The Bar Method opened in Honolulu in January 2015, our first studio in Hawaii. I visit every new studio, and I was especially looking forward to this trip. Elaina Olson is like my sister. Her office was next to mine for three years when she was working as our company’s Manager of Franchise Development, always dreaming about opening her own studio as she helped others open theirs. Finally, at the age of 27, she made her dream come true by opening a Bar Method studio in the heart of Honolulu. Besides being thrilled for Elaina, I was secretly thrilled for myself. I’d never been to Hawaii, and this was my chance!
My husband Michael and I saw a further opportunity in my assignment. Every year, we take a vacation in July, and by combining my trip with our vacation, we could see a part of the country we weren’t familiar with.
My first two days in Hawaii were visiting Elaina in Honolulu, and I had a blast. Her studio’s informal, beachy vibe drained the stress out of me, and like Honolulu itself, her students immediately won me over. They placed “leis” around my neck, taught me to give the “shaka” hand greeting, and had me throwing balls in the air with them. I left considering them life-long friends.
Vacation was next! I took a tiny turbo prop to Maui and met my husband at the airport. We got a room with a great view.
Michael turned 65 when we were there, and I took him out to dinner to celebrate.
At the beach, Michael shed his T-shirt to show off his results from his 4-day-a-week Bar Method and Bar Move routine. Meanwhile, I tried to lounge by the pool and learned that it is not my thing. I don’t like to sit still unless I have to, and the time and effort to apply sunscreen on all the places that are usually covered by clothes was, well, not my thing.
Parasailing we loved!
There were surfers all over the place in Maui. Being 68, I opted for splashing in the waves.
The last day I started missing my dog (a pomeranian). Fortunately, there was a swan at the hotel who loves treats and wagged its tail when I offered it some. Ahhh.
Back to San Francisco in first class, a gift from my husband.
If you take exercise classes, you’ve probably heard teachers say, “retract your rhomboids” and “engage your lower traps” when you’re doing weight-work. Rarely however do they prompt you to “contract your ‘serratus anterior,’” another set of muscles that are essential to good shoulder positioning. Why don’t teachers pay more attention to the serratus anterior? It’s not that students don’t need help with this set of muscles. They do! In my 24 years of teaching exercise, I’ve seen students struggle with recruiting their serratus anteriors more than they do any other hard-to-reach muscles, particularly during pushups.
One reason the serratus anterior may go missing in exercise instruction is that the darned name is simply a mouthful to say. The “Latissimus Dorsi” and the “Trapezius” abbreviate into friendly sounding nicknames: the “lats” and the “traps.” Not so for the seven-syllable, difficult-to-shorten “serratus anterior.” Then there’s the scary image conjured up by to the fact that this muscle was named after the sharp teeth of a saw!
Whatever the cause, it’s too bad! You really do need to pay attention to your serratus anterior. Without a well-functioning set of them, you will have a hard time moving your arms in certain directions, you will have an increased likelihood of neck and back pain, you could be on your way to an injury, and (if it’s relevant) you will have an abysmal right hook.
Now that I’ve got you worried (at least a little bit), I want to give you a basic rundown on where this muscle is on your body and how it works. The serratus anterior is a large muscle that wraps around the outsides of your rib cage like long-taloned claws and attaches underneath your shoulder blades at their inner rims. When your serratus anteriors are doing their job, they help your arms move in the following ways:
- They “protract” your shoulder blades. That is, they draw your shoulder blades away from each other towards the front of your ribcage and lock them there. Your arms are thereby rolled forward like a canon and locked into action mode. If your serratus anteriors fail to do this, your shoulder blades will ricochet right back into your body after you punch or push, greatly decreasing the power and effectiveness of your effort – and possibly tweaking your shoulders. This is the situation during pushups if you don’t engage these muscles!
- They work as a team with your rhomboids to keep your shoulder blades in place, one kicking in when your arms are being pulled forward and the other taking over when your arms are being pushed back. For example, when you hold weights out in front of you, your rhomboids engage to keep your shoulder blades from flying apart. When you’re pushing against something, the floor for example, your serratus anterior takes over to keep your shoulder blades from collapsing inwards. Finally, when you want to keep your shoulder blades down, the two muscles join forces, for example, during reverse pushups.
- They play a major role in your basic ability to raise your arms above shoulder height. When you want to raise your arms, your serratus anteriors on each side tilt your shoulder blades upwards at their outer edges. This maneuver effectively points your shoulder joints more upwards so that your arms can move around freely at a higher range. Your lower trapezius helps with this process as well.
If your serratus anteriors don’t turn on to perform this rotation, you will have to raise your shoulder blades towards your ears, possibly resulting in impingement and a rotator cuff tear. Dancers have fantastic serratus anteriors as evidenced by the graceful lift of their elbows and long necks when their arms rise overhead.
- The serratus anterior has many other protective features.
- It prevents “winging” of your shoulders blades, which result in a less stable shoulder.
- It protects against neck pain by enabling your arms to move in a large range without compressing your neck.
- Last but not least, the serratus anterior helps you hold good posture! “When firing properly,” says physical therapist and Bar Method teacher Kerissa Smith, “the serratus anterior anchors and stabilizes the shoulder blade/scapula, aiding in an open chest and lifted posture.”
Are there ways to fix a lazy serratus anterior? Yes! First, you can do a few simple exercises at home that can get your serratus anterior into gear.
