Celebrating The Bar Method 3|60 Challenge Contestants: Ryan Salma

Last week I shared with you a testimonial written by Karen Dodge, a first-time new mother and one of the three competitors in our San Francisco-Marina studio’s annual “3|60 Challenge.” This contest selects three new students and challenges them to make the most possible positive overall change in their bodies in sixty days. Karen told us about her first sore and shaky week of regular classes and her determination to lose her baby weight during the challenge.

This week Ryan Salma, another of this year’s three competitors, weighs in about his struggles and breakthroughs at around midpoint into the challenge. Before becoming a contestant, Ryan had lost 40 pounds over several years by running and eating a healthy diet. He is a real estate project manager, President of the San Francisco Frontrunners, and a member of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. His motivation for entering the challenge? “Increasing my overall endurance,” he told us. “I have been running in half-marathons for the past three years and it is my goal to break the 1 hour 30 minute mark.” Below is Ryan’s report on his fourth week of classes.

Burr Leonard


3|60 Challenge Contestant Ryan SalmaI don’t know if it was the weather, the time change, or the fact that I ran a half-marathon this week but I have been feeling a little run down. This made getting to the Bar Method seem a lot harder than usual. I decided to take a level one class for the first time so that I would not be pushing my body too hard and as a way to mix things up.

I would not say that a level one class is easy, just different. You don’t do as many reps, but there is a lot more focus on form. You also hold some poses for a longer period of time, which can make the exercises just as hard as a mixed level class, if not even harder. Taking a level one class made me realize that focusing on technique will only help me to work harder and achieve results more quickly.

New Bar Method BEginner's Workout DVDSo, for my third class this week I actually did the beginners workout DVD again. What’s great about the DVD is that there is an instructional video on how to do each Bar Method pose properly. This was extremely helpful because I am a visual learner and it is hard to watch others in class to see what they are doing when I am trying to do a pose myself. Using the DVD in slow motion also helps to see how much or how little movement you should do to benefit from the exercises. Master Instructor Joey Decker leads a fun workout. He demonstrates good form, is energetic, and has just the right amount of enthusiasm to keep the workout entertaining even after multiple viewings. After taking it a little easy this week and focusing on form, I know that I will be able to “bring it “the next two weeks of the challenge.

Fat Free Greek YogurtOh yeah – here is a fun little nutritional tidbit that I have found helpful in keeping the pounds off…if you love ice cream or frozen yogurt try getting a tub of fat free Greek yogurt instead. Greek Yogurt is thicker than normal yogurt but has less sugar and calories than frozen yogurt. To add a little flavor to your Greek Yogurt you could chop up some fresh fruit or use a low glycemic sweetener like agave!

Half way there! Four more weeks to go!

How The Bar Method Exercises Help Students with Hip Conditions

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

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

Hip Dysplasia and Labrum Tears:

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


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

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

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

My Most Popular Blog of 2009

As the year comes to a close, I would like to republish the most popular blog I’ve written in 2009. At the bottom of the article, I have also included links to my other blogs which make up this year’s five most read.

See you in 2010!   Have a very Happy New Year!


Since the 70s, millions of active Americans have been led to believe that aerobics slims you down and strength work tones your muscles.  The truth is not so simple. 

In fact most kinds of exercise that keep us moving continuously for more than a few moments, strength work included, are aerobic.  Stored fat is our most convenient energy source, so our bodies use it as soon as possible, that is, after you’ve finished the warm-up stage of your workout.  Walking, running, vacuuming, anything that raises your heart rate above resting level, burns both carbs and fat.

The question we should really be asking is: how do we maximize the number of fat calories burned from exercise?  To find this out, experts now rely less on how aerobic a particular type of exercise is, and more on how intense it is.  Want to know which exercise routine to choose when you’re trying to drop a few dress sizes?  Experts now suggest you rank them by level of intensity.   Pretty straight forward: work harder; use more fuel.

So how do you determine intensity?  Think back to that old adage: “feel the burn.”  The burn in your muscles is a good clue that your workout is getting intense.  To find out just how intense, try clocking the amount of time you spend during your workout while experiencing a muscle burn.  If it’s zero, you’re not using a lot of calories.  If it’s a good part of your workout, you’re cooking with fire.  Want to up your caloric expenditure?  Increase your level of muscle burn until you can barely continue.  Now you’re cooking with dynamite!

Using intensity as a gauge, you can now see through the old adage that walking’s a better fat burner than running.  Truth be known, walking does not burn a lot of calories per minute of exercise.   Go for a two-hour run and you’ll burn about a half a pound of fat.  You’d need to walk for five hours to match that result.  Yes, compared with running, walking can burn a somewhat higher proportion of fat calories than it does carbs, but compared with running, it simply does not do a good job when it comes to burning total calories.  Intense aerobic activity burn calories like crazy and so is doing away with a lot more fat calories per minute of exercise, even if its fat-to-carb ratio is lower than that of walking.   Bottom line: walking is not an efficient calorie burner because it’s not intense exercise.

