Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Bar Method

This is not my typical subject matter for blogging. I am a travel blogger, not a fitness or healthy you blogger. But hey, I am not traveling this month and this is a huge part of what is going on in my life (aka My Byway) right now, plus you might relate and find this interesting, so I thought I would share. I had never heard of the Bar Method before and maybe you don't know about it either, and maybe it will interest you. So if you want to know what is the Bar Method and why am I talking about it, please read on...

New Year Resolutions
I'm trying. And of course I have some of the very typical ones we all do, beginning with getting back in shape and shedding some pounds. There was a time, about 2+ years ago, when I was stressed out, overworked and unhappy. I was also in some of the best shape of my life. Funny, isn't it? How that happens? I was doing cross fit training and not eating much and while my inner self was in shambles, on the outside I was rocking some toned arms and clothes 2-3 sizes smaller than I'd worn since college. But then I met my now husband and fell in love and became very, very happy on the inside, which started to show on the outside.

It Sneaks Up on You
Moving away from the DC area and leaving my familiar routines affected me. I no longer had the cross fit training I loved. I found a gym but wasn't really motivated. Loving to cook meals for my husband and drink wine also affected me. Hey let's order pizza and drink wine and watch movies and snuggle on the couch! Also, working from home where I never have to wear anything but sweat pants and can walk into the kitchen and eat whatever I want - yeah that affected me too. Does any of this sound familiar? So slowly over 2 years I realize I've put on 20 pounds! I'm not talking about trying to lose that 5 pounds you gained over the holidays (an easy feat). I am talking about 20 pounds people! That means life style change. There is no other way around it.

I carry this weight pretty well (if I do say so myself) - its all evenly distributed. But when you realize you can't fit any of your clothes anymore, that is a problem. Carrying around that extra weight? That feels like a problem. When you realize you are losing the awesome strength and flexibility and stamina you once had - that is a problem. I will be xxx years old this year (I am not going to reveal!) and I refuse to become that person who gets all unfit as they get older. I want to be one of those people who actually gets more fit. I don't want freaky Madonna arms, but I refuse to have them flapping in the wind. I want muscle definition back. I have a long list of strenuous (but awesomely fun) things yet to do (hiking, camping, kayaking, etc.) in my life and I won't let weakness get in the way. I want my strength and stamina back. I don't want to have to buy a ton of new clothes. I want my old weight (and my wardrobe) back.

Diets Suck
So, I have started - exercising again and watching what I eat. Notice I did not use the word diet. I hate the word diet. I am not a dieter. I will never go on a diet. I love food. I love to cook. I love to eat. I won't diet. But what I will do is try to watch what I eat and try to eat smartly and try to practice moderation, and the easiest way I've found to do this is by using Weight Watchers. Not by buying their weird meals, but rather by following their practices. More on the Weight Watchers experience in an upcoming blog entry (and I have a heck of a lot to say about that). Here I want to focus on the exercise part of the life style change equation.

Returning to Exercise
Those of you who have drifted away from steady work outs know how daunting and challenging it can be to get back into it. Being so long away from intense work outs, I didn't feel like I could jump back into cross fit training. I would die. Seriously, the kind of stuff I was doing two years ago shocks me now. I pictured myself signing up for a local cross fit class and crying and crumpling into a ball of out of shape defeat and shame. Cross fit will have to wait. I had to remind myself - two years of laziness can't be turned around in two months. It is going to take time. That reality sucks, but it is what it is. What also sucks is realizing - I mean seeing it and feeling it - that as we age it all becomes so much harder. So. Much. Harder. I didn't see this coming and its kind of scary. At first. But once you stop feeling wimpy and suck it up, you realize you can do it. All the more reason to get back in shape. Staying fit helps absolutely everything about aging.

Walking Takes Away the Crazy
One thing I do is a lot of walking. I've come to realize that walking takes the crazy out of me. If I am feeling a little (or a lot) down or stressed or angry our out of sorts, a walk turns that around. It works every single time. Every. Single. Time. I know my husband appreciates it when I go for walks. I come home more sane and lovable...

I love walking outside the best - fresh air, sun (if there is any), seeing what's happening in the neighborhood. I use it as time to listen to and lose myself in podcasts on my iPhone. This American Life is my favorite. I adore that show. Many podcasts are an hour long - a perfect motivator to get in a 60 minute walk. And bonus - my neighborhood is all hills, which means an even better work out. If I get bored, SLC is full of parks and canyons with walking trails. I am sure where you are you have many great walking opportunities too. I will always recommend walking to everyone. It is a beautiful low impact exercise. However, I know that for me, as for many, walking alone won't get me into the shape and weight that I want, and fast enough. It is beautiful and healthy and I will keep doing it and keep promoting it, but I need something more aggressive than walking, yet not as intense as jumping back into cross fit or running. Lucky for me I discovered the Bar Method.

