Every week, I look forward to The New York Times Tuesday Science Times section, which usually includes new and interesting discoveries about exercise. The field of exercise itself is so young – only around 50 years old – that researchers are just starting to investigate its powers to change our bodies and minds. So far, they’ve made some amazing discoveries: that exercise fortifies our immune system, improves sleep, quickens our minds, lessens cognitive decline, guards against kidney disease, strokes, depression, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer, and helps prevent weight gain by curbing our appetite. This week’s Science Times section includes two articles on recent discoveries. The first article suggests that exercise helps us learn more quickly, and the other reports evidence that exercise changes our DNA itself, which might even carry down to future generations!
I’m excited to read about anything that research comes up with, but I’ve learned to take today’s research with a grain of salt. At this early stage in science’s investigation into exercise, some studies are just preliminary snapshots that don’t tell the whole story. For example, typical studies put their subjects on treadmills or exercise bikes to test “exercise,” leaving other types of workouts unexamined.
Other studies yield limited results by testing their ideas over a brief time span, often just a few months. A recent article in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reported that people lose more weight by exercising four times a week than they do by exercising six times a week. The testing ended after 13 weeks – precisely the point when our Bar Method students are often just begining to lose weight from the workout. If this study had followed its subjects longer, it might have drawn a different conclusion.
One pitfall of buying into every finding this early research comes up with is that people can jump to conclusions prematurely, spawning exercise “myths” that will later be dispelled by future research. A recent article in US News & World Report might have left itself open for such a reversal. The article was entitled “Crazy for Exercise: Are We Overdoing It?” and cited a study about the possible harm to cardiovascular health from marathons, triathlons or long-distance bike racing. Later, the article quoted experts at Equinox, ACE and the University of Connecticut saying that the new trend towards high-intensity group fitness programs like CrossFit, Insanity and boot camps are pushing Americans “to the brink of, or well past, their capacity.”
In fact, CrossFit, Insanity and boot camps are just a sub-set of today’s “high-intensity” workouts. Many other currently popular intense routines don’t subject their students to the risk of harming their cardiovascular health or injury. By leaving out such a large group of intense types of exercise, this article concluded that Americans aren’t ready for intense exercise. Go to a Bar Method class, and you’ll find many Americans who are plenty ready!
In the long run, I have no doubt that science will come up with the right answers about exercise, as it always does. One sign of progress on this front is a new batch of scientific research that the American Council on Exericse has commissioned addressing specific fitness fads. Among the subjects that were scientifically studied were the benefits — or lack thereof — of hot yoga, Pilates, Curves, Zumba, Wii Fit, boot camp, kettlebells, toning pants, toning shoes, power bracelets, baby strolling, hula hooping, and even “super-oxygenated” water.
So far, however, there have been no studies — by ACE or any scientific institution anywhere — on bar fitness. This genre of workout has become a popular choice in every part of the country. Bar Method studios alone will receive about 2.5 million client visits this year, and the Bar Method is just one bar-based workout among a rapidly expanding genre known for its surprising degree of intensity and, at least in the case of the Bar Method, for its high degree of safety.
Until science gets curious enough about bar fitness to look into it, the bullhorn belongs to bar fitness professionals to state its distinctive benefits, and best available evidence to be had is the huge number of student testimonials that continue to flood in. Based on the abundance of colloquial evidence, I’d like to venture a guess on what science will discover about bar fitness.
First, researchers will test the endurance of Bar Method students and discover that they have tremendous stamina, even though the workout is not classic endurance training. They will analyze bar work’s thigh exerises and conclude that they are unlike any other kind of quad strengthening. First, they consist of “eccentric” contractions like “pliés” in a dance class, but unlike dance moves, they leave students “in the muscle” for the entire set. Conversely, leg presses challenge muscles only on the “concentric” part of a rep. “Squats” don’t consist of “eccentric contractions,” and yoga doesn’t require students to move against resistance enough to generate the energy spike that bar fitness gives. The results from bar fitness will be found to include rock hard thighs and bottomless stamina.
Second, the will discover that “fold-over.” a bar-based exercise for the back of the legs, consists of a unique mix of challenges and yields its own set of results. In fold-over, one leg holds the weight of the body while its hamstrings and glutes are super-extended. The other leg presses against gravity while its hamstrings and glutes and super-contracted. They’ll learn that this dynamic combination of contractions, extensions and holds makes the exercise more intense than the sum of its parts. It gives students power of a wide range of motion, not to mention high, muscular rears more than with other types of glute and hamstring exercises.
None of my speculations have of course been scientifically proven, yet. The only evidence so far comes from students – millions of them – who have testified about the amazing results they get from the workout. Soon, I’m sure, science will agree.