For the same reason, yoga and pilates use relatively little energy.  Kick up the intensity with running, biking and other aerobic sports, and you get a much better result: more calories consumed and a gain in aerobic stamina to up your caloric burn during your next workout.

Granted: Running, biking, rowing and other high-energy exercise all do an okay job on the “calories out” side of the fuel equation.   To do better – to burn even more calories during exercise and to drop even more jean sizes – you’d need to up the level of intensity you experience during aerobics.  But how?

Recently a new student walked into a Bar Method studio to sign up for classes.  “I’m going to take the Bar Method once a week, because I love it,” she told the front desk manager.  “But I’m trying to lose some weight, so I’m going to run on the other days.”  If this student had chosen instead to take the Bar Method four days a week, she probably would have ended up a dress size or two smaller.  Like this student, most fitness consumers believe the best remedy for extra pounds is running.  It’s only when Bar Method students see their bodies shrink beyond what they were able to accomplish by running do they begin to understand that there’s something more you can do to shrink your body besides run. To read how Bar Method shapes muscles as well, read How To Sculpt a Dancer’s Body. 

The problem with running is that by its very nature it’s limited in the degree of intensity it can produce.  Unless you’re planning a brief sprint, running leaves you no choice but to proceed at less than top speed, simply in order to keep going.  If you did attempt to run at top speed, your body would give out after a few moments.  This is running’s catch 22:  It challenges you, but there’s a kind of glass ceiling of intensity beyond which it won’t let you go.

Here are four other blogs that with the one above make up 2009’s most popular.





Fitness Tips for Successful Body Sculpting

Joint injuries can happen to anyone.   My accident took me by surprise three years ago when I fell off a ledge onto some debris tearing an acl and some cartilage in my hip.   My ensuing journey through treatment and recovery took months.

Along the way, I learned an intriguing fact about how our muscles behave, one that my former, healthy self would never have guessed:  The muscles around an injured joint will not respond to exercise, even if pushed.   Before I found this out, I thought “no pain, no gain” was how it worked.  Now a team of doctors was telling me that even if I fought my way through workout after workout, my injured leg would get weaker and weaker until its underlying joints healed.  My orthopedist explained this to me after measuring my thighs.  I have a “one-inch atrophy of the right thigh,” he told me, “which is significant.” The reason, he said, was “pain.“

My injured joint was in effect putting the break on the development of my quads because of pain, whether or not I paid attention to it, and causing them to atrophy.  Later during rehab, my physical therapist confirmed this interrelatedness between joint pain and muscle strength.  “The pain in your joint will not allow your muscles to recruit,” she said.

runners kneeUndoubtedly this reluctance on the part of muscles to perform when the joint they surround hurts would be news to the runners who are often seen limping along roads with bandaged knees.  Are healthy runners who haven’t yet experienced problems also at risk for future joint deterioration?   Several studies have found a correlation between osteo-arthritis (joint erosion) and running.  In one especially creative experiment, different sports were compared on how much they break down cartilage – a bad thing – and “remodel”, or repair, bone – a good thing.  Rowing, a non-impact sport, turned out to be the best sport at both minimizing joint erosion and re-building bone, running the worst. (Click here to read how in some cases exercise can be used as physical therapy.)

So far no studies have turned this equation upside down and looked at the possibility that high-impact sports build muscle more slowly due to their impact on joints.  What we can be sure of is that high-impact strength exercise will eventually take its toll on joints.  And since healthy joints are a pre-requisite for muscle building, non-impact workouts like the Bar Method will not only keep joints healthier longer but will also give the bigger bang for the buck when it comes to building sculpted, strong bodies.

To sample the Bar Method DVDs, click on this link:  exercise dvds.
Click here to find Bar Method exercises classes near you.

Exercise Choices: A Word of Caution About Running

Now that summer’s upon us, many of us are putting on our running shoes.  Running is both revered and respected and has great aerobic benefits; however, running also has a considerable downside when it comes to wear and tear on the body and runners should take steps to guard themselves against its hazards.

Since the late 60s when Dr. Kenneth Cooper discovered that running produces a beneficial “training effect” – mainly it strengthens runners’ hearts — the popularity of the sport has exploded.  In 2003 almost 22 million Americans ran or jogged at least 6 days during the year.   Unfortunately once running and jogging became fashionable, more training effects turned up, these ones not so beneficial.  There are many positive results to be had from running.   I’d like also to list its considerable downsides:

• Impact on your joints: When you run, every step you take sends 1 ½ to 5 times your body weight into your joints.  This is why almost half of runners or joggers are injured due to their sport every year.  Knees are the most likely body part to suffer, followed by feet, hips, legs and lower backs.   Ligaments and tendons can also fray from overuse.

• Impact on your heart:   In 2001 Arthur Siegel, M.D. reported in The American Journal of Cardiology that marathon running “can…increase the risk for acute cardiac events.”  He and other researchers studied the hearts of marathoners who’d just run 26 miles and found irregularities that could lead to a heart attack.  This and other similar studies have generated debate among serious runners.  Even so, as august a group as the American Running Association took the findings seriously.   Running that is “coupled with poor or improper training,” said the Association’s president Charles Schulman, M.D., “could lead to consequences much more serious than just the usual running injury.”  Some studies have also pointed to an increased risk of cancer from unstable molecules known as free-radicals, which the intense, high-impact aerobic exercise tends to generate.  The causal link between aerobics and cancer, though, has not been proved.

