The "Bar fitness” trend has become so popular in the past half decade that when you tell a friend, “I’m going to a bar fitness class,” she’s probably going to visualize you holding onto a ballet bar, not lifting some kind of detached bar or swinging yourself around a pole. It's definitely time for these bar-based classes to have their own name, but grouping them together can also be misleading. Unlike Pilates, which grew from an established technique developed by Joseph Pilates, "bar fitness" can apply to any workout that happens to use a bar. You won't necessarily get the same experience when you take different versions of it. Bar Method students who’ve gone to classes elsewhere, for example, often come and back tell us that, “they just weren’t the same as the Bar Method.”
Like these students I’ve taken bar classes at other studios, and I agree with them that the Bar Method is different. Here are 10 ways that, in my view, the Bar Method stands out.
1. Bar Method teachers know what they’re talking about.
The Bar Method rigorously trains its teachers. All Bar Method teachers learn anatomy and physiology and are tested on their knowledge of them. Then before being certified every Bar Method teacher-in-training must demonstrate that she knows and understands the technique and can teach it effectively.
2. The Bar Method is safe.
The Bar Method keeps students' joints safe by following the recommendations of physical therapy and sports medicine. In a Bar Method class you will never do unapproved moves like lifting free weights to the side above the shoulders, doing pushups with the shoulder blades pressed together, doing “reverse pushups” with the shoulder blades and upper arms at different angles, dropping down to the heels during “thigh-work,” and over-flexing the spine by pressing the waist into the floor during “round-back." You will exclusively perform exercises that are endorsed by our medical consultants.
3. The Bar Method custom-tailors its exercises to a variety of body types.
Bar Method teachers give options to students with different bodies-types and conditions. Students with short hamstrings, for example, have lower bars to stretch on available to them and straps to hold onto. Petite students get “risers” to sit on. Tall students have a “high bar.” Those with sensitive shoulders get options that allow them to keep their arms below shoulder height. In a Bar Method class you’ll see a wide variety of students, one reason being that the Bar Method accommodates all of them.
4. Bar Method studios rooms are equipped with inch-deep rubber padding under carpet:
This feature may seem like a detail, but in my view it's one of the fundamental differences between the Bar Method and other workouts. A hard floor is an ideal surface on which to do aerobics, but bar fitness classes press students’ balls of feet, insteps, shins, knees, hips, spines, elbows and shoulder blades into the floor. The Bar Method enables its students to work comfortably and safely by equipping its studios with cushioned floors and thick floor mats.
5. The Bar Method keeps students “in the muscle” long enough to change their bodies.
The Bar Method changes students' bodies quickly by using an interval training format. Each class leads them through eight rigorous strength intervals ending with a "grand finale" of 10, 20, or 30 reps that give students an exciting challenge to work through. Other bar classes give more but briefer intervals with final counts or only four or five, lessening the body-changing potential of each strength set.
6. The Bar Method then stretches muscles deeply:
The Bar Method intensely stretches muscles to make them look and feel longer and more graceful. Other bar techniques give fewer stretches, more like steady-state aerobics but a less body-elongating approach.
7. Bar Method teachers face their students.
A key component of the Bar Method teaching style is that teachers observe their students throughout the class. Teachers of other techniques lead their students in a “Simon says, Simon does" manner, consequently turning their backs to them. This practice harks back to the aerobics classes of the 80s that didn't call for the attention to form that bar workouts require in order to keep their students safe and in the right muscles.
8. The Bar Method supports, connects with, and guides its students.
Bar Method teachers address their students by name to encourage and motivate them. Uniquely in the bar fitness world, teachers stop speaking at moments just to watch their students and “give them the stage.” The effect is a fun, interactive and social experience that’s distinctively Bar Method.
9. Bar Method teachers count accurately and on the beat!
How accurately teachers count may seem like a minor detail, but try getting through the last reps of a strength set when your muscles are on fire, and you'll get a new appreciation of how important an accurate number sequence can become when you're pushing through the last counts of a strength set.
10. Last but not least, the Bar Method is consistent in the high quality of its classes everywhere.
Becoming a Bar Method teacher involves passing an audition, a three-month training course, and a series of exams. Teachers then undergo yearly evaluations. This system has established more than 60 studios all over North America where students can be sure they will always get a great body-changing workout.
