The Method

Body Sculpting’s Top Ten Muscles for Women, Part 2

October 16, 2009

The worldwide symbol for a woman’s body is the hourglass, an object that evokes the pretty curves created by the female chest, waist and hips. To look great we women undoubtedly need to tone our arms and legs, but we exhibit our most essential feminine beauty around our torsos. That’s why the five top muscles for women to sculpt – the ones that most flatter our body – are there.
Fifth Best Muscle for Women to Sculpt: The Lower Traps
The trapezius, a large muscle on our upper backs, moves our shoulder-blades up, in and down. The problem with having untrained traps is that they react to stress by yanking your shoulders upwards to protect your neck – and who today isn’t stressed out in some way? So unless you work at it, your shoulders are going to lift a lot and aren’t going to press down very much. Women, who are especially stressed out these days, can end up with a foreshortened neck and hunched shoulders. The Bar Method fixes this both by strengthening your lower traps and then requiring you to keep your shoulders down throughout the whole workout. The result is an elongated the neck, an elegant posture, and a sculpted upper back.

Fourth Best Muscle for Women to Sculpt: The “Six Pack Muscle”
Crunches are not unique to the Bar Method. Fitness-enthusiasts everywhere use them to chisel their abs. Bar Method students, being no exception to this rule, sometimes do more than 100 crunches per class. Even with that many crunches under their belt (so to speak), some female students don’t consider themselves as candidates for six packs, but I assure you that we women are at least in the running for 4-packs if we put our mind into each rep, as Arnold Schwarzenegger once famously said. My favorite mental image to use for crunches is an X ray photo of David Beckham’s “rectus abdominis,” the muscle responsible for his six-pack abs, juxtaposed on top of a portrait of my own abs. Envisioning me with David Beckham’s six-pack makes me laugh (an involuntary abdominal contraction by the way) and keeps my emerging 4-pack coming in strong.

Third Best Muscle for Women to Sculpt: The “TA” (Traversus Abdominis)
ab workThe “TA” is our deepest abdominal muscle. When it’s strong, it both flattens our stomach and stabilizes our lower spine. The catch is that this quintessentially core muscle is relatively thin and not attached to any bones, so it’s tricky to figure out a way to work it. Running, spinning, most yoga workouts, and even some sculpting classes miss the TA because women – especially those who’ve recently given birth – commonly can’t feel their TA’s, no less work them. The good news is that our TA is connected to our diaphragm, so when we breathe sharply and/or laugh deeply, we’re on our way to toning it. Bar Method students tone their TA’s with the Bar Method’s “flat-back” exercise. Students anchor themselves against the wall under the bar, exhale and “pull in” sharply, and then lift their legs against the stabilizing force of their core muscles. The TA’s quirky features make it slower to sculpt than other muscles; so if you’re a new student, don’t be discouraged. Give it few months – and hundreds of sharp exhales – and you’ll begin to feel your TA come to life.

Second Best Muscle for Women to Sculpt: The Gluteus Medius
8Burr&CindySeatlight-resized-600The gluteus medius is arguably the cutest muscle in a woman’s body. It forms the top curves of the dancer’s proverbial heart-shaped butt. Like the “TA,” it stabilizes your core – in this case your pelvis – when you walk or stand on one foot, and it raises your leg out to the side. From a visual stand-point, toning the gluteus medius results in some dramatic changes. Your legs seem to start higher on your frame; saddle bags shrink or disappear altogether as your seat tightens, and hollows form in the sides of your seat, making your hips look slimmer. The Bar Method technique includes many exercises to shape the glutes medius, including “pretzel,” “standing seat,” “arabesque,” and “back-dancing.” Why other exercise systems appear to ignore this sexy-looking muscle baffles me. One reason could be the initial fear of bulking up that students encounter when this  particular glute first takes shape (See FITNESS TIPS: WHY YOU JUST MIGHT BULK UP BEFORE YOU SLIM DOWN). Let me reassure you that the ultimate results – a cute, tight butt and slim hips – are well-worth a few months of slightly tighter-fitting pants.

Top Muscle for Women to Sculpt: The Gluteus Maximus
I bet you knew this muscle would take top prize. It’s the largest muscle in our bodies, and uniquely human in shape. It embellishes our elegant, upright posture, and in women forms the bottom part of our alluringly-female hour-glass shape. You’d think it would be easy to sculpt since it’s so large. The catch is that it’s lazy. Unless your glutes are already strong, they tend to let other muscles such as the hamstrings do the work. The Bar Method doesn’t let them get away with that. It’s on their case throughout the class, starting with a gentle tuck position during warm-up, proceeding to a stronger tuck during push-ups, then on to a deep tuck during heel lifts, diamond-thigh, “seat-work,” “curl” and “back-dancing.” No wonder the New York Times Style Magazine coined the phrase “the Bar Method butt!”

Find out more about the core in “Core Strengthening, Fact and Function.”

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