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Is The Bar Method “Barre Fitness?”

Fitness-June-Cover-242x334An editor at a national fitness magazine contacted our office a few weeks ago to ask if I’d contribute to an upcoming article. Usually, I’m delighted when the press calls, but this time, the subject of the article gave me pause. “Would I write a piece about the benefits of barre fitness workouts?” the editor asked. Her question presupposed that barre fitness workouts share the same benefits and that as creator of The Bar Method I would be a good person to speak about them. The truth is, I am not an expert on barre fitness workouts, not having taken more than a few of them, and do not consider myself qualified to talk about their benefits. I understood where the editor was coming from, but I turned her down.

Now if she’d asked me to talk specifically about The Bar Method, I would have felt confident about giving her this list of its benefits:

  • The Bar Method adheres to the principles of exercise physiology and was designed under the guidance of physical therapists. It is thereby safe for the joints and highly efficient at changing the body.
  • Blog on barre fitness 4 editIts workout is mindful. Students experience a heightened mental focus during the class, which helps them to precisely target muscles and gives them increased self-confidence and well-being.
  • Its technique places a special emphasis on posture and good alignment.
  • Its students are multi-generational. The class gives both 20-year-olds and 70-year olds a challenging, result-oriented workout.
  • Its teachers receive among the best training and ongoing guidance in the fitness industry.
  • Its teaching is consistent across all of its studios.
  • Blog on barre fitness 3 editIts studios are beautiful and comfortable environments.
  • Its desk and teaching staff are welcoming and supportive.
  • Its student communities are closely bonded and passionate about The Bar Method workout.
  • Its studio owners are all teachers themselves and serve as mentors and guides for their own teachers, a system that sustains an overall high quality of teaching throughout The Bar Method.
  • Its brand continues to introduce new and innovative Bar Method workouts.

Are these Bar Method benefits also “barre fitness” benefits? I have no evidence that they are. Our students rarely mention the bar (or “barre”) when they tell us why they love The Bar Method. They talk about the results, the quality experience and the supportive community. Take, for example, the students’ comments in this three-minute video recently posted by our Seattle studio, which I admired and share with you here:Seattle video shot edit

All considered, barre fitness may not even be the best classification for The Bar Method. It might be a better fit in an upcoming fitness group called “studio workouts,” a collection of service-focused brands that has gained a reputation for giving its students personal attention, community, results, and a well-honed, well delivered experience. But then, where else but from The Bar Method can students achieve supremely sculpted arms, beautiful posture and increased flexibility? With so many benefits to be gained from taking its class, it may simply be the best workout in any category, bar none 🙂

If the thought of helping people change their lives from the outside in resonates with you and the thought of creating a community where people feel welcomed and encouraged inspires you, then you might be just who we are looking for.   Email us at franchising@barmethodhq.com or fill out our online inquiry form to find out just what it takes to be a Bar Method studio owner!

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The Secret Behind The Bar Method’s High Quality Classes

Kristen Williams edit

Kristen

Samantha Elizabeth edit 2

Samantha

Bar Method studios have grown to more than 90 in number, and the quality of our classes, to hear it from our students, remains as high as ever.  “I can always count on getting a great workout no matter who is teaching,” Samantha, a DC student, posted on our Facebook page. Fresno student Kristen told us in her post: “I’m in love with the concepts of bar method, also, the high standards that each location and instructor is held to.”

How does The Bar Method manage to keep growing and keep our teachers at the top of their game? We begin with a comprehensive training program, but our focus on quality really kicks in after our teachers begin teaching. That’s when The Bar Method’s unique evaluation and coaching system comes into play.

We developed our evaluation system five years ago when our family of studios was still small. I would travel around to watch classes and noticed something interesting. When left alone, teachers usually got better at some things, such as confidence and “flow.”  At the same time, even our talented and dedicated teachers could actually get worse at other things, that is, unless Sharon evaluating editthey received regular feedback. One special challenge exercise teachers face is that they must repeat similar instructions class after class. Over time, that good bit of verbiage gets put on automatic, and teachers can stop hearing everything they’re saying. On top of this, they could develop “tics,” phrases unconsciously said over and over such as “that’s it,” “great job” and “good!” Teachers could also develop blind spots in their teaching. One example is getting into the habit of never looking at a certain part of the room. Any student who happened to be standing there was therefore not getting noticed. This slippage is not the teachers’ fault! All of us need guidance in order to stay alert and focused. What’s more, I was happy to see that feedback could play a positive role as well. Constructive guidance helped teachers to deepen their understanding of the technique, hone their flow, sharpen their observation, and become more creative motivators. This last component of growth gave teachers an exciting opportunity to become masters of their craft.