“You use light weights, so I don’t understand why Bar Method students have such sculpted arms.” Leandra Rouse, a fitness expert and trainer, made this remark to me last month when we were working together on a video shoot to promote the Bar Method DVDs.
I got a similar comment a few days later from a Bar Method student named Robin. "I’m curious about why Bar Method classes all follow the same routine," she said. "I'm not complaining because I'm getting great results. Can you just explain to me why the class is so structured?” In asking her question, Robin had unknowingly hit on the answer, namely that the secret of the Bar Method's effectiveness lies precisely in its structured design.
If you’ve ever taken a Bar Method class, you might have noticed as Robin did that the order of the exercises is mostly the same. To illustrate how this structure works, I’d like to take you on a virtual tour of the workout and explain along the way.
First, it's important to mention that the safety of exercises allows you to work deep “in the muscle” long enough to change your muscles without risk to your joints. Your teachers give you extra help staying in this intense "zone" by providing you with clear-cut counting and interesting choreography. Just when an exercise becomes too intense to bear, your teacher introduces a new tempo or move that revitalizes your spirit and energy.
About halfway through the class, you notice that you’re alternating between working the front and the back sides of your body. This pattern stretches and elongates the muscles you just worked in the previous exercise while you're sculpting the muscles on the opposite side. Early in the class you work the front of your arms, then the back of them while you stretch the front of them. Then you work the front of your legs during thigh-work, the back of your legs during seat-work, the front of your legs again during “round-back,” and finally the back of your legs again during “curl” and “back-dancing.” In effect, you’re usually doing two exercises rolled into one: toning one side while elongating the other side, which has been primed for stretching by having just been worked to exhaustion.
Later in the class you hit what feels like an aerobic section. Your teacher explains that you’re maximizing fat burn-off by performing aerobic-style exercises just when you're beginning to burn a high portion of fat as fuel. Your lungs pump oxygen as you perform “flat-back” and do more pushups, both quick-moving sections that spike your heart rate. These exercises are a key to the Bar Method's special ability to create sculpted arms. They burn the fat off from around the arm muscles, plus they give the arms two additional intense sculpting intervals.
Another feature to bring to your attention about the structure of the class is that it's working each major muscle multiple times. You thought you’d gotten thigh-work over with after the thigh section. Then you find yourself working your thighs all over again during “round-back” and “flat-back.” Every bout of challenge digs deeper into these muscles, and by the time you walk out of class, you tingle with a thoroughly “worked-out” feeling.
And as you probably already know, the Bar Method ensures that you get into the right muscles, those "muscles that I didn’t know I had.” This is an important ingredient in its recipe for quick body change. Some muscles when left to themselves become habitually lazy over time, and others get overused. Bar Method instructors teach you how to find these lost muscles and they have time to give you clear, easy-to-follow instructions on how to work in good form.
Finally during this virtual class, it's become clear that the Bar Method requires you to lift not just light weights but a very heavy weight: your own body! During pushups you lowered and lifted your body with your arms. During "thigh-work" you lowered and lifted your body with your thighs. During "seat-work" you lowered and lifted your body with your glutes and hamstrings. During “flat-back,” an ab and leg exercise performed under the bar, you raised your legs with the power of your thighs, hips, pecs and shoulders. This was not in any sense a “light weight” workout!
The Bar Method gets surprising results, in sum, because it arranges its exercises strategically; then it targets muscles with precision, multiplying the benefits you get from each exercise.
Look around on a busy street or in a store, and you’ll probably see a few people whose spines are clearly not in “neutral,” or in a well-aligned position. This is an issue that those of us exercise field would love to help with. “Everywhere you look people are talking about the benefits of being able to achieve and maintain a neutral spine alignment” Pilates instructor and author Nuala Coombs says on her website. “It is important to maintain the neutral alignment of these curves to assist with cushioning the spine from excessive stress or strain.”
I agree. Walking through life without a neutral spine invites a host of physical ailments. Slumping on a regular basis can give a person’s back ligaments “creep.” “Creep” is the physiological term for the damaging deformation of the lower back tissues when someone leaves her lower back out of neutral for an extended period of time. And that’s just what happens to the back! Bad posture adversely affects the neck, hips, knees, ankles – just about every major joint in the body.
So should people exercise with their spine in neutral? Many exercise spokespeople say yes including Coombs. “Most exercise regimes," she says, "and especially Pilates based exercise programmes encourage working with the spine in a neutral position.”