- Do shoulder blade protractions. Lean against a wall and press the backs of your palms and your elbows against it. Then slide your shoulder blades forward (away from each other) – keep them down as well – and hold. This exercise is a great way to rev up for the added weight your serratus anterior will be dealing with during pushups.
Do scapular pushups. Assume a pushup position. Keep your arms straight and carefully slide your shoulder blades inward towards each other, then outwards away from each other. Repeat this action at least ten times. As the website “anabolic minds” explains: “Scapular push ups will isolate the serratus anterior. Make sure that your scapula just protracts, don’t let it ELEVATE.”
Stand with your back against a wall and inch your arms upward against it in stages, shoulders down. Start with your thumbs touching the wall, and graduate to your elbows pressed as far back as you can manage.
Meanwhile, there are your Bar Method classes: Pushups, plank, rhomboid pulls, arm dancing and oblique punches (a curl exercise) all work your serratus anterior. Dedicate some of your mental focus during class on engaging your serratus properly — that is, keep them down and wide against your ribs — during all these exercises.
See you in pushups.
Bar Method studio owners are a special breed. They are more than a hundred strong now, and though they are from all sorts of backgrounds, they all dreamed of owning a business that changes people’s lives, and they had the determination and can-do spirit to make it happen.
To that end, they left successful professional careers, told their children they were going back to work, took out SBA loans, and made the bold leap into entrepreneurism.
Get our studio owners into one room, and you will never want more expertise – or entertainment! You will find six former lawyers, eight accountants, four high school teachers, two nurses, two physical therapists, at least 20 sales and marketing executives, several financial analysts, a few actresses, singers, dancers and comediennes, one psychiatrist and two psychologists, a neurophysiologist and two past managers of other barre fitness studios. These people love to get things done, but they also tend to be family-oriented. Thirty-five of them were already mothers of one-to-four kids when they started their studios, and 30 more of them had at least one baby after opening. Two owner partners are sisters, and three owners operate in partnership with their grown daughters.
What our franchisees have less in common is their journey towards studio ownership. The following three stories illustrate the diverse paths our franchisees have taken towards becoming studio owners.
Carrie Smith Ward, owner of the Bar Method studio in Nashville, Tennessee
Carrie took an especially adventurous route to studio ownership and was rewarded with a Hollywood-style happy ending. A native of Hastings-on-Hudson in New York, Carrie moved to San Francisco for a fundraising job and started taking The Bar Method. Soon she began to dream of opening her own studio, but where? She didn’t want to go back to New York. She loved San Francisco but had no commitments tying her down there, and the surrounding territories were taken. So Carrie looked at a map. Not the mid-west, she thought. Too cold. Then her eye gravitated to a sweet little city
where it was warm but not hot, down-home but hip, mellow but dynamic. Perfect!
One month after moving to Nashville, Carrie met John. A year and a half later, they were married, and today they have a one and a half year old son, Jack.
How does Carrie feel about the city she chose? “Nashville is such a warm, friendly city. My husband John grew up in Nashville and has an amazing group of friends who welcomed me into their lives from the start. Many of them are now clients. I have also met wonderful friends through the studio, both instructors and clients. I love having 4 seasons again, and the city just keeps growing and growing!”
Sarah Kuzniar, co-owner of The Bar Method studios in Boston Back Bay, Boston Downtown and Hingham, Massachusetts.
Sarah came by the Bar Method through a work friend and ended up partnering with her. In 2008, she and her husband were recent residents of Boston, where she worked for a large financial services company and ran marathons with her friends. One of her running mates was a work buddy named McKenzie who had started taking the Bar Method in San Francisco where she worked in a branch office. Sarah spoke with McKenzie often on business calls and scoffed at McKenzie’s new exercise regimen. How can you train to run by taking this class called The Bar Method? Then one day during business trip to Boston, McKenzie joined everyone in a marathon and left them all in the dust. Sarah was impressed and started using Bar Method DVDs. Not long after when the two friends were on the phone, McKenzie said, “Let’s open a Bar Method studio!” and agreed to move to Boston to be Sarah’s partner.
Sarah loved the idea. “With my work hours at the time and demanding travel schedule, it didn’t seem feasible to become a mom and also be able to spend time with my child. I was all in.”
Sarah, who is now pregnant with her second child, and McKenzie are now the proud owners of three Bar Method studios in the Boston area and have soon-to-be four kids between them.
Gayle Gallagher, owner of the Bar Method studio in Saint Augustine, Florida
Like many studio owners, Gayle learned about The Bar Method not by taking classes at a studio but by discovering it on her own. A physical therapist for more than 20 years in the Boston area, Gayle moved with her family to Florida to manage the family business, a funeral home. There she started taking barre fitness classes and immediately fell in love with the barre fitness concept. At the same time, her knowledge as a physical therapist cautioned her as to safety of the class she was taking. “I had reservations,” she recalled, “regarding their approach, technique, and the long term health of my back and joints.” Gayle did some research on barre classes and discovered The Bar Method. She bought some DVDs and was impressed with its challenging but safe exercises.
This January, Gayle opened her beautiful studio in the seaside town of Saint Augustine with her daughter Kaitlin, a former ballet dancer, as her fellow teacher and partner. “It has been wonderful to share this experience with my daughter,” Gayle says. I have been pushed way out of my comfort zone which has helped me grow in many ways. It has been important for my kids, especially, my daughters, to see that at any age you can achieve what you want if you are willing to put in the work.”
As for Gayle’s favorite part of being a studio owner, she says, “I love getting to know our clients. I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they reach even the smallest milestones. It makes all the hard work worth it :)”