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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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Stretching Makes you Stronger and More

This year I had the opportunity to take a variety of different fitness classes including some that used a ballet bar. I noticed that the bar classes gave fewer stretches between exercises than what you get at the Bar Method. The intention of these workouts is probably to deliver good results to their students by being as aerobic as possible, a currently popular approach to fitness. But are their students missing out on the body-changing benefits to be gained from stretching?

Leg extension machineSports scientists have researched this subject over the past few years, and they’ve come up with some surprising findings. Three years ago for example, one team of researchers set up an experiment to find out if stretching strengthens muscles. They recruited 16 men and 16 women, all college students in Hawaii’s Brigham Young University. The authors of the study, (Kokkones, Nelson, Tarawhiti, Buckingham and Winchester) divided the 32 students into two groups that matched as much as possible in athletic ability. The members of the first group trained on three different exercise machines for the legs three days a week for eight weeks. The members of the second group did exactly the same routine three days a week for eight weeks. The only difference was that the second group also stretched twice a week for 30 minutes at a time.

After the eight weeks, the researchers tested their subjects’ performance on the three exercise machines. The members of the first group – those who’d only strength trained — improved their performance an average of 11.6% on each machine. Those in the second group, who’d also stretched twice a week, boosted their performance on the machines more than twice as much, to an average of 24.6%.

Why did the stretching substantially improve the performance of the second group?  The researchers said that, as other studies have found, “placing a muscle on stretch can induce Z-line ruptures and increase protein synthesis and growth factor production.”

I was fascinated to learn that stretching causes “Z-line ruptures” because that’s also how strengthening works. When you do a “strength” move such as lifting a weight, you cause tiny muscle tears that stimulate your muscle to build denser and stronger fiber as it repairs itself. Passive stretching, it turns out, causes the same kind of tears by pulling on muscles, while at the same time strengthening the stabilizer muscles that are maintaining the pose. No wonder I’m often out of breath after a stretch sequence!

Stretch at bar sideWith this research in mind, consider what’s happening to your body during the Bar Method’s “stretch at the bar.” When you place your leg on the bar, you can now credit the source of the burning sensation you feel to tiny ruptures in your hamstring muscle fibers, similar to those that occur from strengthening. When you turn your body to the side for the “waist stretch,” your obliques, triceps and back muscles are also being toned as you stretch them. Meanwhile, the heat generated by this work is serving to get your muscles warmed and limbered up for the thigh-work to follow. Last but not least, you feel extra satisfaction knowing that your muscles are doing more than just taking a break during this stretch!

The many research studies recently carried out on stretching have found that it has a lot of other benefits besides making you stronger. Here are highlights from three of the studies that focused especially on stretching’s power to enhance your appearance.

Improved coordination

StabilometerResearchers did a study to find out if stretching makes people more coordinated. They put forty-two college students on a “stabilometer,” which challenges the user to keep his/her balance while standing on it. The students who stretched before standing on the stabilometer significantly improved their balance, by 11.4%. Why? The researchers speculated that “stretching improved maintenance of balance perhaps by helping the subjects to eliminate the gross muscle contractions … and to replace them with fine muscle contractions.” In other words, stretching makes people less “klutzy” by reducing unintentionally jerky movements, thus enabling them to move more smoothly and efficiently.

A leaner body

Katelin kneeling seat stretchResearchers tested stretching’s ability to reduce blood sugar. Twenty-two subjects drank a large glass of juice. A half an hour later they either stretched for 40 minutes or did a “mock stretching regime” (not really stretching). Afterwards the researchers measured everyone’s blood sugar. They found that the group that stretched had “a significantly greater drop in blood glucose.” High blood sugar stimulates our bodies to convert the sugar into fat. Stretching, it turns out, metabolizes blood sugar, thereby preventing it from being stored as fat.

Beautiful posture

Finally, I want to mention the long-established connection between stretching and good posture. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Frequent stretching can help keep your muscles from getting tight, allowing you to maintain a proper posture.” Stretching gives these muscles greater range of motion, enabling our bodies to stand up straight and move with more elegance, confidence and grace.