Jen and Sharon at meeting Aug 14 2015 edit

Master trainer Jen Hertsenberg and Sharon

To these ends, every year, The Bar Method now sends a team of national evaluators to every studio to evaluate/coach, and give guidance to each one of our approximately 1000 teachers. Even though I founded The Bar Method, I’m evaluated the same as any teacher (and get just as nervous beforehand!). All of us get a score that is an average of what we receive on a list of skills. Those skills include how well we present the exercises, how well we connect to our students and help them with their form, how motivating and supportive we are, how fun and challenging our choreograph is, and how well we use the music.

Sharon Sabrina Lauren edit

Sabrina, Lauren and Sharon

As you might think, the evaluation process can be nerve-racking to studio owners, but they love the results. “We find evaluations an integral part of success,” says Atlanta studio owner Melissa White, adding that “We were all nervous. At the same time, as a studio, we came out better teachers.” Sarah Kuzniar, who co-owns three Boston-area studios, values the Bar Method’s evaluation system because it validates the feedback she gives her own teachers. “You guys reinforce what we’ve been telling them,” she says. ”To hear it from the outside is helpful.”

I want to say a last word about our 15 intrepid evaluators led by our VP of Teacher Development Sharon Demko and her team members, Sabrina Porter and Lauren Ford. Sharon and her evaluators go to great lengths to assure that every Bar Method teacher receives a thorough and supportive evaluation. They take red-eyes, fight through snow and traffic to show up at 6 am classes, watch teachers all day, then spend more time writing up their evaluations, coaching and giving guidance. Their work is the secret sauce that keeps our classes top-notch. Thank you, guys!

What Cell Phones Are Doing to Our Bodies

Head in the cellphone - Lauren March 2015 smallA new malady is sweeping the world, one that mainly targets children and teenagers but does not spare any age group. If you become afflicted, you can suffer disc herniation, pinched nerves, metabolic problems, reduced lung capacity, vascular disease, gastrointestinal issues, chronic headaches, poor emotional health, and chronic pain, not to mention reduced good looks. In 2008, the medical community named this new disorder “text neck.”

“Text neck” occurs when you allow your head, a ten-pound weight, to fall significantly forward of your body as you gaze down at an electronic device for long periods of time. This posture becomes more stressful on your spine as your head tilts progressively downwards. According to experts, every inch your head moves forward puts ten more pounds of weight on your spine.  If for example you hold your head six inches forward, you are putting a crushing 60 pounds of weight on your back and shoulders. Worst of all, this posture eventually becomes engrained in your body. bad-posture-620w from CBS NewsWhat our mothers told us, it turns out, is true: Slump, and you will get stuck that way! No wonder that we have an epidemic of young people with neck and back pain!

How do you treat “text neck?” Some doctors tell their patients to text less and try calling people. Others suggest lying backwards on an exercise ball. Chiropractors, who are all over this issue, recommend neck stretches and adjustments, and the cosmetic industry has come out with lotions to smooth neck wrinkles caused by texting.

These treatments might provide short term relief, but they fall short when it comes to providing a long term solution, one that would guard against getting “text neck” in the first place. Such a remedy could reset people’s posture physically and mentally so that they maintain relatively good posture throughout the day, even when they text. In my view, this solution would need to address “text neck” on three fronts: 1. Strengthen weak back and core muscles, 2. Increase poor body awareness and 3. Train in habitual good posture. You probably have already guessed where I’m going with this: the remedy is exercise.

Holding good posture during "diagonal seat"

Holding good posture during “diagonal seat”

Now that we’ve gotten this far, we still need to determine what kind of exercise best accomplishes these goals. For back strengthening, I’d like to suggest that barre workouts are an excellent choice. All barre classes, whether dance or exercise, compel your back muscles to work harder than usual over gravity as your muscles contract and extend, and many barre workouts include intense back strengthening intervals as well. In contrast, some ways of working out such as doing Nautilus circuits have you leaning on equipment much of the time. Second, an exercise-based remedy must teach you good posture, and last but not least it must increase body awareness by keeping you aware of your body alignment throughout the class. Without these last two features, a barre class could allow you to do the workout with your shoulders slumped, your back arched, and your head dropped forward, putting the 60 pounds on your spine that you’re trying to avoid!

All this considered, my recommendation for a long term solution to “text neck” is a barre workout that puts special emphasis on both improving posture and increasing body awareness. I know from personal experience that one such workout is The Bar Method.  In a Bar Method class, teachers mention the posture benefit of each exercise, then help you as you work on your individual posture goals. If your shoulders go up, they will remind you by name to draw them down. If your head drops forward, they will encourage you to keep it lifted. They may also give you gentle hands-on adjustments to give you a deep awareness of your alignment.

Over the past decade, countless students have told me that The Bar Method’s focus on body awareness has transformed their posture. Hear it from a student named Amy, who wrote us this testimonial after one month of classes:

“I am becoming convinced that improved posture is now within my reach. I still have a ways to go, but that daily awareness is there, which is huge. An additional benefit is that in “standing tall” (versus slumping) I feel more energized and balanced. I’m sure I’m breathing deeper too. As I learn how to integrate all my muscles into good posture, I have a picture in my mind of what that looks and feels like now. I don’t want to go back!”

