BAR METHOD MYTHS

As a former business reporter, I have tremendous respect and admiration for journalists. Their stories help guide our life decisions. At the same time, journalists have a responsibility to report the truth since their stories can impact the subjects themselves for the better or worse. Journalists realize this and for the most part do their best to get their stories right.

In the case of The Bar Method, the press has mostly gotten it right, for which I am grateful. Occasionally they don’t, despite their good intentions. Reporters may have come at the story with pre-conceived notions, put style over substance in an effort to entertain, or downplayed the facts to make a personal point. The following three articles are examples of these journalistic pitfalls. All three were recently published and cover a subject I’m especially familiar with, The Bar Method.

Pitfall #1. The Whirlwind Tour

Rozalynn FrazierThe quick tour of many different workouts is a popular story format for exercise reporters. In this scenario, the writer takes one class each at different studios or gyms, then reports on her or his personal impressions. The drawback of this approach is that these reporters usually aren’t fans of the workouts themselves, making it unlikely that they’ll gain any insight on their potential value to their readers.

This is the case with an article written by Huffington Post’s Rozalynn Frazier called “Are Barre Classes Worth The Buzz?” Rozalynn, a long-distance runner, took one class each at five different barre-based workouts. I applaud Frazier’s spirit in taking on this challenging assignment. However, taking a single class at five barre studios is about as useful as attending orientation day at a five colleges to determine the calibre of knowledge their graduates will acquire. Barre fitness classes in particular do not lend themselves to casual “toe in the water” testing. The moves are subtle, the techniques demand some dedication, and the results are huge. A beginner such as Frazier could not possibly have learned from a single class how greatly that class changes its students’ bodies, posture and well being. Nor could Frazier have noticed whether or not each studio she visited keeps track of its students’ progress and supports them over time. What’s more, Frazier is unlikely to have nailed the proper form of the exercises herself on her first try and so probably didn’t feel much happening to her own body.

In the end, Frazier could only come up with one random comment about the Bar Method (beyond what she’d already read on our website). “I was surprised,” she wrote, “given the name, at how little time we spent at the bar.” Frazier completely missed The Bar Method’s most distinctive features: the efficiency of its workout, its exceptional focus on posture and athleticism, and its unique interactive learning environment in which teachers give their students in-class coaching and support. Nothing in Frazier’s investigation touched on these benefits because she could not have discovered them within a “whirlwind tour” format.

Pitfall #2. The Personal Axe to Grind

The New Journalism became popular in the 60s when authors such as Truman Capote, Hunter Thompson and Norman Mailer shifted to a more personalized style of reporting. Today, exercise reporters are using this subjective writing style to better connect with their readers’ feelings of vulnerability when it comes to working out. The downside of this strategy is that the writers can allow their emotions to dictate the content of the story, to the detriment of the truth.

Why I quit the Bar MethodThis is what happened with Sadie Chanlett-Avery, author of an article called, “Why I Quit The Bar Method.” Chanlett-Avery has a masters degree in holistic health. At the start of her article she stated that she would use her barre-fitness experience as “my personal study of fitness and female body image.” This author’s effort to turn her workout story into a statement on women’s self-image was probably what led her to bend the truth to fit her arguments.

Sadie chanlett-avery photoFirst of all, Chanlett-Avery did not quit The Bar Method, because the workout she attended was not The Bar Method, which does not, as she describes, use “pink dumbbells,” lift weights with palms facing down as illustrated in the photo, use lots of Katy Perry tunes, or use the term “trouble-zones.” I’m sorry to say that Chanlett-Avery’s misstatement of the name of the workout that she “quit” was the first of a number of fallacious statements, for example:

  • “Relying on mirrors actually detracts from our awareness of how we move.” In fact, mirrors are an invaluable tool for improving posture, alignment, coordination, for developing good patterns of motion, keeping joints safe and well-aligned, and for teaching the body how to recruit muscles quickly and accurately.
  • “Isolating muscle groups for ‘toning’ perpetuates the debunked idea of spot reduction.” The truth is that millions of people around the world, including dancers, body builders, gym goers, physical therapy patients, and barre fitness students isolate their muscles to tone them, not to “spot reduce” them.
  • Stretching “is another activity that isn’t supported by current exercise science – muscles have fixed origins and insertions, so their lengths don’t change.” This statement is simply untrue. Regular stretching increases muscle length and range of motion. My own physiology textbook confirms that stretching does indeed “elongate” muscles.

What’s most telling about the underlying bias throughout Chanlett-Avery’s story is her evident distain for the very idea of body toning classes and for the students who take them. In the article she complains that the students of these classes wear “diamond rings” and are “chasing an elusive idea of perfection.” Chanlett-Avery might come to terms with the fact that wearing diamond rings is a common custom among married women everywhere, not a sign of vanity as she implies. She should also know that The Bar Method (perhaps not the class she took) is known for its diversity of students and its supportiveness of individual goals.