ShannonAll this evidence shows that the Bar Method’s stretches are not merely elongating students’ muscles. They’re playing a significant role in changing their bodies. Shannon Albarelli, who co-owns a Bar Method studio in Montclair, New Jersey, noticed this difference after she took another barre fitness during her last four years in college. “I liked the class I took in college,” she told me, “but I it was only after I moved to New Jersey and started taking the Bar Method that my body changed.”

Exercise For Our Children’s Children

Frail and triathleteIn the delightful movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” Dev Patel’s character has a saying, “Everything will be all right in the end. So if it’s not right, it’s not yet the end.” Patel’s motto is right on the mark, in my view, when it comes to how we’re progressing on keeping ourselves healthy. Last month for example, I reported on some new scientific evidence that exercise can significantly extend mris of quadsyouthfulness in the realms of strength, agility and leanness. One recent study found that the muscles of triathletes in their 70s and 80s ressemble those of 40-year old triathletes, while sedentary people lose most of their muscle mass by that age. A second study showed that exercise suppresses the appetites of fit people.

Did this amazing news hit the headlines and prompt people to exercise? Hardly. The reports hovered on the periphery of the media, barely noticed. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that as Patel says, “it’s not yet the end.” For one, our historical behavior shows that we’re hard-wired to take advantage of new knowledge about our health, only it takes a number of generations for us to change our habits in the right direction. In the process it can even appear as if we’re going backwards. Look at the general population’s increasing weight issue and continued love affair with smoking in the face of clear evidence that both habits shorten life. I think we’ll eventually get it, even though it will take a few generations before people consider eating healthy food and exercising regulary as obligatory as brushing their teeth.

the better angels of our natureBefore you call me a cock-eyed optimist, I’d like you to consider one more scientific study about our health that came out within the year. Last October, Harvard psychologist and world renowned thinker Steven Pinker published the findings from this study in a fascinating book called “The Better Angels of our Nature.” Pinker’s book makes a powerful case that human beings are gradually but steadily moving away from their old self-destructive ways. In his preparatory research Pinker exhaustively surveyed human violence through history, and he came to a surprising conclusion: In spite of what we see on the evening news, human violence has steadily decreased throughout history. For example in past centuries, people were prone to stabbing each other and cutting off each others’ noses at the dinner table. Dinner knives are for that reason round at the tips.

Fighting at the dinner tableToday the world in which that kind of boorish behavior was an everyday occurence is too far in our past for us to appreciate how far we’ve come in our table manners. Violence has decreased significantly even in the past 50 years, and we’re getting nicer to each other in other ways, among them bestowing human rights and fair treatment to others.

How do Pinker’s findings relate to exercise? Though Pinker doesn’t go into detail about whether we’re treating ourselves with increasing kindness, his research points clearly in that direction, and recent mass changes in behavior do too. Before the 1960s, new mothers wore girdles rather than exercising to get back into “pre-baby shape.” Before the 1980s, people rarely thought about planning for a high quality physical old ago, just a secure financial one. Another sign of change is the fitness industry’s growth from a bare existence 50 years ago to a $25 billion market last year. My reading of these shifts is that they confirm we’re in the learning stages of instilling good manners into ourselves towards our own bodies, a process that’s ultimately going to involve parents en mass teaching children from an early age about good food and regular exercise. The obesity epidemic looks bad to us now, but press the zoom-out button enough times, and I think the trend away from obesity and towards a full payoff from exercise will come into view.

The Bar Method is in a Class by Itself

joey and jenThe “Bar fitness” trend has become so popular in the past half decade that when you tell a friend, “I’m going to a barre fitness class,” she’s probably going to visualize you holding onto a ballet bar, not lifting some kind of detached bar or swinging yourself around a pole. It’s definitely time for these bar-based classes to have their own name, but grouping them together can also be misleading. Unlike Pilates, which grew from an established technique developed by Joseph Pilates, “bar fitness” can apply to any workout that happens to use a bar. You won’t necessarily get the same experience when you take different versions of it. Bar Method students who’ve gone to classes elsewhere, for example, often come and back tell us that, “they just weren’t the same as the Bar Method.”

