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The Bar Method: Why This Cardio-Weight Combo Works

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Looking for a fresh way to stay fit? I know I am. So when I heard about a new workout trend based on one of my childhood hobbies, ballet, I had to give it a try. A former ballerina (and by that, I mean that I took ballet until I reached an age at which my lack of coordination barred me from continuing), I was intrigued by the idea of a ballet bar–inspired workout. As someone who responds well to peaceful gym settings, and who was looking to sweat more than I would in a Pilates session, I signed up for a Bar Method class in my neighborhood. Turns out, this is a growing trend with tons of followers who swear by it—for good reason, too. The class strengthens muscles and increases participants’ heart rates, meaning I can get my weight session and my cardio work done within one class. 


How Does It Work?
Excited to relive my days as a ballerina, I was happy to feel like a dancer immediately in my Bar Method class—albeit a lot less graceful than I remembered. I was also significantly challenged through the whole class, as promised. 


It began with some push-ups and free weights (surprise!), then moved to the ballet bar, where I did a series of poses that seriously worked my legs and abs. This was where the majority of the class took place (hence the name); then we moved to the middle of the room for more core work and stretching—alternating between tough, sweat-inducing spurts and short cooldown periods. At the end, I was able to stretch my tight runner’s-hip muscles more than I’d ever done on my own. The Bar Method’s official Web site has photographs of what the exercises look like. 


Classes last for an hour, during which the teacher leads the participants through about ten strengthening exercises, ending with that thorough round of stretching (hands down, my favorite part). 


The strength work—which had my body burning in just a few minutes—requires exercisers to hold positions that, similar to yoga poses, are tough because they’re working against the students’ own body weight. According to my instructor, regular Bar Method sessions allow you to feel your body get stronger as you hold these poses for increasingly longer periods. 


The Bar’s Advantages
The Bar Method incorporates interval training—featuring short, hard bursts of intense aerobic work that increase participants’ heart rates—in addition to the muscle-strengthening exercises at the bar and in the center of the room. “It integrates the fat burning format of interval training, the muscle shaping technique of isometrics, the elongating principles of dance conditioning, and the science of physical therapy,” says BarMethod.com. Compared with straight cardio, it allows us to also target major muscle groups with contractions, stretches, controlled isolations, free weights, and push-ups—a huge advantage for busy people who have other things to do besides work out. 


“The classes completely changed my body,” says Jennifer Chang, who takes classes three times each week. “Since I started six months ago, my clothes fit better, my muscles feel firmer, I’m leaner, and my core is super strong. Even other people have made comments.” 


Setting the Bar High
As I chatted with my classmates about their workout experiences, I began to sense a little competition between Bar Method followers and the more traditional Pilates and yoga crew. Personally (as someone who loves all three workouts), I’ve found that each has a little something special to offer. Whereas Pilates works the core and specific muscle groups in the arms or legs, Bar Method workouts consistently challenge all major muscle groups, in addition to the core. Neither of these types of classes has the spiritual and mental component that yoga offers, although the end-of-class Bar Method stretching is very renewing. 


In contrast with an aerobic workout class, a Bar Method session isn’t worth checking out if a boot camp–style instructor or loud, intense music is what motivates you to get fit. Just the same, the concentrated bursts of cardio got me working up a sweat super-fast—without getting yelled at (something I definitely don’t respond well to). 


Where to Try It
In addition to the original Bar Method, a number of national chains offering ballet-inspired workouts are cropping up. While each company’s method varies slightly, they all provide the cardio intervals and strengthening and stretching components, and remain grounded in ballet moves. See if you can convince a studio to give you a free or discounted introductory class:


  • The Bar Method has studios across North America, in ten different states and Canada.
  • The Daily Method is another growing chain, with studios in California, Illinois, and Europe.
  • The Bar Method also has workout DVDs for those of us who aren’t looking to shell out the money for classes (which run around $25 to $35 a pop). 


Many gyms are also starting to feature bar-based workout classes, so check out the group-fitness schedule at your gym. Not yet? Ask the manager to consider adding it. 


Regardless of the workout, research shows that exercise yields the most benefits when we commit to it three to five times each week. Whether you’re an ex-dancer or not even close to coordinated (or both, like me), this method is a creative, fresh way to break a sweat and build strength. Besides, who doesn’t like pretending to be a graceful ballerina?

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