At the end of the article, Chanlett-Avery said that she is now a satisfied student at Cross-Fit. I’m glad she found the right exercise class for her.

Pitfall #3. Reliance on fake experts

Amy Rushlow headline with yahoo headerWorst among the fallacious articles on exercise I’ve recently come across is one that uses fake experts to distort the truth, possibly for their own self-interest. This article appeared on “Yahoo Health” and was written by Amy Rushlow, a “certified strength and conditioning specialist.”

Rushlow gets it wrong from the beginning in her title, “Barre Method: What’s True, What’s Hype & How To Stay Injury Free,” Rushlow did not fact-check the name of exercise genre she was writing about. In fact, The Bar Method owns the trademark “Barre Method.” It is a registered spelling of our brand name, not a generic term for barre-based workouts.

Nick Tumminello photoIn her article Rushlow calls on three “experts,” personal trainers Marc Santa Maria, Nick Tumminello, and Eric Beard. Using this threesome of obvious non-experts on barre fitness to back her up, Rushlow explains “the facts behind the hype” about barre fitness, most of which are completely false. Here are four of her most egregious misstatements:

  • “There is absolutely no way to increase a muscle’s length through exercise.” Again, this author’s experts need to consult their physiology textbooks.
  • “Doing these isolated, small-muscle-type movements is not very metabolically demanding.” It’s obvious that Rushlow’s experts have never taken the Bar Method, which is a form of intense interval training that has been proved to burn away plenty of fat.
  • “Many of the repetitive movements found in barre can possibly lead to overuse injuries.” Seriously? Barre classes keep students in one position for one or two minutes at a time. Athletes get repetitive use injuries from highly repetitive activities like running and working in poor form over time. Contrary to these “experts’” warnings, The Bar Method is therapeutic and healthy for the knees and lower back, a benefit that has been confirmed by many doctors and certified physical therapists with whom we’ve worked throughout the years. I am 67 years old, have regularly taken barre fitness for 34 years, and have never had a repetitive use injury from the class. Conversely, many of our students come to us from personal trainers or Cross Fit after having injured their shoulders and backs. True fitness experts know that no workout genre is in itself dangerous unless is it is carelessly taught.
  • Last, and most serious of Rushlow’s misguided statements was her advice to her readers to “Limit yourself to one barre workout per week.” No way would that work, as any Bar Method student will tell you. To achieve results, Bar Method students quickly discover that three-to-five classes a week give them the best results, and tens of thousands of our students take this number of classes a week and feel fantastic, many of them in their 50s, 60s and 70s. This age group discovers that our workout is the only one they’ve found that feels good on their joints and at the same time gives them the challenge, support, results and fulfilling class experience that they want.

Regrettably, when Rushlow’s article came out, it caused anxiety among many Bar Method students. Some of them approached their teachers asking if it was okay to take more than one class a week. Rushlow could have spared our students this unnecessary concern by consulting true experts on her subject, among them sports medicine doctors, physical therapists, and barre fitness teachers themselves.

THE LINK BETWEEN MUSIC AND MUSCLE TONE

I love to make New Year’s resolutions, and most years, one of my promises to myself is to get better results from my workouts.  If you’re like me and this goal is high on your resolution list, here’s a tip that can get you on your way: Whenever you work out to music, make it a project to sync your moves to its beat. Research studies have discovered that following a musical beat when you exercise improves your brain-muscle connection, not only making you look hotter on the dance floor but enabling your muscles to work harder during exercise, resulting in more tone and strength from your workouts. This is why Bar Method music mixes use exclusively tracks with a clear, strong beat for its strength exercises.

In this video Hoddy Potter, owner of the two Kansas City Bar Method studios, and I show you how it works.

Hoddy and Burr blog on music and muscle tone Jan 2015 small

BODY TYPES PART 2: CUSTOMIZING THE BAR METHOD FOR YOUR FLEXIBILITY

Taylor Swift and Reese Witherspoon

Taylor, 5’11,” and Reese, 5’1″

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 hamstrings for body type blog Oct 2014 1 small

    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 hamstrings body type blog Sept 2014 small

      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 body types hamstring roundback Sept 2014 small

    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 in curl with riser and small mat 1 Sept 2014 small

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

    “Arabesque:”

    • 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 body types second position Sept 2014 small

    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:
    Tight hips Hanna Oct 2014 smaller

    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:
Sit-spin blog Oct 2014 small

A “sit-spin”

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:
    Achilles tendons Burr Oct 2014

    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:
Double jointedness Denise Oct 2014

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.