fortunate that I do the Bar Method because it continues to feel good on my body as I get older. It is so safe and gentle that it’s something I can do all my life to maintain my strength.

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Click here to see how Bar Method creates lean and shapely muscles.

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EXERCISE MAKES YOU SMARTER

Near my house there are 200 steps going up to another street. I often run up them when walking my dog.  After the run when I return to my computer and I happen to be working on an article or blog, my mind suddenly fills with new ideas. The scientific community has recently come up with a flood of new information on why my mind seems sharper after working out.

exercise smartNot just one or two, but dozens of studies over the last few years have shown that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells, reverses the aging process, and even causes the front lobes to increase in size. Working out, according to these studies, improves thinking over both the short and the long term. We used to think of exercise as just something we do to look and feel better. Now we can add that exercise makes you “think better,” too.

smart exerciseNewsweek reported in March of 2007 that there is a “recent and rapidly growing movement in science showing that exercise can make people smarter,” and the reason, according to The New York Times in November of 2009 is because of “improved research techniques and a growing understanding of the biochemistry… of thought itself.” “The field is just exploding,” says Fred Gage, who co-authored a study on exercise and cognition.

When you look at a sampling of these studies as a group, their implications are pretty mind-blowing. Here are brief summaries of a few of them. They provide a powerful incentive, I think, for all the couch potatoes who want to get an edge their goals to get moving.

Studies on mice and rats:
• In May 2009 researchers at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan forced mice to run faster than their normal speeds. After four weeks, these mice beat out a control group of mice at skills and learning tests.

• Another neuroscientist, Fernando Gómez-Pinilla also did experiments comparing rats that exercised to those who didn’t and found the fitter rats smarter.

Studies on children:
• In a study published in 2007, Charles Hillman, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, reported on an experiment he did with 259 third and fifth graders. He tested them both for physical fitness and cognitive ability. Those with the fittest bodies were the ones with the fittest brains, even when factors such as socioeconomic status were taken into account.

• The Naperville, Illinois school system has for several years been scheduling its students with poor verbal skills to take PE right before reading class. Their reading scores have significantly improved.

Studies on adults:
• A 2007 National Academy of Sciences study found that people who worked out for three months sprouted new brain neurons.

• A psychologist at the University of Illinois recently discovered that exercise causes people’s frontal lobes to increase in size. “It’s not just a matter of slowing down the aging process,” says Arthur Kramer, author of the study. “It’s a matter of reversing it.”

Studies on older adults:
• 155 women ages 65 to 75 who did strength training for a year scored 10.9 to 12.6 percent higher on cognitive tests than women the same age who did just balance and toning exercises.

• Other studies have found that exercise slows the onset of dementia. “Active adults have less inflammation in the brain. They also have fewer “little bitty strokes that can impair cognition without the person even knowing,” says Kristin Yaffe, a neuroscientists at the University of California, San Francisco

In a nutshell, says John Ratey, a Harvard psychiatrist, “Exercise stimulates a brain chemical that acts like Miracle-Grow for the brain.”

At age 62, I’m not going to take a chance that all this evidence is anything but for real. See you in class!

Read how scientists have also determined that exercise improves mood.

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