 One last word on posture (see below): As the saying goes, if you don’t stand up straight, you could get stuck that way…forever 🙂

texting crop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Link Between Music and Muscle Tone

I love to make New Year’s resolutions, and most years, one of my promises to myself is to get better results from my workouts.  If you’re like me and this goal is high on your resolution list, here’s a tip that can get you on your way: Whenever you work out to music, make it a project to sync your moves to its beat. Research studies have discovered that following a musical beat when you exercise improves your brain-muscle connection, not only making you look hotter on the dance floor but enabling your muscles to work harder during exercise, resulting in more tone and strength from your workouts. This is why Bar Method music mixes use exclusively tracks with a clear, strong beat for its strength exercises.

In this video Hoddy Potter, owner of the two Kansas City Bar Method studios, and I show you how it works.

Hoddy and Burr blog on music and muscle tone Jan 2015 small

Unsafe Barre Fitness Exercises from The Past

Welcome to my blog. In this video I show you four unsafe exercises from past barre fitness workouts and the current safe versions of these moves that barre fitness classes teach today.

Straight leg reverse pushups Hanna Dec 2014 edit 2 smaller

Let me know if you’ve run across any of these exercises and what your experience was with them.

Thanks for watching.  Burr

Body Types Part 2: Customizing The Bar Method or Your Flexibility

Taylor Swift and Reese Witherspoon

Taylor, 5’11,” and Reese, 5’1″

In last month’s blog, I listed some some celebrities who have a variety of recognizable body types, such as being tall or petite, and gave you tips on how to adjust your Bar Method workout if your body is similar to one of the types I described.

This month, I want to talk about a difference in our bodies that is less obvious at first glance: our degree of flexibility! How flexible you are usually becomes a significant factor only in the event that you decide to get involved in a sport or an exercise technique that involves stretching. It’s at that point that, if you’re an inflexible person, you can get discouraged from trying some of these pursuits. You will assuredly not feel that way in a Bar Method class, where teachers customized every stretch to accommodate all students. In this blog, I’ll show you some of these stretches and how they work.  (See last month’s blog for descriptions of the Bar Method’s exercise equipment.)

  1. Tight hamstrings

Of the roughly 639 muscles in our body, a mere three of them, namely our three hamstrings, identify us to the world as flexible or inflexible, somewhat unfairly in my view. For that reason, I’ve made sure that all Bar Method students can stretch comfortably and safely regardless of their hamstring length. If you have tight hamstrings, here are a few of the many options you can take:

  • Stretch at the bar:
    Kim hamstrings for body type blog Oct 2014 1 small

    Kim stretching at a “stall-bar”

    • Go to a “stall-bar,” a device with lower rungs, for this stretch. When you reach your hands forward, hinge only so far as you comfortably can while keeping a straight leg.
  • Thigh stretch in front of the bar:
    • During the hamstring stretch, hold onto the bar and lift your torso so that it’s more upright.
    • You can also rest your hands on your thigh rather than on the floor.
  • Fold-over:
    • Raise your torso on a slight upward diagonal, and raise your working hip about ¾” higher.
      Raymonde hamstrings body type blog Sept 2014 small

      Raymonde using a strap to stretch

      Both these adjustments lessen your hip flexion while allowing you to work hard during the exercise.

  • Round-back:
    • Use a strap looped over the arch of your working leg as shown.
  • Flat-back:
    • Sit on at least one or two “risers,” which boost you up from the floor, allowing more room for your legs  and less bend in your seat.
  1. Flexible hamstrings:

Being blessed with flexible hamstrings not only means you can stretch more easily but also that you need to adjust some positions so that you get the most out of that exercise.

  • Lauren body types hamstring roundback Sept 2014 small

    Lauren working higher on the wall in “round-back”

    Thigh stretch on the floor:

    • Feel free to do a split and raise your arms.
  • Round-back:
    • Shift your torso higher than 45 degrees on the wall, as shown.
  1. Tight back:

Many athletic people, including some dancers, have relatively inflexible backs. If you’re among them, you probably barely notice this feature except when you’re trying to do a back extension or attempting an abdominal crunch. In a Bar Method class, teachers will recommend adjustments and provide you with equipment that allows you to get the most out of these exercises.

  • Jen in curl with riser and small mat 1 Sept 2014 small

    Jen using a “riser” and a small mat for “curl”

    “Arabesque:”

    • This glute-lifting, back toning exercise calls for you to extend your upper back like a dancer while you raise one leg up behind you. If you have limited back extension, not to worry. Simply direct your gaze diagonally downward at the bar rather than directly in front of you. Your upper back muscles will still get the intense toning workout that this exercise is known for.
  • Abdominal curls:
    • Use plenty of mat support under you as Jen is doing above.
  1. Hanna body types second position Sept 2014 small

    Hanna in “second position”

    Tight inner thighs and hips:

If you have this body type and are female, friends have undoubtedly told you they envy your cute “boy hips.” This boyish look can also come with the characteristic tightness of guy’s hips, which limits your ability to stretch your legs outward, for example, in “second position” and straddles. Here’s how you can stay aligned in these exercises:

  • Second position weight-work and thigh-work:
    • The priority is to keep your back vertical rather than your thighs wide apart. So work higher, that is, with less bend in your knees, and turn your feet forward to match the turnout of your knees.

