The Method

How the Ballet Barre Revolutionizes Exercise

May 22, 2009

At the heart of the Bar Method’s technique, you’ll find, of course, a ballet bar.  The class could not produce its manifold results without it.   The simple act of balancing over gravity as you exercise, for one thing, mimics sports activities more so than does sitting on a bunch of exercise machines.  Studies conducted over the past decade in the UK, the US and Sweden support this idea.  When their subjects trained in free-standing exercise, they had better results than when they sat at machines.  Inspired by these findings, the sports world dubbed its new-found, now fashionable form of fitness “functional exercise.”  As defined by former Olympic coast John Philbin  functional exercise “improve(s) sports performance” by teaching you to “use multiple muscles and joints” and to “stay balanced.”  Add a bar to this concept and you’ve got a way to work simultaneously on balance, coordination and strength.  To put it another way, you’ve got functional exercise on steroids.  In the Bar Method’s thigh-work, for example, students use their thighs, hamstrings, glutes, calves and back muscles all in one exercise.  In flat-back they use their pecs, deltoids, abs, hip-flexors and thighs.   This multi-tasking format changes the body much more quickly than other currently popular exercises.
The bar has many other powers beyond that of making you a better athlete.  Here are six more reasons the bar – or an equivalent horizontal stabilizer  — has the unequaled ability to whip you into shape.

The bar makes it possible to keep your leg muscles working for minutes without a break by prolonging your balance over gravity, during thigh-work, for example. This unbroken holding forces more muscle fibers into service than you get while running — or even in spinning — by never giving the legs a chance to recover.  The result is firm, tight muscle mass, a leaner look and more joint stability.

The bar also works your largest, most calorie-hungry muscles, namely the ones in your thighs, glutes, and hamstrings.  With those babies burning, you’re knocking off a lot of calories and are doing so with impact on your joints.  Pilates by contrast works smaller muscle groups.  In this way bar exercises keep your heart rate up by forcing many muscle groups into service at once unlike conventional weight training.

booty sculptingThe bar’s use in muscle isolations is perhaps what makes the most visible change in your body.  Its lateral stability works like no other exercise tool by giving you a base from which to push hard into specific muscle groups.  During “glute-work” for example, the bar enables you to balance on one leg while keeping the glutes of your other leg contracted for minutes at a time.  Both your legs get worked to the limit, while the rest of your body has to concentrate on holding you upright.

One important and much neglected muscle, the gluteus medius, is so hard to isolate that it probably gets missed in just about every other system.  The gluteus medius gives our bodies lateral stability and also, if toned, an adorable “sexy back.”  The bar is the most effective tool I know to make this stubborn piece of our anatomy sit up and say “Uncle.” When students declare after their first class that, “I just worked muscles I never knew I had,” they’re usually referring to this one.  The bar became the means to this end by enabling these students to lock their hips in place while pressing one leg diagonally upward and outward, as shown above.

Similarly, the bar improves your posture by requiring you to keep your spine vertical while working.  This act seems simple – until you try it. The result is a straighter, sexier carriage and stronger postural muscles (abs, back and seat).

abs workoutAdd to this the bar’s capacity for firing up your aerobic system while strengthening your core.  In an exercise that can only be described as “aerobic abdominals”, students sit under the bar with their backs flat against the wall while they lift their legs off the floor.  (This move requires, by the way, a bar that’s firmly fixed to the wall or an all-inclusive bar.)   Right away they feel their pecs, shoulder muscles, abs, hip-flexors and thighs all engage.  Almost instantly they’re breathing hard and fast to keep all these muscle groups  in play.

Finally, the bar has special appeal to most students because it makes the workout both intense and easy to do. I get emails from all over the country from students thanking me for the intensity of the workout offering in the Bar Method DVDs.

Granted, the bar is a piece of exercise equipment every home should not be without.  But ballet bars have been around for a long time.  How then is the Bar Method different from any other bar-based exercise systems?  Ballet, the NYC Ballet Workout and other bar-based techniques use dance as a foundation for their moves.  The Bar Method instead uses an interval training format.  Though it retains graceful dance elements, the Bar Method has moved away from dance and towards sports training.  Bar Method students who try other bar workouts are often disappointed by their complex choreography and lack of intensity.

What about using a pole a la pole dancing?  Does it make a difference which you use?  Absolutely!  While pole dancing is indeed challenging, the pole itself can never provide the lateral stability needed to isolate muscles.  The bar gives students a three-point base, two on the bar, one of the floor, with which the body still swings free.

By wedding the tough, athletic principles of interval training with the graceful elements of bar-work, the Bar Method has created a powerful hybrid with unique properties of its own.

Click here to read more about the ballet barre and core strengthening exercises.

Click here to find a Bar Method exercise classes near you.

Click here to sample and buy Bar Method exercise dvds.