Like these students I’ve taken bar classes at other studios, and I agree with them that the Bar Method is different. Here are 10 ways that, in my view, the Bar Method stands out.

1. Bar Method teachers know what they’re talking about.

The Bar Method rigorously trains its teachers. All Bar Method teachers learn anatomy and physiology and are tested on their knowledge of them. Then before being certified every Bar Method teacher-in-training must demonstrate that she knows and understands the technique and can teach it effectively.

2. The Bar Method is safe.

The Bar Method keeps students’ joints safe by following the recommendations of physical therapy and sports medicine. In a Bar Method class you will never do unapproved moves like lifting free weights to the side above the shoulders, doing pushups with the shoulder blades pressed together, doing “reverse pushups” with the shoulder blades and upper arms at different angles, dropping down to the heels during “thigh-work,” and over-flexing the spine by pressing the waist into the floor during “round-back.” You will exclusively perform exercises that are endorsed by our medical consultants.

3. The Bar Method custom-tailors its exercises to a variety of body types.

Bar Method teachers give options to students with different bodies-types and conditions. Students with short hamstrings, for example, have lower bars to stretch on available to them and straps to hold onto. Petite students get “risers” to sit on. Tall students have a “high bar.” Those with sensitive shoulders get options that allow them to keep their arms below shoulder height. In a Bar Method class you’ll see a wide variety of students, one reason being that the Bar Method accommodates all of them.

4. Bar Method studios rooms are equipped with inch-deep rubber padding under carpet:

This feature may seem like a detail, but in my view it’s one of the fundamental differences between the Bar Method and other workouts. A hard floor is an ideal surface on which to do aerobics, but bar fitness classes press students’ balls of feet, insteps, shins, knees, hips, spines, elbows and shoulder blades into the floor. The Bar Method enables its students to work comfortably and safely by equipping its studios with cushioned floors and thick floor mats.

5. The Bar Method keeps students “in the muscle” long enough to change their bodies.

The Bar Method changes students’ bodies quickly by using an interval training format. Each class leads them through eight rigorous strength intervals ending with a “grand finale” of 10, 20, or 30 reps that give students an exciting challenge to work through. Other bar classes give more but briefer intervals with final counts or only four or five, lessening the body-changing potential of each strength set.

6. The Bar Method then stretches muscles deeply:

The Bar Method intensely stretches muscles to make them look and feel longer and more graceful. Other bar techniques give fewer stretches, more like steady-state aerobics but a less body-elongating approach.

Checking in with a student in St Louis7. Bar Method teachers face their students.

A key component of the Bar Method teaching style is that teachers observe their students throughout the class. Teachers of other techniques lead their students in a “Simon says, Simon does” manner, consequently turning their backs to them. This practice harks back to the aerobics classes of the 80s that didn’t call for the attention to form that bar workouts require in order to keep their students safe and in the right muscles.

8. The Bar Method supports, connects with, and guides its students.

Bar Method teachers address their students by name to encourage and motivate them. Uniquely in the bar fitness world, teachers stop speaking at moments just to watch their students and “give them the stage.” The effect is a fun, interactive and social experience that’s distinctively Bar Method.

9. Bar Method teachers count accurately and on the beat!

How accurately teachers count may seem like a minor detail, but try getting through the last reps of a strength set when your muscles are on fire, and you’ll get a new appreciation of how important an accurate number sequence can become when you’re pushing through the last counts of a strength set.

10. Last but not least, the Bar Method is consistent in the high quality of its classes everywhere.

Becoming a Bar Method teacher involves passing an audition, a three-month training course, and a series of exams. Teachers then undergo yearly evaluations. This system has established more than 60 studios all over North America where students can be sure they will always get a great body-changing workout.