Pretzel stretches:

  • It’s okay to do a sitting figure four stretch instead of the half-lotus, as Hanna is illustrating below.
  • Straddle after flat-back:
    Tight hips Hanna Oct 2014 smaller

    Two ways to do the “half lotus” stretch

    • Keep your hands pressing against the floor behind you.
  • Butterfly stretch at the end of class:
    • If you can cross your legs, do so. The cross-legged position more effectively stretches your outside glutes than the figure four. If you can’t get your knees crossed, go ahead and do a “figure 4 stretch,” that is, one foot resting on your other thigh.
  1. Tight Achilles tendons:
Sit-spin blog Oct 2014 small

A “sit-spin”

If you have tight Achilles tendons (they extend across the backs of the ankles) as I do, don’t even think about attempting a figure skater’s “sit-spin,” which demands that you have very flexible ankles. In a Bar Method class, you won’t need to make any significant adjustments in your stretches. Only be aware that you’ll look slightly different from most other students in some exercises such as the one below:

  • Narrow V thigh:
    Achilles tendons Burr Oct 2014

    Me doing “narrow V thigh-work”

    • Your heels will lift higher than one-inch from the floor as you go lower. That’s okay. You’re still targeting your lower quads as long as you keep your calves relaxed.
  1. Double-joined:
Double jointedness Denise Oct 2014

Denise fully extending her joints and doing shoulder walks

If you’re this body type, you’re flexible everywhere! Your extraordinary flexibility is beautiful and makes us want to be as flexible as you, but your joints have a bit less stability due to their greater range of motion. That means you need to ease up on extended positions in your elbows, knees and hips as follows:

  • Arm work, including weight work and pushups
    • Do not completely straighten your elbows.
  • Stretch at the bar:
    • Keep a slight softness in your stretching-side knee.
  • Heel lifts:
    • Ease up on the straightness of your knees.
  • Second position thigh-work:
    • Keep your lower back vertical, not rolled forward. Do not over-tuck.
  • Straight-leg standing seat.
    • Keep a slight bend in your standing knee.

The six body types I just described make up a small fraction of all the ways we can differ from one another in our flexibility. If you didn’t see your body type on this list or in last month’s blog — and want to know how you can adjust the Bar Method exercises for you — talk to your teacher! She or he will be happy to customize modifications that will work for you.

How To Customize The Bar Method for Your Body Type

Kathleen Kendra Maggie body type 1 Sept 2014 edit small

Kathleen, Kendra and Maggie

You can run, bike, circuit train and take cardio classes without giving more than a passing thought to your body type. Granted you need to adjust the seat height on your bike, but after that it won’t matter if you’re petite, tall, tight-muscled or flexible. Even in yoga, where your hamstring and hip flexibility play a role in how easily you get into poses, it’s not going to make a difference if you’re tall, petite, long-waisted or short waisted.

The Bar Method is a different story. Your body type can make a difference in the the way you perform certain exercises. For example, if you have tight hamstrings, you may want to stretch at the stall-bar during bar stretch. If you have a tight back, you would place more small mats under your back during “low curl” (I’ll explain below). Then there’s the bar! Most of it is one height, unlike people.  Finally, the Bar Method puts you into subtle positions that stretch some body parts while you strengthen others. If you have tight hips, for example, you need to be aware that your version of good form is going to look different from other students’.

A stall-bar, risers and small mats

Stall-bars, risers and small mats

The payoff from your having to pay attention to these variables is that you get a big bang for your buck from taking the Bar Method: spectacular and surprisingly quick changes in your body. So that every body type will have full access to these benefits, the Bar Method has created simple adjustments within each exercise that make them work for everyone. Doing these modifications can simply be a matter of changing your positioning to suit your body type, or you might use the special Bar Method equipment that every class provides.

This equipment includes a section of bar called the “high bar,” which is two inches higher than the regular one. If neither bar height is right for you, there are “stall-bars” with other bar heights to choose from.  “Risers” (the black square mats shown at right) are especially useful for accommodating body types. They are two-inch high cushions that are soft but retain their height when you sit or stand on them.  “Small mats” are one-and-a-half-inch deep cushions that do compress downward a bit when you press them but provide support as well. Then of course, straps are available to help you stretch if you have tight hamstrings.

