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Testing Out The Bar Method

No it’s not a drinking game...it’s a new workout routine!

It's getting to be that time of year again…bathing suit season! Grrr.

I love the summer, but there's always that initial moment of shock when I realize I have to put away the sweatpants and jeans (my staples!) and pull out the bathing suits and shorts. Along with the self-tanner that I pretty much buy in bulk for the summer months, I decided to try out a new workout routine.

I've been hearing a lot about The Bar Method recently. It's "in" among the celebrity crowd with the likes of Drew Barrymore, Kelly Osborne and Britney Spears swearing by its results. The classes promise to create "long lean thighs, a lifted seat and flat abs." Sounds like a bikini plan to me! 

As luck would have it, there's a Bar Method studio right here in Westchester, Rye Brook to be exact. So I signed myself up for a recent noon class and got ready to feel the burn.

We began by working on our arms, using very light weights (1lb – 4lbs). I was worried that my arms might not work hard enough with those light weights…wrong! The teacher led us through a series of tiny movements that isolated one of the major muscles in our arms, the triceps. Let me tell you, as the class progressed and we moved on to working our legs, my arm muscles were still shaking as I held on to the bar.

We moved from arms to legs, doing a series of ballet-like moves at the bar. Again, each movement was small and isolated for a particular muscle group. These small, specific movements seem to define The Bar Method's technique.

After each strengthening pose we stretched the muscle we had just worked. I liked stretching immediately after the toning exercise; I felt like I was given the chance to elongate my muscles and release any tension in my lower back (an issue of mine). By the end of the leg series, my thighs, calves and butt were burning. Now I can see why ballerinas have such great legs.

The final portion of the class focused on abdominals. We did a series of moves, similar to the moves done in a Pilates. However, I didn't feel the usual tension in my neck that I typically feel when taking a Pilates class, so that was a huge relief. I walked out of class feeling toned, tired and like I had worked off that chocolate cupcake I ate the night before.

Beyond the workout, what struck me about the class was the clientele—they were mostly women (the owner said there are some men who frequent class), but the women span multiple generations. The class I went to included 20-year-olds and 60-year-olds. Everyone was working at their own pace and, believe me, all of our legs were shaking as we did our plies and arabesques, regardless of our age.

"There's no impact on your joints, so it's one of those workouts you can do forever," said Jane Culliford, the owner of The Bar Method in Rye Brook.

Culliford explained to me that The Bar Method was developed with the help of a physical therapist. "We can't add in any additional moves unless they've been approved," she said.

Culliford is a former swimmer who suffered from lower back injuries. "I had a bulging disk. I couldn't run. This class is the first thing I have done that hasn't bothered it," she explained.

Using The Bar Method to strength train and prevent injuries was a theme echoed by my fellow classmates.

"It's not just about firming up and looking good, it also helps me stay strong and prevents injuries," says Jeryl Malloy, a Rye resident who has been taking Bar Method classes for the last two years. "As we get older, our bodies are not the same. The Bar Method makes me feel healthy, stronger and more youthful. I feel taller after every class!"

"A lot of the moves are for the lower back, stretching and core strengthening. People notice a difference; their backs stop hurting them, their knees stop hurting them," says Culliford.

The Bar Method is based on The Lotte Berk Method—a ballet-like workout developed by a former dancer. The founder of The Bar Method, Burr Leonard, was a Lotte Berk teacher when she noticed people in her class were suffering similar injuries to their knees, backs and shoulders. Leonard enlisted the help of a physical therapist to modify the moves and The Bar Method was born.

Culliford opened The Bar Method in Rye Brook after training with the program's founder in San Franscisco. Her studio became the 12th Bar Method studio to open in the U.S. Two years later there are 36 studios scattered throughout the U.S.—a tribute to the workout's growing popularity.

Veronica Genao commutes from Queens to her job in Stamford everyday and on her way home she stops in Rye Brook for a class. "I used to have back pain from driving. Since I began taking Bar Method classes, my back pain has gone away."

So what makes The Bar Method unique from pilates or other strengthening classes? "Pilates works more of the smaller muscle groups in the body," said Culliford. "The Bar Method focuses on the larger muscle groups. In turn you see faster results."

Culliford says The Bar Method also involves more stretching than other workouts. "I can do splits now. I haven't been able to do splits since I was a kid taking gymnastics class!"

The morning after my class, those large muscle groups I had targeted were sore, but it was the "good sore" that most gym-goers like feeling.  I think all the stretching in class helped minimize my next-day discomfort (full disclosure: I also took a yoga class that night). I will definitely take more classes at The Bar Method in Rye Brook, it's a nice compliment to my yoga addiction, and a great way to get ready for the beach.

In addition the to Rye Brook Bar Method studio (32 Rye Ridge Plaza, 914-207-7798), you can give the workout a try using the two exercise DVDs they have available.

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