The Beautiful Look and Style of Bar Method Studios

Summit Accent WallIn 2007, we welcomed our first Bar Method studios located outside of our home state of California. All of the new studios were beautiful, but one stood out for its highly creative design choices. The owners of the Summit, New Jersey studio, Jen and Angie, had painted the wall behind their front desk a deep, chocolate brown and mounted onto it a shiny metallic logo. They also exposed the brick on one wall of their studio. Both of these ideas took fire within the Bar Method, and other studio owners painted accent walls, mounted shiny logos, and exposed brick as you’ll see below. Today, on approaching a Bar Method front desk one of the first things you’ll notice is an accent wall, which has now become an essential design element in all new studios. Below is a selection of the many gorgeous colors studio owners have chosen:

accent wall collage

The development of our accent walls is an example of the collaborative effort among ourselves, our studio owners and our students that has gone into the evolution of the Bar Method’s studio design style. Based on our students’ input, we’ve learned to equip exercise rooms with soft flooring to cushion feet, knees and hips, plenty of “stall-bars” (bars with lower rungs) to accommodate students with tight hamstrings, calming, neutral colors on the walls, and natural light for a cheerful ambiance.

At the same time, we’ve encouraged studio owners to be as creative as they wish beyond these design basics. In this blog I’d like to give you a tour of a few studios whose owners have come up with their own distinctive and dazzling looks.

As I mentioned, studios in older cities such as Summit, New York, Boston, Salt Lake City and Montclair, New Jersey exposed the underlying brick in their exercise rooms, reception areas and hallways. Some of these walls reveal the ghosts of former stairways, windows and doors impressed in the brick, providing students with a bit of fascination with what came before while they work out.

brick

Owners in other cities took advantage of unique architechural features of their spaces. In Portland owners Denise and Meghann enhanced the dramatically high ceilings of their space with larger-than-life-size photos, faux beams, and industrial-style lighting:

Portland Collage

San Diego studioSan Diego Bar Method owner Allison located her studio in Point Loma’s Liberty Station, a cluster of buildings that once housed a naval training center and is now a nationally designated landmark. Allison built on her space’s historic flavor by installing fans, lighting and curtains that evoke the mid-century style of the period.

Montclair studioIn Montclair, New Jersey, Shannon and Kelly were forced to make an flamboyant design choice by unforeseen circumstances. Shortly after they’d signed their lease, their contractor popped out a few ceiling tiles and discovered a long-hidden decorative ceiling, which their landlord then insisted they restore. After many extra months of construction, Shannon and Kelly now have a studio room to die for. No problem doing the last 20 curls in the Montclair studio! All you have to do is look up and be transfixed.

Orlando LoungeAmong my favorite design inspirations of all is the lounge in the Orlando, Florida studio. Owner Karen installed a retro banquette worthy of a Raymond Chandler Hollywood mystery, then dressed it up with glittering modern accessories. The Orlando Disneyland couldn’t have been more imaginative!

I wish I could show you all the fabulous Bar Method studios. Catherine in Carlsbad and Carrie Salt Lake City stained their bars and stall-bars in rich mahogany. Joey in Burbank chose black lockers, red walls and red faux leather furniture that give his locker rooms a wow factor. Palos Verdes, California is just plain magnificent throughout. I’m proud of all care and thought owners have put into making their studios fun, unique and inviting.

Congratulations, studio owners, on your gorgeous designs!  

Wooing the Guys with Valentines “MAN” Barre Classes

Valentine's Day HeartWOOING THE GUYS WITH VALENTINE’S DAY “MAN” CLASSES

It’s February, and Valentine’s Day is two weeks away. In keeping with the spirit of the day, many Bar Method studios hold special “man” classes to which men can come free either by themselves or with their girlfriends or spouses. My home studio in the San Francisco Marina is holding three of these “man” classes on Saturday, February 12th, and I’m teaching the last one. I love teaching these special men-oriented classes. The Bar Method has the power to “up” a guy’s fitness level above and beyond what he gets from his usual gym routine of weights, abs and cardio, and it’s fun to talk about these benefits as the men make their way through the exercises. Two things I definitely don’t say are that they’re lifting their seats and ripping their arms. Men already have lifted seats, and many have ripped arms. What guys do get from the workout is stronger legs, tighter abs, more flexibility, relief from back pain, stability in their knees, a better functioning core, and – if they’re athletes – amazing sports conditioning.