So how do you do the Bar Method if you have a body type that calls for some adjusting during class? The best way I can think of to answer this question is to list some common body types and how to adjust your Bar Method workout if you have one of them. I’ll describe body types that you can visually identify, and I’ll name some celebrities who have them as examples in this blog.  (Next month I’ll focus on body differences in flexibility, such as whether you have tight or flexible hamstrings). See if you recognize one of the below body types as yours:

1. Petite:

Petite is powerful! Just try to tangle with Reese Witherspoon, Vanessa Hudgens or Kristen Bell (all 5’1”). Like these actress, I bet you look youthful for your age and probably get away with being spunky. Here are your modifications:

  • Melissa, 5'2" on a riser

    Melissa, 5’2″ on a riser

    Stretch at the bar: The regular bar is a little high for you, so unless you have very flexible hamstrings, go to the stall-bar to stretch your legs during this section.

  • Standing seat-work:  Boost yourself up by standing on one or two risers for this exercise.
  • Pretzel under the bar:  The bar will be high to reach up to, so sit on a riser.
  • Fold-over: Again, customize the bar for your height by holding onto it with your elbows pointed down and your head opposite the bar rather than over it. Many of our petite students also like to go to a stall-bar for fold-over.
  • Round-back and flat-back:  You’ll see a lot of other students taking a riser for round-back. Feel free to take two of them.

2. Tall:

You have the long thighs and waist-line the rest of us secretly long for and share your height with some famous beauties such as Nicole Kidman, Taylor Swift (both 5’11”), and Brooke Shields (6’).

  • Maggie foldover body type Sept 2014 edit small

    Maggie, 6′ 2,” adjusting the bar to her height during “fold-over”

    Thigh-work and standing seat-work:  The bar will feel somewhat low for you. Every Bar Method studio room has a “high bar.” Ask the teacher where it is and work there. You can also do thigh-work at a stall-bar, which has rungs that are a wide variety of heights.

  • Fold-over:  Avoid placing your head on the regular bar, which will cause you to slump downwards. Instead, work at the high bar or a stall-bar, or hold onto the regular bar and raise your head a few inches over it, as Maggie is doing at right.
  • Round-back and flat-back: Work at the high bar. If you need a higher bar than that, place one riser against a “stall-bar” (shown above) and one or two more risers underneath you.

3. Long-waisted:

More than you may know, others see you as doll-like and cute, but you’re likely to stuff your feet into scarily high heels anyway. Out of your dress clothes, you can be athletic and fiercely competitive. Claire Danes, Olivia Wilde and Rachel Bilson have your body type.

  • Kathleen using a riser and a small mat during "curl"

    Kathleen using a riser and a small mat during “curl”

    Curl: Place a riser or one or more small mats under your ribs. Also feel free to slide your feet a little more forward than others do.

  • Back-dancing: Raise your heels if you’d like to.  You’ll add length to your legs thereby increasing your ability to move your seat up and down.

4. Short-waisted:

Judging from the celebrities who are short-waisted, among them Melanie Griffith, Mila Kunis and Jada Pinkett Smith, it appears that your body type gets the hot guys!

  • Kendra pretzel with riser body type Sept 2014 edit small 2

    Kendra using a riser for pretzel

    Pretzel:  Your legs, being proportionally longer than average, will feel extra heavy for you. Even the playing field by placing a riser underneath your seat during pretzel to boost you up and allow your long legs more room to work.

  • Kendra holding onto to her calf during round-back

    Kendra holding onto to her calf during round-back

    Round-back:  Your longer legs will give you the appearance of being low on the wall when you actually could be too high. Adjust for this optical illusion and slide down until your back is more or less diagonal to the wall.

  • Flat-back:  This is a leg-lifting exercise, and once more, you will be lifting proportionally more weight than your fellow students. Not only that, when you sit on the floor with your long legs in front of you, your thighs tilt upwards and your hips flex more than average. To resolve both these issues, sit on one or two risers. I recommend using risers even if you can lift your feet without them. That way, you’ll do the exercise with the right amount of flexion in your hips.
  • Kendra using a riser for "high curl"

    Kendra using a riser for “high curl”

    Curl: During low curl/feet down, you have the option to slide your feet a little more towards you to balance the weight of your legs and torso.

  • High curl: Again, you run into the issue of placing your long legs in front of you while sitting on the floor. As you did for flat-back, place one or two risers underneath your mat to lessen the flexion in your hips.

5. Short hip-flexors/more S-curve:

As featured on Eva Longora and Beyoncé, you clearly have possibly the sexy-est looking of all body types. Your hips and your lower back, however, are tight! For this reason, your version of good form during some exercises will not look at as “tucked.” That’s okay! As long as you engage the right muscles, you’ll still be getting the benefits of the exercises.

  • Courtney showing good form for her body type

    Courtney showing good form for her body type

    Standing weight-work:  Free-weight exercises like “shoulder walks” call for students to stabilize their core by gripping their glutes and abs. When you do this, your S-curve shape will still be there, which is correct. Avoid trying to over-tuck to get your tailbone completely under your spine, which might over-stretch your lower back and hips.