The Bar Method
I had never heard of this Bar Method before seeing an ad on Facebook. Yes, for once - just once! - those annoying pop-ups with freaky weird photos that appear on the right side of your page was useful for me. I saw an ad for the first Bar Method studio opening in Salt Lake City, which is how I discovered this wonderful work out.

The Bar Method claims to be "the most targeted body-sculpting work out." I don't know if it is the "most," but it is indeed a body sculpting work out and I've been doing it now for one month (I've done around 13 classes during that time) and I love it. Love it, love it, love it. Bar Method classes are typically one hour long. They use interval training, muscle shaping isometrics, dance conditioning to elongate muscles, and some elements of physical therapy to strengthen your core and define and reshape your muscles. Unlike Pilates, you just use your body, not machines. You do work at the ballet bar and on the ground. You do some work with light hand weights. Before and after class you hang from bars for a complete body stretch that is amazing.

Bar Method History
The Bar Method is based on the technique of Lotte Berk, a German dancer who fled the Nazis in the late 1930s. After a back injury she developed an exercise system combining her ballet training with rehabilitative therapy, opening her first studio in London in 1959. The first studio in the US was opened in 1971 in Manhattan. In the 1990s two sisters, Burr Leonard and Mimi Fleishman opened studios in Connecticut, but adjusted the practice with the help of a physical therapist for more focus on muscles and less impact on joints. With this new practice, they called it the Bar Method and opened their flagship studio in San Franciso in 2001. Studios spread throughout California and the east coast, as did many Bar Method spin off movements. (For my DC friends, the Bar Method is now open there. Try it out!)

Celebrities Do It (If you care about that kind of stuff)
Remember, its been big in California and New York, so for those of you who are led to exercise movements not from recommendations from nobodies like me, but rather from celebrity endorsements, Hollywood followers include Drew Barrymore, Zooey Deshanel, Eliza Dushku, and many more.

My Personal Experience (Results + Feeling Great = Love)
I love it. I just signed up for my second month of unlimited classes with a goal of doing it consistently 4 times a week. They say that you should do it 3-5 times a week to really get the full benefit (in other words you need to do it this much if you want to see faster results, which I do).

I have seen results already. The most noticeable is my posture. I feel straighter and my core feels stronger. I notice it when I sit and when I walk. Its weird and wonderful. My arms are definitely stronger and starting (just barely, but its there) to creep back to being toned. That is because we do push ups every class. Push ups do get easier. I am so far away from the form and amount of full body push ups I could slam out when I was doing cross fit, but I am seeing progress. The exercises we do in class are getting easier and my form is better. It is never not challenging, so I shouldn't say the exercises are getting easier - its just that I am noticing that I am stronger in doing them. Everything feels firmer - which is a beautiful feeling. Most important of all, I have more energy and I just feel better. I leave class feeling energized, not tired. Another thing I love about this work out is that it is low impact. I used to love my intense cross fit training that included running, but my feet would always hurt after working out. The beauty of the low impact Bar Method is that my feet and joints never ache - only my muscles (in that great way that exercise does).

Review of the Salt Lake City Studio
The studio in Salt Lake City is wonderful, and so are its owner and teachers. The studio is brand new (always nice) and located conveniently on 2100 South in the Sugar House neighborhood. I never have trouble parking. There are many classes offered Monday-Saturday. Because the studio is new, they are still figuring out the class schedule, so it is likely to change. Right now all classes are mixed level, but eventually I am sure they will offer advanced classes as we improve and master the basics. While there are a few customers who have experience taking classes from visits to other places, for the most part, we are all new to this practice. Anyone of any fitness level can take this class. Like other practices, you do what you can and expand as you get stronger and more comfortable.

The Bar Method is not cheap. Like many yoga classes, individual classes can cost $20. Package deals like I am doing make it much less expensive, but like any package deal, its a value only if you know you will use it. I am definitely getting my money's worth from the monthly unlimited package. It is completely worth it to me to find an exercise practice that I like and enjoy doing. As you know, with exercise motivation is key. If you join a gym or a class you don't like, you won't go, or you will go and be unhappy and that is probably not sustainable.

This coming Friday and Saturday the SLC studio will have their official open house and one of the founders, Burr, will be present and teaching a few classes each day. I've already signed up and am looking forward to taking a class with her. Maybe I will see you there?

For more information about the SLC Bar Method Studio, go here.

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