I'm with Coombs with regard to her point about exercise routines needing to be safe in order to protect students’ spines and their surrounding tissues. But should spines literally stay in neutral during exercise as Coombs suggests? In theory, this seems like a good idea. In practice, less so. First of all no core workout -- least of all Pilates with all its rounding, arching, rotating and side-bending -- actually keeps the spine in neutral. Second, back movement during exercise is a good thing. The spine has 24 joints and is designed for a certain amount of bending. Arching and contracting the back in a controlled manner is healthy and therapeutic for the spine’s discs and surrounding muscles.
Coombs nevertheless recommends that people hold their spines in neutral during exercise just the way they do in daily life, even to the extent of allowing their core muscles to be just barely "on" when working out. “The muscles of the core,” she says, “only need a mild contraction to become activated and function effectively…Once they are on you can confidently use the large muscles for the action phase of a movement now that you have stabilised the spine…”
Coombs is right about the core muscles needing simply to be "on" during normal activities. The problem with just keeping them merely "on" during exercise is that not much change results. To significantly strengthen muscles you have to work them harder than normal. Exercise can do this for core muscles and so improve their function outside of class. To this end the Bar Method has developed exercise positions that work the core muscles while at the same time keeping the back muscles in neutral. One such stance is “the Bar Method tuck.” To assume this pose, a student slightly lengthens her lower back and slightly shortens her upper back by lifting her chest. This position keeps the ligaments and joint capsules in her back in neutral, while her glutes, abs and upper back muscles – the three groups responsible for good alignment – grip tighter than usual, gaining strength.
"The Bar Method tuck" makes other important contributions to core stability: First, it stretches the long muscles that run through the hips and kness. As Physical Therapist Sydney James, one of the Bar Method's consultants, explains, "It's important to keep the quads and hamstrings reasonably flexible and balanced so that the lumbar spine isn't overly jostled by walking, running and other motion."
Second, it teaches students to hold themselves straight with their chests over their spines, a practice that helps correct habitual slouching. Bar Method students' back muscles gain energy, and students themselves start to enjoy standing up straighter. Walk into a Bar Method studio and you’ll see lots of people with beautiful posture. One reason is “the Bar Method tuck.”
Last but not least, the Bar Method trains its teachers to give their students individual coaching on good posture throughout class. The Bar Method tuck - since it requires the use of all three core muscle groups - provides both teachers and students with the basic building blocks of good alignment in a way that is simple for everyone to follow. During bar-work when it's especially important to focus on alignment, teachers search for students who look like they could use extra help on posture and encourage them to "lift your chest," “keep your head over your spine,"“look straight ahead," and if needed give them gentle "hands-on" adjustments to their form.
Nora Luongo of Summit, New Jersey is one Bar Method student who has benefitted from this approach. “All the instructors at the Bar Method are so precise in their vocal directions and hands-on in their adjustments," she wrote me, "that just a few months of doing it has really gotten to where it took me years of training in yoga to understand…. I find myself consciously standing straighter even when not in class.”
I started teaching bar fitness in Greenwich, Connecticut in May of 1992 when my husband and I became licensees of the Lotte Berk Method, the bar fitness pioneer based in nearby New York City. During my first few weeks as a studio owner, my students told me they loved the workout, but some of them mentioned that they were feeling some pain in their knees, backs and shoulders.
I consulted a physical therapist, Rick Stebbins, about these complaints. Rick watched a few classes. Then he gave me the good news and the bad news: The workout was generally terrific. As a physical therapist, he believed everyone should do strength-work to keep their joints healthy, and the Lotte Berk Method did that well. But, he added, some of the positions I was teaching could tweak joints.
I enlisted Rick to help me find safer ways to teach the exercises, and over the next months,
we worked together to rethink them. “One-weight lifts,” for example, an exercise for the back of the shoulder, was taught by the Lotte Berk Method with a rounded back. We repositioned the spine so that it was neutral. Reverse pushups were trickier. The Lotte Berk classes extended students’ bodies forward away from their arms, which Rick said put the shoulder and wrist joints at risk. We almost eliminated reverse pushups entirely, but both of us really loved how it quickly strengthened the triceps. Finally, we agreed that if students pressed their ribcages and upper arms together and maintained vertical arms, the exercise became sufficiently safe, as Amy illustrates at right.