  • Second position thigh-work: Keep your spine upright and grip your glutes while not trying to force your tailbone under your spine.
  • Standing seat: Because your hips are tight, it’s okay for you to position your working thigh slightly forward of your hip during standing seat with a bent knee. Focus on the principal component of good form in standing seat, namely keeping your body vertically aligned.
  • Another issue that comes up when you have tight hips is tightness around the knees during this exercise. If that’s the case with you, do standing seat with both your legs straight
  • Pretzel: Feel free to lean your torso more than 45 degrees away from your working side to allow your leg to press back.
  • Flat-back: Place a small mat behind your waist if it helps you to better press your mid-back against the wall. Then enjoy showing off!  Students with your body type can sometimes outdo everyone else on the height of their legs.
  • Low curl:  Flexing at the waist doesn’t come easy to you. No matter.  You can comfortably work your abs by placing one or more small mats under your ribs.
  • Back-dancing: If the “legs-together” back-dancing position bothers your lower back, open your legs to hip-width apart.

6. Long hip-flexors/lessor S-curve:

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift

Your body type can manifest itself as willowy and elegant like Taylor Swift, Keira Knightly and Kate Middleton or free-spirited and girl-power-loving like Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann.

  • Standing weight-work: Your spine is already straight, so keep it straight and simply grip your glutes without pressing them forward. Because you have a flexible upper back, focus on keeping your chest lifted during this section.
  • Studio owner/teacher Noreen

    Studio owner/teacher Noreen

    One-weight lifts: Your lower back can also be flexible, so pay extra attention to not rounding it when you hinge forward at your hips during one-weight lifts.

  • Thigh-work: Maintain your elegant straight back from top to bottom by not over-tucking.
  • Standing seat: In this exercise, you can feel free to tuck strongly. At the same time, balance your tuck by drawing your working leg back behind your hip as much as you can. And remember as always to keep your chest lifted and your torso vertical.
  • Fold-over: Avoid rounding your torso, and let your seat to tilt up a bit. Once, you raise your leg, I bet you can lift it higher than your hips and still be in good form, so give that a try!

 

Next month, find out how to modify the Bar Method exercises for your body if you have:

  • Tight hamstrings
  • A tight back overall
  • Tight inner thighs and a limited turnout
  • Short Achilles tendons
  • Flexible hamstrings
  • Double-jointed shoulders, elbows, or knees

 

 

 

 

 

How Music Can Sculpt Your Body

Pitbull singing "Sexy People"

Pitbull singing “Sexy People”

I have a deep appreciation for power of a great song to energize a workout. When I’m in class about to go into “thigh-work” and I hear the century-old Italian ballad “Torna a Surriento” start to play,  I know that Pitbull is about to jump in and stomp all over this old song with a high energy, joyful rap about “sexy people all around the world.” Blood flows into my thighs and I’m propelled through the reps by the pounding beat of “Sex-y Peo-ple.”

There’s a definite advantage to being able to exercise in this day and time when you can download onto easy-to-use portable music devices a multitude of great dance songs by artists like Pitbull, David Guetta, Flo Rida, Nelly Furtado, Ludacris, Kaci Battaglia or who anyone who inspires you 🙂 ♫

David Guetta

David Guetta

In addition to keeping you motivated and energized, music can optimize your results from working out in a number of other ways. If you exercise to a musical beat, that beat can spur you to move faster. Dance aerobics and some strength workouts such as the Bar Method tap into the power of rhythm this way to intensify their workouts. Pushups in a Bar Method class are more challenging than they otherwise would be because you do them to an up-tempo beat, making each rep more explosive, precise and effective than reps you would perform if you were left alone to determine your own pace.

You can also harness the power of music during exercise to help you change the shape of your muscles. A small number of targeted sculpting workouts, including the Bar Method, put music to work to this end. The Bar Method, for example, teaches students to “find muscles I never knew I had,” as they put it, by training those muscles first to follow a simple beat, then to contract to that beat with more and more precision and power. This technique has enabled thousands of students to tone certain muscles for the first time, an outcome that has been duplicated by research. University studies on movement and music have found that when subjects focused on performing moves to a beat, they significantly increased their strength and coordination. At the Bar Method new  students often initially aren’t aware that training their muscles is a key component of the sculpting process. Many of them start out with a normal level of mind-body awareness but not as much as they need to recruit “hard-to-reach” muscles well enough to change them. So the first few times they try to work these “difficult-to-reach muscles” (the glutes for example), their initial effort is inaccurate and weak. They can’t yet fully engage the muscles and might not engage them at all.

These students can sweat and burn some calories, but they won’t change the shape of muscles as long as they can’t fully engage them. I’ve taught many new students who are just starting out on this learning curve. During, “seat-work,” for instance, their movements are disorganized. They might aim their working leg in a different direction than the one the teacher instructed, or move it slower or faster than the beat, or miss their glutes entirely and bend at their waist, shoulders or ankles. These students simply haven’t yet laid down the neural circuitry they need to execute certain moves with precision and power.