Bar Method Seattle Owner Luke CurreirWith all these fitness benefits to be had by men, why aren’t Bar Method classes full of guys? One reason, in my estimation is that the classes are full of girls, beautiful ones at that. You’d think this would be a big draw, but no. Guys don’t like thinking they’re being shown up by more flexible, dance-y females. What’s more, they don’t like the idea of standing at a ballet bar wearing socks. The problem with this rational is that, one, we female students are actually in awe of guys who brave the class (but most of them never get this), and, two, the ballet bar and the socks are non-material details that don’t reflect the true machismo-like essence of the workout.

In spite of this general male mind-set, a small group of men do come regularly across the spectrum of Bar Method studios. Who are these unusual male students? Some are athletes who’ve found that the class makes them more competitive at their sport. Others are husbands whose back problems disappeared from the workout. A handful are runners who use it to strengthen, stabilize and increase flexibility their knees and hips, ultimately adding longevity to their running careers. My boyfriend Michael is among the atypical guys who come regularly simply because he likes the workout (see my blog “GUYS AT THE BAR” about his experience.) We studio owners are proud that these men are among our students, but the truth is, most of us could count the number of men who come regularly to each studio on the fingers of one hand.

Luke - Low Curl

But there’s always hope. Every Valentine’s Day lots of men come to our “man” classes; they work hard, they seem to get it, and every year I think excitedly to myself, “this is the year!” Then these guys don’t come back. One student from a “man” class I taught a few years back gave me an insight as to why. “I’d love this, “he said, “if I knew there’d be at least a few other guys in class.” Alas, it seems a chicken and egg type situation. The guys won’t come because their buddies aren’t there.

Maybe on the 12th, things will change…… 🙂

Happy Valentine’s Day
Burr Leonard

Student Stories of Their First Bar Method Class

I see them all the time in class: students who are taking the Bar Method for the first time. To look at them, you’d wouldn’t think they are having the greatest time. Their legs shake uncontrollably, their faces signal acute distress, instructors are telling them by name to “tuck more,” “lift your chest,” “make the motion smaller,” and they are being expected to execute moves they had no idea were within the realm of possibility until that moment.

Why, I asked myself, do so many of them come back the next day with a look of excited anticipation on their faces? I’ve always been curious about this phenomenon, so this week I surveyed our California-based students on what they thought of their first class. What I learned is that most students fall in love with the Bar Method on their first day for a few key reasons. Here are the top five answers I got from students who sent in their first-time experiences, ending with one I got more often than all the others combined:

Reason #5: The great bodies of the students who take the class:

Noelle HeadshotNoelle (left): “One of my close friends Ashley…has an amazing body and swears by Bar Method, has been going for 2 years. I am a soccer player, marathon runner so I consider myself in good shape but I never had that tight toned body.”

Kimberly: “I went to the West LA studio and couldn’t believe the strength of some women who were twice my age. It piqued my interest…”

Reason #4: The key muscles that the workout targets:

Michelle: “I’ve always had a very curvy body so my midsection has always been very difficult for me to get in shape…During my first Bar Method class I could actually feel shaking in my abs and I knew that these exercises would help me define my problem area…”

Jilly: “My best friend took me and I couldn’t believe how many people were there so early in the morning. But I soon figured it out. My favorite exercise was and still is THE PRETZEL! Bar Method targets muscles other exercise programs can’t or don’t.”

Reason #3. The great feeling afterwards:

Emily: “What I clearly recall (and what keeps me going back for more) is how great I felt after the class. I always feel completely worked without being wrecked. Plus, I love exercising in my socks.”

Erin: “I huffed and puffed and TREMBLED through that first class, but at the end, I felt….uplifted….That’s NEVER happened to me before when exercising! “

Reason #2. The help and encouragement from the teacher:

Joanna: “The instructor was Tiffany Baldwin, a gorgeous dancer-type, quickly welcomed me and asked if it was my first time. After the warm up, she would come by and correct my form, explain what I needed to adjust in my posture. That was key!”