The result of our efforts turned out to be better than either of us expected. The workout became safe enough to be rehabilitative for students with pre-existing injuries. What’s more, the class got harder and more targeted, and it was changing students’ bodies faster. One reason is that I could now give more reps with confidence that my students were in good alignment. By 2001, the workout had diverged so much from Lotte Berk’s that our two companies mutually agreed to part ways. We became the Bar Method.
Today, 20 years later, bar fitness is exploding. You can take a bar class at hundreds of studios around the country as well as at gyms and yoga studios. All I can say is, what took them so long to get here? Bar-based routines are fantastic at making bodies beautiful. They use weight loads (students' own bodies), so they shape students' muscles, and their strength intervals can last for enough reps to build stamina and burn fat.
These benefits, however, come with a caveat: bar workouts to be safe need to pay special attention to alignment. Take a closer look at what happens in a bar fitness workout, and you’ll see why:
Bar exercise is strength-work. Unlike purely aerobic exercise it loads a muscle with more weight than it’s comfortable supporting. Unlike classical strength technique however, bar routines require loaded muscles to perform up to 100 reps at a time. Strength training limits its sets to eight to ten reps that are performed with focus and under the guidance of spotters.
Bar classes give their students less weight than strength work does and fewer reps than cardio. But the fact remains: bar classes load muscles for minutes at a time, so they need to bear in mind the alignment of the underlying joints. Speaking for the Bar Method, I can say we do our best to make our bar exercises safe.
Bar Method students tell us that they appreciate this effort. “Bar has been invaluable to me over the past few years,” a student named Bernadette Collins wrote me. “I tore my hamstring a few years ago and it has helped tremendously with rehab and strengthening… I believe there are other 'similar' classes out there. However, having tried one or two, they aren't as well conceived or safe as the Bar Method, in my opinion.”
Which is more important to do, aerobics or strength-work?
Bar Method studio owners, myself included, get asked this question by new students who are in the process of fitting the Bar Method into their lives. A recent email from a student at the new Montclair, New Jersey studio is a case in point. "We know that everyone who starts the Bar Method LOVES the Bar Method. A lot,” the student wrote, “But they still need to do cardio, and they're having a hard time paying for you AND for spin, or a gym. I hear a lot of ‘Well I STILL have to go to New York Sports, the Y, or Spin.’’
Undoubtedly, both kinds of workouts these students are trying to decide between give benefits. A rigorous aerobics workout like a spinning class helps make your heart stronger and more efficient, burns calories, and increases stamina. It does not build muscle and sometimes burns muscle for fuel, resulting in a decreased resting metabolic rate. A rigorous strengthening workout on the other hand prevents the loss of muscle mass, one of the major side affect of aging, and guards against the weight gain that can result from muscle loss. It strengthens your bones and heart, and it makes you look toned and sexy. Most importantly in my view, it extends the life of your joints and rehabilitates any you might have previously injured. Because we’re a relatively delicate species in terms of our physical structure, our joints wobble when our muscles get weak, wearing down their cartilage. The resulting arthritis causes us pain, inflammation, more weakness, and more pain in a downward spiral of dysfunction. School age soccer and basketball players who aren’t pre-conditioned, for example, are prone to injuring their knees and ankles and starting down this road at a young age unless they build strong, balanced muscle to re-track their strained joints and lock them into proper alignment. In my 20 years of teaching the Bar Method, the largest portion of emails I've received are from students thanking the Bar Method for helping them heal their backs, hips and knees.
So if you have to choose between aerobic and strengthening, decide on the merits. By this measure strength-work would come in first because it offers a greater bang for your buck in terms of overall health and extended quality of life. Conventional aerobics classes such as spinning, for most fit people, would rank second.
This said, I can now give the Montclair students good news: You don’t really HAVE to choose between one or the other. There’s a third kind of workout out there that offers most of the benefits of both aerobics and strengthening. It uses more reps than conventional weight lifting (which can total a little as eight) but far fewer reps than aerobics (which can add up to the tens of thousands). Its weight exercises last for somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 reps each, so it builds stamina, burns away fat, and strengthens your cardiovascular system while it’s toning and elongating your muscles. It’s called interval training, and the Bar Method is one form of it. So don’t feel guilty about not making it to the spin gym! Your Bar Method classes are building stamina – and burning calories – more than you might have been thinking. Aerobics is a plus when you can fit it in. But if you just have time for one workout, listen to what your body is telling you about how much you love the Bar Method, and enjoy!
