Bar Method and Running: A Perfect Partnership
May 4, 2020
When it comes to fitness, I was a bit of a late bloomer. I had always been active—taking step aerobics in college and hiking and biking with friends—but in a family of athletes, I was seen as the cheerleader. That was until I started running in my late 20s. Then, after the birth of my fourth child a few years later, the draw of a women’s-only running club just blocks from my house got me into running with gusto. Suddenly, running marathons and even qualifying for Boston (the Olympics of running for the layman) became a reasonable goal.
Flash forward a few years…although running still brought me great joy and showed me if I put in the work, I could reap the results, I noticed that things weren’t quite as, ahem, firm as they once were. Enter boot camp. While my quads were more defined and my core a bit tighter, the pounding from boot camp coupled with the natural pounding inherent to running seemed to be doing more harm than good. And then I saw it: the sign outside The Bar Method studio along Dean Avenue in Englewood, NJ that promised “long, lean thighs and lifted seats.” Thus began my marriage of running and barre.
How Barre Helps With Running
Core strength is integral to almost any physical activity from running to skiing to swimming. After four babies, you can imagine that my core strength was, to say the least, a bit lacking. Despite years of sit-ups and crunches, I didn’t notice much improvement. Then I went through training to become a Bar Method instructor and I realized there was a lot more to building strength. In barre, we do exercises that focus on the transverse abdominis, the deepest layer of abs. These muscles work with the pelvic floor muscles to stabilize the low back and pelvis. From the breathing in flat back to the deep exhales in low curl, we are targeting and strengthening this important layer of muscles in a way no sit up or crunch ever could. That added core strength along with low back and pelvic stability has resulted in better running form and fewer issues in my hips and low back.
This brings me to the next way barre helps running: glute strength. In running, our glutes help stabilize our pelvis, maintain alignment in our legs, pelvis, and torso, and help drive us forward. Conveniently, glute (aka seat) work is integral to a barre workout. Whether it’s tilted seat, which focuses on the largest muscle in our body, the gluteus maximus, or arabesque, where the focus is the often neglected gluteus medius, seat work not only lifts and tones the seat muscles aesthetically, but it also strengthens those muscles for mobility outside the studio.
How Running Helps With Barre
This relationship is not a one-way street: running also benefits barre. If you take one of my classes, chances are you’ll hear me make a reference to endurance. As a marathoner (and recent ultra-marathoner), I’m all about endurance – the power of enduring a difficult situation without giving way. That third set of thigh when your legs are shaking like a leaf and your heart rate is rapidly rising? If you stick with it and push through that final count, you’re building your endurance. Just like I do on the long runs I do each weekend. Those 10 count sprints in parallel thigh when you’re at your lowest level? Visualize the finish line of a 5k up ahead and push toward it. And just as in running, the next time you’re in class and dropping down for that sprint, you’ll find that you’re able to go a little lower or hold a little longer thanks to your increased endurance.
Injury Prevention and Why This Relationship Will Stand the Test of Time
Now I don’t want to jinx myself because just like every runner, I’ve had my share of running injuries and I hate to even speak this aloud, but I have been running injury-free since I added barre to my repertoire. I seem to have found a sweet spot with running 35 miles on average to upwards of 50+ miles during peak training while taking three to four barre classes a week. Like many runners, I’ve never been good at taking the time to stretch, so the fact that stretching is built into every barre class is an added bonus. I’ve discovered that following up a hard workout or long run with a barre class leaves me less sore and more flexible the following day. Or taking a barre class on an off day from running allows me to focus on the muscles I don’t use much in running; no matter how much I “drive with my arms” up hills, my tricep muscles wouldn’t be popping without a regular dose of reverse pushups!
Lastly, having recently turned 50(!), bone health is of utmost importance. But even if you’re years away from menopause, you can take steps to keep your bones healthy. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends participating in both weight-bearing exercises, which includes running, and muscle-strengthening exercises where you move your own body against gravity, aka barre. So young or old, once again the barre and running partnership prevail.
I am very grateful that barre made its way into my life when it did, and allowed me to continue my first hobby of running far longer than my body may have allowed me to otherwise. Today, barre and running have joined the ranks of coffee and creamer, podcasts and true crime, cocktails and lounge chairs, as some of my favorite partnerships in life. I hope this sparks some inspiration for already-established athletes or runners looking to supplement their current practices with a new hobby that will transform your endurance, strength, and health in ways you never knew you needed.
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