Aleisha: “I loved the immediate first name basis and the personal attention. It was a welcome change from Yoga and I got the concept from the very beginning.”

Reason #1. The surprising intensity and challenge of the class:

Kelly 1 resized 600Kelly (left): “One of the funniest memories I have was when the instructor told be to grab some 2 and 3 pound weights…’really, how hard can this class be? 2 and 3 pound weights? This will be easy.’ I soon found out how wrong I was as I struggled through the next hour.”

Laura: “Coming from a running/yoga/bootcamp background I thought surely I would breeze my way through a bar method class. Isolating, strengthening and stretching each muscle group was way more challenging than I expected. I still haven’t found another workout that compares.”

getting in shaoeSharon O. (right): “I had a bagel for breakfast, but almost passed out halfway through the thigh exercises! I had to leave to get a drink and clear my head before going back in! That was the first and last time that ever happened to me and it’s been 7 years!”

Melissa: I went with my sister. I’d been doing hot yoga so I was in fairly good shape but wasn’t sure what to expect. My sister struggled, I did too. Legs shaking, butt burning…I was hooked!!! Loved not sweating like I usually did in hot yoga. Loved the studio and loved the instructors!

Sharon W. (below): I had done yoga and pilates before, but I kept thinking during pretzel set-up, is this humanly possible? Lift my leg? Kick back? I remember working out harder than I had in a long time, and by the time we reached final stretch, I was hooked!”

sharon wong

Read how important intensity is in the “up” portion of interval training in order to get the results that The Bar Method gives its students.

Brentwood’s New Bar Method Exercise Studio

These days I do most of my teaching at studio openings. I enjoy being part of these events. Typically the studio owners are excited, nervous and sleep deprived. They’ve been up half the night stuffing mats, blowing up balls, folding towels, checking the sound system and plugging in the front desk computers, printers and credit card machines. Usually the walls in the reception room look empty because the photos haven’t been hung. To make up for this, there are colorful bouquets of flowers on every conceivable surface from well-wishers. The whole place looks and smells new.

Burr and Martine in BrentwoodMy role is to welcome the students and give them a great class. Before the class I stand at the front desk and learn each student’s name as she or he signs in. My knowledge of everyone’s name gives me the ability to teach a fast-moving class and connect with many individual students at the same time. I can remind someone by name to relax her shoulders, which usually produces a quick laugh from the student because she knows she has this problem and I caught her at it. I can fine-tune students’ form with phrases like, “Amy, great tuck. Now press your ribs forward a bit more. That’s perfect.” My goal is to give every student both adjustments and praise, even including the other master teachers in class. That way, the effect is a positive one, as if my students were beautiful members of a dance company being coached by their choreographer (me). We coalesce, and for one hour we are a group with a common purpose.

The three classes I taught this past Saturday at the Brentwood, California Bar Method studio opening all felt this way. Brentwood is a residential community in West Los Angeles just north of Santa Monica and east of Pacific Palisades where many film stars and other celebrities live. During the morning, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger walked by our front door and waved cheerfully at the desk sitters inside.

From the courtyard resized 600The Brentwood studio is nestled in a tiny, two-storey cluster of shops that share a central courtyard with potted flowering plants and little trees surrounding a small, stone fountain. You can sit and have lunch at one of its two patisseries or just hang out on benches and at the outdoor tables.

The location is not far other Bar Method studios, so some of my students on Saturday had already taken the Bar Method for years somewhere else nearby or were Bar Method teachers and owners of other LA studios. Some were students who hadn’t taken class regularly because they lived a bit too far away until now. There were also people who’d taken other bar fitness classes, some skeptical members of the press, and a few brave souls who were new to it all and were willing to jump right in on opening day.

This kind of mix is a blast for me to teach. I can explain the basics of technique to first timers, watch the faces of the skeptics as they feel muscles they didn’t expect to feel and are surprised by how fast the class moves, as well as shooting a few respectful pointers to the experts.