In 2007, we welcomed our first Bar Method studios located outside of our home state of California. All of the new studios were beautiful, but one stood out for its highly creative design choices. The owners of the Summit, New Jersey studio, Jen and Angie, had painted the wall behind their front desk a deep, chocolate brown and mounted onto it a shiny metallic logo. They also exposed the brick on one wall of their studio. Both of these ideas took fire within the Bar Method, and other studio owners painted accent walls, mounted shiny logos, and exposed brick as you'll see below. Today, on approaching a Bar Method front desk one of the first things you'll notice is an accent wall, which has now become an essential design element in all new studios. Below is a selection of the many gorgeous colors studio owners have chosen:
The development of our accent walls is an example of the collaborative effort among ourselves, our studio owners and our students that has gone into the evolution of the Bar Method's studio design style. Based on our students' input, we've learned to equip exercise rooms with soft flooring to cushion feet, knees and hips, plenty of "stall-bars" (bars with lower rungs) to accommodate students with tight hamstrings, calming, neutral colors on the walls, and natural light for a cheerful ambiance.
At the same time, we've encouraged studio owners to be as creative as they wish beyond these design basics. In this blog I'd like to give you a tour of a few studios whose owners have come up with their own distinctive and dazzling looks.
As I mentioned, studios in older cities such as Summit, New York, Boston, Salt Lake City and Montclair, New Jersey exposed the underlying brick in their exercise rooms, reception areas and hallways. Some of these walls reveal the ghosts of former stairways, windows and doors impressed in the brick, providing students with a bit of fascination with what came before while they work out.
Owners in other cities took advantage of unique architechural features of their spaces. In Portland owners Denise and Meghann enhanced the dramatically high ceilings of their space with larger-than-life-size photos, faux beams, and industrial-style lighting:
San Diego Bar Method owner Allison located her studio in Point Loma's Liberty Station, a cluster of buildings that once housed a naval training center and is now a nationally designated landmark. Allison built on her space's historic flavor by installing fans, lighting and curtains that evoke the mid-century style of the period.
In Montclair, New Jersey, Shannon and Kelly were forced to make an flamboyant design choice by unforeseen circumstances. Shortly after they'd signed their lease, their contractor popped out a few ceiling tiles and discovered a long-hidden decorative ceiling, which their landlord then insisted they restore. After many extra months of construction, Shannon and Kelly now have a studio room to die for. No problem doing the last 20 curls in the Montclair studio! All you have to do is look up and be transfixed.
Among my favorite design inspirations of all is the lounge in the Orlando, Florida studio. Owner Karen installed a retro banquette worthy of a Raymond Chandler Hollywood mystery, then dressed it up with glittering modern accessories. The Orlando Disneyland couldn't have been more imaginative!
I wish I could show you all the fabulous Bar Method studios. Catherine in Carlsbad and Carrie Salt Lake City stained their bars and stall-bars in rich mahogany. Joey in Burbank chose black lockers, red walls and red faux leather furniture that give his locker rooms a wow factor. Palos Verdes, California is just plain magnificent throughout. I'm proud of all care and thought owners have put into making their studios fun, unique and inviting.
Congratulations, studio owners, on your gorgeous designs!
“All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, and I promise you something great will come of it," Benjamin (played by Matt Damon) says to his son in the movie "We Bought A Zoo." A first class at the Bar Method is one of those acts that can take a bit of insane courage, and just as Damon's character promises, great things -- in this case getting a more beautiful, healthy body -- can come of it.
It's understandable that that walking into your first Bar Method class takes at least some courage. It has a reputation for being challenging, and friends are often so darned devoted to it that they can make you wonder. These friends are well-meaning, but their enthusiasm for the Bar Method can backfire and churn up inner cascades of self-doubting questions among the uninitiated: "Am I going to get addicted? Will everyone be, and look, better than me? Will I feel singled out when the teacher calls my name? Will I even get through the class!?”
If you're wondering how you'd do in your first class, I want to reassure you that the overwhelming majority of new students of all ages and fitness levels have a positive experience. Bar Method teachers are skilled at making their new students feel safe and welcome, letting them know what they're going to feel, explaining the benefits and mechanics of the exercises, and getting them into a focused workout "zone" that makes the hour go by fast. But don't just take my word for it! Hear about the first day experiences of three students who almost never got there, and were glad they did.
