The Method

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

October 10, 2014

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


    • 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 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:

    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:

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:

    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:

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.