Mimi by Burr 7 10 10 crop resized 600The Brentwood studio owes its existence to Mimi and Mark Fleischman, my sister and brother-in-law. Together they introduced the Bar Method to Southern California by opening their first studio in West LA in 2003 and their second one in West Hollywood two years later. Mimi and Mark’s teachers have a reputation for being dynamic, dedicated and charismatic and their desk sitters tend to be outgoing writers, actors, and comedians from the entertainment community. Their busy studios and wonderful team are an inspiration to the entire Bar Method family.

Congratulations, Mimi and Mark!

Read my post on opening the New York City Soho Bar Method exercise studio.

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.

Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

Evolution, Work and Working Out, or Why People Need Muscles

Have you ever have ever had a problem with your shoulders, back or knees? Last year, I was giving a talk at the famed destination Spa Rancho La Puerta in Mexico and I asked the members of the audience there that question. Nearly everyone raised their hand. The odds are that you have had some of these issues, too.  Most people suffer discomfort or disability in these areas at some point in their lives.

Why are people prone to having weak knees, bad backs, and unstable shoulder joints? The reason lies in man’s evolutionary journey from four legged creature to human being. The human muscular structure was originally designed to fit a four-legged frame, one we still share with most other mammals. It may seem strange to us that an elephant, a four-legged animal, has two scapula, a sternum, two humerus bones, two ulna bones, two femurs, patellas, tibias and fibulas just as we do.

muscles

You can see in the picture above how many muscles we share with horses including traps, lats, pecs, biceps, triceps, glutes, quads and hamstrings. As our bodies evolved, we humans gained arms, hands and bigger brains. These additions provided us with spectacular survival skills but our evolution came at a price.

One significant difference between our anatomy and theirs is that horses and elephants have a limb on each corner of their torso like a table. You probably wouldn’t design a table with two legs leaving the rest of its structure hovering vertically in space. Neither would evolution unless it had a really good reason. Evolution built us the way it did to enable us to have an extraordinary spectrum of survival skills including building dwellings, making clothes and fires, hammering out tools and weapons and then hefting and throwing them, climbing trees and mountains, traveling with our children and possessions on our backs, and chasing down other mammals as well as running from them.

Most mammals have a relatively simply survival strategy. They hunt down their prey, breed and take care of their young. When they’re off work, they sleep. We, on the other hand, survive by keeping busy.  Even with our vulnerable two-legged structure, we evolved to become the best overall athlete of all animals. Other animals can beat us at individual skills like running and strength. We would win the best average of all physical skills combined, and until fairly recently every human alive was an athlete living a life of non-stop, bodily multitasking.  Compared to other animals, we are built to be total physical workaholics and the muscular system that resulted protected our bodies like suits of armor.

Contrast this lifestyle with today’s. Before age one we might be placed in a baby walker. Our parents toted us around in strollers, then in cars. We got to play, but soon we were in school at desks, and after school in front the TV. Later we became transfixed by computers and cell phones. In our youth we participated in sports for a few hours a day give or take. Finally we settled down with American Idol, Facebook, Twitter and texting.

muscle densitySo here we are with a two legged body that has been radically altered to suit this A-type physically active, multitasking creature. The very activities we humans had to perform to enable us to survive also protected our joints and backs by keeping us super-fit. Yet we’ve now multitasked ourselves right out of the need to be active with our bodies. I’m not knocking this amazing achievement. However, the drastic adaptations that evolution made to our bodies left us with a number of physical weaknesses, especially in our shoulders, backs and knees that can only be overcome by building a very strong muscular structure, something that was a natural result of all the survival activities man used to engage in.  (Read WHY BAR METHOD CREATES MUSCLES THAT ARE SUPREMELY FIRM, LEAN AND SHAPELY for more on how Bar Method workouts build muscle.)

The situation today is that we no longer have the high level of fitness – and the muscles that result from it – that was once an inevitable part of our lives. In the next three weeks, I’ll take look at the three parts of our bodies – our shoulders, backs and knees — that are especially vulnerable to injury, and examine how exercise can re-endow these areas with the stability they need.

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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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