Rachael, Summit, New Jersey
For a long time Rachael walked by the Bar Method studio in Summit without going in. A single mom in her mid-40s, Rachael “dismissed it as an option for me,” she says, “because the word ‘bar’ implied ballerina and that was something I certainly wasn’t.” One Thanksgiving, her daughter came home from college, and the two of them decided to give the class a try. “I changed three times before I left the house,” Rachael recalls, “not sure what to wear. I was sure I would be the only person there who would not be able to lift her leg to her ear. I was so nervous when I turned the corner into the studio, but everyone was so lovely and welcoming. As I made my way through the class, I was amazed at the extensive options given within each exercise…options for those who were advanced and options for novices like me. The instructor offered specific encouragement and suggestions to each student using their names! It was clear that each student was so involved in their own progress that no one had time (including me!) to notice anyone else.”
Mary Ann, Redmond, Washington
For two years, Mary Ann’s California-based daughter called her to talk about the positive effects the Bar Method was having on her body. Then a Bar Method studio opened in Mary Ann's area. She was placed on the mailing list but didn’t attend for another year. Finally Mary Ann signed on “and I might add without too much enthusiasm,” she admits, “because I was suffering from a lower back injury. However, once I began taking classes under the watchful eyes of Bev and Maika (the studio’s owners), I was nurtured with kind comments, disciplined corrections and happy faces. I got the message; this is working for me.”
Grace, Bernardsville, New Jersey
A busy mother of three young boys, Grace would not be dragged to a first class for a long time in spite of the persistent efforts of her best friend Margaret. “I can be a little sarcastic and a physical underachiever,” Grace says by way of explanation. At last Margaret prevailed. “As I entered the class,’ Grace remembers, ‘I was really impressed by the instructor’s desire to not just learn the names of students, but to engage and take a serious interest in each individual’s progress and development. Honestly, on that first day, I was a “D” student, but that did not matter. What struck me is how much and how often these instructors encouraged me and others and made constructive adjustments in order for proper form to be achieved. Also, every exercise is explained along with its function and benefits. It is fascinating to submit to this level of instruction. Not only did it stimulate my muscles, but a switch was flipped in my brain, too. This Bar Method became my Mt. Everest and I was hooked.”
Thank you, everyone, for you support this past year.
Happy New Year!
Tip #1: Celebrate!
To stay fit during the holidays, first of all, celebrate them! You -- and everyone else on the planet who works hard -- need recovery time. It's in our DNA to schedule ourselves some fun every once and a while. Otherwise, what kind of drones would we be?! Traditions drag us out of our work lairs and get us to the party so that we remember how to feel human. It’s no wonder we revere them.
Tip 2: Rethink holiday cookies.
Holiday cookies have been a way for people to appreciate and bond with each other since ancient times. In past eras they helped tide friends and family through the winter, but these days they just give us more sugar and bigger love handles. So take a fresh look at the true purpose of this tradition, which is really to share your holiday spirit with friends and family, and if you value your waistline, think of other ways to do it. Charades, monopoly, pageants, dancing and home movies are also holiday traditions, and you can always make up your own. Meanwhile, admire the prettily decorated cookies you're offered, and when you can, pass on them!
Tip #3: Carry yourself with great posture.
You’re seeing everyone you know, so let them know how you feel about life by standing up straight! What’s more, just keeping your chest lifted will make you look slimmer, even with a few cookies under your belt.
Tip #4: Zero out the extra sweets you do eat by foregoing your usual indulgences.
Weeks of eating party foods will result in most of those additional calories sticking to your body. Of course exercising will get rid of some of this excess, but it can't compensate for weeks of profligate merrimaking unless you're an Olympian-level athlete. So until January at least, take a holiday from whatever excesses you happen to get away with during the rest of the year, for example a daily caramel macchiato or jamba juice.
Tip #5: Eat regularly.
This is a well-worn piece of wisdom. I'm adding it onto this list because it’s easily forgotten when you’re frantically busy. A quick meal like one of hard boiled eggs and apples -- which comes in a convenient packet at Starbucks -- can safeguard you against the cycle of energy burnout and over-doing it.
Tip #6. Drink lots of water before attending parties.