• Impact on your skin: All high-impact/high-repetition exercise jars your skin and cause it to sag before its time.   This plus the damaging effect of the sun causes runners’ skin wrinkle, and worse.  Jogging eventually causes premature degeneration of the elastin in your skin as well as loss of subcutaneous fat in your face, giving you a haggard appearance.  What’s more, the November of 2006 Dermatology News reported that the skin of runners ran a higher than average risk of having moles, lesions and melanoma.  The skin in runners’ arms, legs and rears also gets pounded down over time, one reason not to jog if you’re going for a perkier backside.

• Impact on your strength and flexibility: In the mid-80s I took to running twice around a body of water in New York City’s Central Park called The Reservoir. After a few invigorating months of making this three-mile trek, I dropped into one of the many ballet studios on at city’s Upper West Side.  To my dismay, I found that my legs felt like led when I tried to lift them.  They seemed to have lost their ability to separate from one another.  I quickly made my choice and gave up running.  Un-airconditioned dance studios got me sweating enough anyway.  One reason my cross-training effort failed is that running and other purely aerobic activities reduce the portion of strength-type fibers in your muscles. Runners get great endurance, but they often lose power.  The other reason for my loss of grace, of course, is that running tightens your muscles, especially those around your hips.

DANCE WORKOUTNowadays most runners add strengthening and stretching to their exercise programs.  Still the idea of dedicating yourself to an exercise form that requires you to constantly correct the imbalances it inflicts on your body makes little since if you’re just doing it for the exercise alone.   On a cellular level, research studies have found that high-stress aerobic exercise reduces your body’s ability to synthesize protein.  Running, therefore is limited in how much it can spike up your level of fitness beyond a certain level of intensity.  As reverential as runners are about the virtues of their sport, are they – are all of us — really bred to be long-distance runners in the first place?

Our human ancestors probably used their newly evolved running skills to stalk their prey until they could sprint in at the last moment for the kill.  We certainly didn’t acquire our fleet-footedness to flee predators, most of whom could easily have run us down.   More probably our bodies adapted themselves to execute lightening-quick joint efforts that are remarkably similar to those we love to re-enact today in games like football, basketball and soccer.

Even with these facts before them, most serious runners will find the sport and all its glories worth the risks.  If, however, you’re running not because you love it but to lose five pounds before a wedding, I strongly urge you consider other, less problematic, exercise options.

ballet exercise

A Brief History of Exercise: Part 1

Exercise as a dedicated activity has gained such a prominent place in society that it’s easy to forget how young it is relative to other facets of our lives. Remarkably it has risen from near non-existence to tremendous success in less than 60 years.  Here in a nutshell is its story.

The modern fitness movement started with a problem, namely our steadily declining level of activity as new technologies gave us unprecedented freedom from physical labor.  This decline began in the late 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution moved millions of people out of the country and off their farms into cities and factories.  The quality of life improved, but at a price.  By World War One, one third of Army draftees who showed up to fight tested as unfit.

In the 20s, debauchery came into style, and the resulting decline in health was exacerbated by poor nutrition during the Great Depression.  By the 50s, TVs, automobiles and the growth of suburbia threatened to bring daily physical activity to a near standstill.  By this time, our American bodies were not getting away with it.  During this era, diabetes and heart disease became leading causes of death.  Americans had effectively innovated themselves into the most slothful life-style ever known to man.

Jack La Lanne

Just when the situation looked bleakest, help arrived, American style, in the form of a powerful-looking TV action figure.  This figure was not named Superman, but he could have been.  In 1951, decades before health clubs became commonplace, Jack LaLanne began teaching strength training routines for both men and women on his TV show.  Today his routines still hold up as sound and effective.  “They said I was a crackpot and a charlatan,” he is quoted as saying.  Even so, by the 80s there were more than 200 Jack LaLanne health clubs across the country.

The sixties, a decade famous for its innovative spirit, spawned the next two huge fitness crazes.  First, the Beatles made yoga and meditation cool worldwide.  Then, in 1968, Dr. Kenneth Cooper coined the word “aerobics,” ushering in 20 years dominated by aerobic dance.

The modern American fitness movement was off and running.  By 1970 three out of the five basic elements of fitness: strength, cardiovascular health, and stretching had established themselves as as exercise choices.  The two elements still missing, body alignment and coordination, had a tougher sell within a nation that valued weight loss above all other fitness outcomes.

From this point forward, the industry stumbled into a protracted search for its identity.  Was it macho or mind-body, muscle-bound or lycra-bound?  Were men supposed to dance or grunt, stretch or sweat?  Were women supposed to be slender or buff, spiritual or spa-ed up?  Were health clubs all about racquetball or recreation, family or fitness?

Lacking a sure path, the industry succumbed to trends and counter-trends.  Next week, we’ll look at the 90’s and the resurgence of aerobics in the form of step-classes followed by the popularization of yoga.