Portland seatwork smallThis ability to locate and fire a muscle quickly and accurately is called “synchronous activation” (see my blog FUN FACTS ABOUT HOW EXERCISE CHANGES YOUR MUSCLES). Bar Method teachers use a number of techniques to help students develop “synchronous activation,”  including adjusting individual students’ form and encouraging them when they improve. Among their techniques is system of training muscles by means of music. Teachers start by playing songs with a simple, clear beat that all their students can follow. Then they make sure to count clearly, accurately and on the beat. Finally, they prompt individual students to “accent the rep,” “make the motion sharper and more powerful,” “make your motion a little larger/smaller,” “hold on the top of each rep where you’re most deeply in the muscle,” and so on. This way, students are able to heighten and fine-tune the quality of their movements. After a few months of this work, students develop the neural connections to their muscles that enable them to fire those muscles deeply, thereby effectively strengthening and toning them. One popular result is a noticeably lifted seat, (for which we can thank Pitbull and Ludacris, in part 🙂

Next week: How to make a great music set with the music you love!

Ten Ways The Bar Method Makes You More Beautiful, Part 2

Last month, I reported on five ways that exercise enhances beauty by changing the behavior of your cells and hormones, and how strength-stretch techniques boost these effects. To recap, working your muscles boosts collagen production, flushes out waste from your skin, decreases stress hormones, increases sex hormones, and improves the quality of your sleep. It’s motivating to know this! After writing this blog, I worked all the harder in class knowing I was simultaneously treating my skin to a platter of these beautifying treatments.

The final five ways I’d like to mention that the Bar Method makes you more beautiful include ones you normally associate with exercise, plus a few that may surprise you:

6. Pretty muscles

Mary Spokane Standing SeatExperts say we can’t “spot reduce” parts of our bodies. We can however “spot tone” them. The Bar Method focuses on our muscles’ ability to change shape with targeted exercises. It especially targets hard-to-reach muscles that, when toned, help create a graceful, dancer-like body. Take for example the gluteus maximus. It’s both our largest muscle and one of the most difficult to “turn on.” The hamstrings are our walking muscles, and they get so used to doing the work that they tend to dominate during exercises that use an alternating leg pattern, such as jogging and spinning. Your glutes activate for intense actions such as bursting into a full-out run, leaping into a “grand jete,” or taking an exercise class such as the Bar Method that methodically targets them.  The Bar Method’s “arabesque” exercise, for example, engages your gluteus maximus in two ways. This large muscle extends your hip and can turn it out as well. So in arabesque, you contract your gluteus maximus to turn out your working leg, then compel it to stay contracted while it raises your leg upwards in one-inch sized lifts until muscle exhaustion. After doing arabesque, you know you’ll walk out of class with a more chiseled rear. Speaking personally, I started bar-work with a very small rear and now have a nice lifted one.

7. A leaner body

Denise str at barThere are several things going on in a Bar Method class that make you lean. Exercise physiologists say that working your large muscles groups — as opposed to smaller muscles such as the biceps — results in optimal caloric burn. Most exercises in a Bar Method workout are strengthening several large muscle groups at a time, particularly those in your legs and in the backs of your limbs. Examples of multi-muscle Bar Method moves are “reverse pushups” (the triceps and traps), “diamond thigh” (the quads and glutes), “fold-over” (the glutes, hamstrings and quads), and “flat-back” (the chest, abs, hip-flexors and quads). At the same time, the Bar Method’s interval training format – intense strength intervals followed by a few minutes of stretching – burns more fat in relatively less time.

Mary Spokane Standing SeatGreat posture is a must-have if you want to look your best, regardless of your inborn traits. One way to attain this key beauty feature is to take ballet classes, which compel you to perform rigorous arm and leg exercises while maintaining a straight back and a lifted chest. Barre fitness workouts that focus on posture provide this same benefit. The Bar Method for one is dedicated to helping you focus on posture throughout the class. Most students who improve their posture discover that they’ve also given themselves a “prettier” appearance overall.

9. Altered gene expression

gene smallWe are born with a unique genetic code that tells our cells how to function. At any one time our cells use only part of this genetic information. This year, researchers made an amazing discovery, that exercise deactivates genes related to fat storage, type 2 diabetes and obesity. So far, researchers have found that exercise changes the expression of 7,000 genes and are still studying this phenomenon. Meanwhile we can throw out the old belief that we’re a helpless product of our DNA. Exercise can transform us into a different version of ourselves! The surest way bring out your “lean genes” is to find a workout that’s easy to stick with long term, a feature that thousands of exercisers have found in the Bar Method.

10. Prolonged youthfulness

cynthia tarantino after 2013 smaller textThis exercise effect is one of the most significant that science has discovered. By exercising, you greatly reduce the likelihood of living the last part of your life in ill health and infirmity. Exercise can keep you active and healthy, not to mention physically attractive, until the end. Our growing knowledge of exercise’s ability to extend our prime of life is changing world cultures, economy and life habits. With exercise, you can look more striking and sensational with the years. Hear it from 54-year-old Dallas nurse Cynthia Tarantino: “I thought since I was older that it was impossible for me to change my body because I had tried everything,” she wrote me. “I felt horrible about myself and it was affecting myself esteem. …With only three months at the Bar Method, I have never looked better in my life. I refuse to be that middle aged woman with the big belly and the cafeteria lady underarms!”