Being well hydrated before a party will make your eyes and skin sparkle under the holiday lights, not to mention helping you moderate what you drink during the evening.
Tip #7: Pre-schedule your exercise for the rest of the month.
Put yourself down for at least three classes and/or workouts a week for the rest of the season. Then stick with them as much as possible, even when faced with present-wrapping and visiting relatives. In the end, you'll come out ahead with more energy and a calmer state of mind.
Tip #8: Exercise in bouts of at least one hour.
To stay lean while you might be eating a bit more than usual, exercise continuously for at least one hour each time you work out. The last half hour of your class or session will burn away stored fat so that you look your best in your party clothes and keep up your stamina for the hectic pace of the season.
Tip #9. Strengthen your back-of-the-body muscles.
Focus your triceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves during your workouts. Toned back-side muscles will make you look sensational in your silk, scoop-back party dress.
Tip #10: If you fall off the wagon, let it go.
Of course it's all too easy let exercise fall by the wayside during the holidays. If this happens to you, don't beat yourself up! The holidays are a time to be joyful and celebrate, come what may.
Happy Holidays to all!
In the 50s, women rarely exercised except when they bore children or were conceiving them. Exercise? To most back then, the idea was a bit embarrassing. Lotte Berk, the London-based dancer and exercise pioneer, wanted to change this. Her mission, she said, was to give women back their physicality by, as she put it, advancing the "state of sex" in her time. To this end, she invented an exercise technique that women could relate to, namely one that celebrated their sexuality; she packed it with the most sensual exercises she could think of; and she gave those exercises playful names that would help to embolden her students' spirits. The Bar Method’s “leg lifts" exercise was, for example, “the prostitute." "Back-dancing” was “naughty bottoms.”
Lotte was a true-believer in free love and carried on many love affairs, even while married. Later during her classes she used her experiences as material for nuggets of wisdom on men and love, and doled them out to her students as they worked out. Her discourses could be shockingly direct about the similarities between her exercises and sex. According to Bazaar Magazine who interviewed her in 1994, Lotte would say to her students, “If you can’t lift your bottom, how can you enjoy sex?” When I visited Lotte during the 90s, she gave me the uncensored version of what she really told her students, something more along the lines of “if you can’t tuck, you can’t f---!”
Like other innovators who happened to be born into the right era, Lotte came into her own when the time was ripe for her ideas. The sexual revolution of the 60s set the stage for Lotte’s more athletic kind of sexiness to catch on. Actresses Joan Collins, Britt Eland, Barbara Streisand and Lee Remick started to go regularly to Lotte's little basement studio where they got sex-ready bodies while listening to Lotte's delightfully frank, eccentric lectures on love.
In 1970, one of Lotte's disciples, Lydia Bach, opened “The Lotte Berk Method” on the Upper Each Side of Manhattan. No one in this country had seen anything quite like this kind of exercise class, and the press was all over it. “We’re talking about the Lotte Berk Method," Look Magazine wrote in 1971, "a body-toning system for women in London, now taught in a Manhattan studio…The exercises ostensibly improve a woman’s sex life and Mrs. Berk receives many thank-you notes from grateful husbands.”
Throughout the 70s, people continued to be taken with the notion that exercise's sole purpose was to make women sexier. Those people included Lydia. In a 1972 New York Times article she describes the Lotte Berk Method as “a combination of modern ballet,
yoga, orthopedic exercises and sex.” “Sex?” the Times asked. “Sex,” Lydia explained, was the name of one of her exercises (our “knee-dancing”).
The women's magazines, of course, loved this idea. During the 70s, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Mademoiselle and Women's Wear Daily ran articles titled “Exercise Your Way to a Better Sex Life," “Shape Up Your Pelvic Area and Shape Up Your Sex Life," “Exercises for Loving Making,” and “Sexercises” In 1979 Vogue showed a completely naked model doing the pretzel, round-back and other Lotte Berk moves. The women photographed in these pieces were gorgeously feminine in a way you don’t see today. These women wore their hair long, dressed in sheer, soft leotards, and exuded a mysterious dreaminess.
By the 80s the innocent idea that sex could be a path to freedom and enlightenment had run its course. Women had tasted strength and realized there was more to exercise than sex. They could be strong, stronger in some ways than men, and that discovery, I think, helped them launch the Women's Liberation Movement. The WLM had started in the 70s, and by the 80s was calling on women to seek empowerment and independence and no longer to be caught up with being sexual objects or needing men to be fulfilled. These enlightened women included Lydia who updated her message accordingly. “Women" she said in an 80's Vogue article, "…want to regain power and control over their lives. Exercise is the first step towards regaining that control.” Like Lydia, I'm committed to the Women’s Movement. Still, I wonder if in our zeal to be superheroes we might have sacrificed something in terms of our the way we view our femininity. Having become recently engaged, I'm not in the frame of mind to believe that men are superfluous, and when it comes to body image, I'd like to think it's not necessary for us to hone our bodies into, as Tom Wolfe put it in his novel on the 80s, "boys with breasts." We've shown the world that we're amazingly strong. Now it might be fun for us to do some playful remastering of that vintage sexy spirit from the 60s and 70s.
I was putting away my mat after taking class a few months ago and a student approached me. She was pretty and looked like she might have been a lawyer or worked in the corporate world. “Have you or anyone ever written about how great the Bar Method is for sex?” she asked me. Out of habit I gave her my usual answer: Yes, it’s great for sex, but we’ve always played down that feature. “Thanks for your answer,” she said, “but it really is.”
As the student walked away, it hit me that for 20 years I’ve been giving that same stock response to questions about the Bar Method’s connection to sex. My habit of side-stepping this issue started with my Lotte Berk Method trainers in 1990. That year I was studying in New York City to become a Lotte Berk Method studio owner, and my trainers wanted me to keep my approach to this subject consistent with theirs. “People might ask you about sex,” they told me. “Focus on other benefits.”
I went with their advice during my ten-year term as a Lotte Berk Method licensee. Now that license has been expired for ten years, and it’s about time that I formulate by own policy on this subject. So here it is: The Bar Method-type workout is absolutely great for one’s sex life, and let me tell you why:
First, exercise itself has been proven to increase sexual potency. According to researcher Mark Stibich “Studies have shown that women who frequently exercise become aroused more quickly and are able to reach an orgasm faster and more intensely.” Exercise gives you an especially powerful boost if you do workouts that focus on stamina, muscular endurance, strength and flexibility. Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise credits exercise with "physical improvements in muscle strength and tone, endurance, body composition and cardiovascular function (specifically, enhanced peripheral blood flow),” which he says says “can all enhance sexual functioning.” Why? Paige Waehner ACE explains. “Sex also requires you to hold...er...occasionally unusual positions for short periods of time,” she says, plus, “Being limber can enhance anyone's sex life by making it a bit easier to get into your favorite position with a minimum amount of fuss.”
Do The Lotte Berk Method/Bar Method techniques have any advantages over other exercise forms in this arena? Most definitely! They build a fantastic degree of stamina; they make you more flexible; and most distinctively, they focus on strengthening and stretching the muscles around your pelvis pretty much during the whole class. The Bar Method’s “narrow V” thigh exercise, for example, strengthens the “pelvic floor” muscles, according to Physical Therapist Heidi Morton. Then of course there are all the glute and abdominal exercises such as “water-ski thigh,” and “water-ski seat,” and the other “seat” exercises, plus the curl work, which students perform with their pelvis locked in place by means of all its surrounding muscles. Finally we come to “back-dancing,” an exercise that looks almost embarrassingly sexual, but more about that later.
Considering that sex is probably our greatest natural high, you’d think these benefits would be worth mentioning. Even so, over the past 20 years, the hundreds of press articles written about my Lotte Berk or Bar Method studios have pointed out only the Method’s ability to make you look sexy. Nowhere in my memory has there been anything written or said about its effect on sex itself. The most direct reference to sex in connection to the Bar Method that I could find appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in July of 2002. The writer speculated on what would happen if the "Sex and the City" characters moved to San Francisco. “Samantha,” the article said, “would be in to various trendy California pursuits like… the Bar fitness method.” Nothing, however, on how much more fun Samantha, um, might have had later…
This reticence hasn’t always been the case. In the early 70s, the press was all over the news that an exercise technique was improving people’s sex lives. Why then did my Lotte Berk Method trainers in 1990 tell me to zip my lips on this subject? The answer goes back a half a century to the workout’s inventor, Lotte Berk, who expressly and unapologetically designed the workout to enhance sex.
Next week: The rise and fall of Lotte’s sexual revolution (and why we can finally start talking about it again :-)