Ten Ways The Bar Method Makes You More Beautiful, Part 1

Keri RussellWhen I was a little girl in Georgia in the 50s, women wanted to have a small waist, lots of curves, or both. It wasn’t desirable to be toned or athletic, rather to appear soft, fragile and mysterious.

Our standard of beauty has changed dramatically since then. We now admire women who are lean, strong, athletic, confident and more diverse in their features. Why this shift happened is not the subject of this blog (the women’s liberation movement, etc.), but I’d like to talk about one driving force behind this change that has directly influenced our idea of what is beautiful: science’s growing knowledge of how we can look our best. Since my childhood, scientific discoveries about health have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that strong, athletic bodies enjoy longer lasting youthfulness, not to mention a winning edge in the game of life.

Don’t get me wrong! Our obsession for being as beautiful as possible by any means natural or artificial is not going away any time soon. What’s different about our current pursuit is that, unlike the old days we got our beauty tips handed down to us from an archive of old wives tales, and now we get advice that has a solid foundation in science.

What is the top beauty tip that we keep hearing from this source? Exercise! As one researcher, Tim Church M.D., put it, “Every cell in the human body benefits from physical activity.” Spa treatments, facials and makeup tricks can’t hold a candle to exercise when it comes to beautifying you in multiple ways. Here are ten of my favorite beauty benefits of exercise and how you can boost these results with efficient full-body workouts like the Bar Method.

1. More collagen

basic anatomy of the skin epidermis dermis stratum corneum fibroblastsFibroblasts are skin cells that produce collagen, a factor in youthful-looking elastic skin. “As we age, fibroblasts .. get lazier and fewer in number,” says dermatologist Audrey Kunin in an article by Catherine Guthrie for Experience L!fe. “But the nutrients delivered to the skin during exercise help fibroblasts work more efficiently, so your skin looks younger.” Bar Method exercises work large muscle group repeatedly until they are thoroughly exhausted, facilitating this cellular process.

2. Better functioning lymph nodes

lymph nodesWhy is this important to your looks? The hundreds of lymph nodes in your body “take out metabolic trash,” says Guthrie. “But the nodes can’t haul garbage to the curb without the help of nearby muscles. When muscles contract during exercise, they squeeze the lymph nodes, helping them pump waste out of your system.” So when you’re working your way through all the intense muscle contracting and stretching during a Bar Method class, you’re not only shaping your muscles but also fueling your body’s natural waste removal system. The results, in Guthrie’s words: “You look less puffy and polluted.”

stress-diagram-and-cortisol small2Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress. It increases your blood sugar, suppresses your immune system, and decreases bone formation, all for the purpose of devoting your full energy to handling the source of that stress. When you suffer from chronic stress, excess cortisol production can cause collagen loss and inhibit protein synthesis, impacting your skin and health! Exercise enables your body to turn on cortisol when you need it, then turn it off when you don’t. The Bar Method’s strength-stretch sequence gets cortisol out of your system without beating you up in the process, so that afterwards your body can turn its attention to repairing and regenerating your muscles and skin.

4. Better sleep

Almost 20 percent of Americans suffer from stress leading to poor sleep, according to the National Institute of Health. Studies have found that moderate-to-intense exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply. The Bar Method workout provides the intense exercise that facilitates sleep, while its focus on stretching and breathing makes for a relaxed body and a good night’s rest so that you look fresh the next day.

5. Enhanced sexiness

andrea-davis text smallWe know by now that the Bar Method makes you look sexier. It also happens to literally make you sexier. Huffington Post blogger David Katz, M.D., reports that exercise can “Increase blood flow in a way that has a direct affect on sexual function.” Not only that! Researchers have learned that exercise increases levels of testosterone, the hormone most responsible for making us feel sexy, and HGH (human growth hormone), also found to boost libido. A British study found that a group of middle aged men who exercised had 25% more testosterone and 4 times more HGH than sedentary men. When it comes to workouts that optimize your sexiness, the Bar Method, with its targeted strengthening and stretching exercises for the muscles around the hips, tops the list! “We all know the obvious effects of the Bar Method…” says teacher and studio owner Andrea Davis, “an enhanced sex life.”

RhondaRhonda Vassello, a 32 year old Bar Method student in Carlsbad, California, agrees. “I have done almost EVERY type of workout out there, Boot camps, Circuit Training, Cycling and even the dreaded task of running,” she wrote me in a recent email. “Each time my body reached a plateau that I just could not overcome… THIS WORKOUT has done it… and let’s be honest ladies when you feel good your confidence peeks and that is the sexiest feature any woman can have!

Next month: TEN WAYS THE BAR METHOD MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL, PART 2