Thursday, February 13, 2014

why i love the bar method

I showed up out of shape and discouraged. That first class (and, well, every one after it) completely owned me, but I was instantly hooked. 20 months later, I'm still showing up 3-4 times a week. It's a miracle, and it's high time I share with all of you why I'm addicted to the Bar Method.

All photos from The Bar Method DC - my awesome local studio where I spend 3-4 hours each week. 

The teachers are amazing. By far the best part of Bar Method are the relationships you build with the teachers. From day one, they have always been this perfect blend of encouraging and challenging. They all know my name. They keep track of any modifications I need to make. They monitor my progress and hold me accountable. And most importantly, they push me farther than I would ever push myself. This is one of my favorite teacher stories:

When I first started taking class, I did push-ups at the bar. Yes, this is usually reserved for the preggos and people with injuries, but I was that out of shape. My teacher that day was Lauren. I took a lot of classes with her in the beginning because she was teaching most of the level 1 classes at that time, and I was too terrified to try anything more advanced. Eventually I graduated to mixed level classes and doing push-ups on my knees.

Fast forward several months. Lauren grabbed me after class one day and said, "I bet you could do your push ups on your toes." The thought hadn't even crossed my mind. It seemed like that was reserved for the ridiculously fit, marathon-runner types among us. But guess what? The next class, I took her suggestion and gave it a try. I think I managed to do about 5 before dropping back to my knees. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it completely shocked me. I have the upper body strength of T Rex. Without her encouragement, I'm not sure I would have ever tried doing 1, but now I can do up to 30!

This is the best way I can describe it: it's like having a personal trainer (or rather lots of personal trainers) without paying the personal trainer price.

The atmosphere is welcoming. I was completely out of shape when I first showed up at Bar Method [see above], but I never felt judged. Egos are checked at the door. The peer pressure is all positive. Rather than competing, we're all just trying to survive together. You'll be inspired by the pregnant women who often outwork everyone else in class or the newcomers who won't give up because you remember what your first class was like (I think I almost passed out). And it's totally ok to try and fail. I still do it all the time. I work so much harder in class than I ever would on my own, and a lot of that is due to the motivation boost from my fellow classmates. If she can take the harder option while 9 months pregnant, what's my excuse?!

It's always challenging. I'm a routine kind of gal, so I love the routine of Bar Method, but it never gets boring and it never gets easier. I've been going for 1.5 years and have yet to plateau. Each teacher is a little different, and each class challenges you in a different way. As you get better and your form improves over time, it actually only gets harder (just what you wanted to hear, right?). It's like a competition against yourself - can I be better than I was yesterday? Can I correct one more thing in my form? Can I stay in this exercise without taking a break?

It improved my posture. I'm a lifelong slumper. The Bar Method's focus on form and core strength has done wonders for me. Of course it also helps that you carry yourself better when you feel better about yourself. A few months after taking class, I was randomly stopped on the street by a complete stranger and complimented on my posture and stride. It's one of the best compliments I've ever received.

It made me stronger. This has been the biggest change for me, by far. The emphasis is all on long and lean muscles so you don't have to worry about bulking up. I've never been good about doing strength training, but it's one of the best things women can do.

It helps me sleep better. Nothing works wonders for your sleep cycle like a good dose of exercise.


Now let's dispel some barre myths so you don't have any excuses. Bar Method is not….

Only for dancers. While its origins are found in ballet, thank goodness there is no actual dancing involved at the Bar Method. I'm a white girl from North Dakota. I'm not very flexible. I could be more graceful. If I can make it through class without completely embarrassing myself, you can too.

Only for the fit. Don't be intimidated. I've seen people of all ages and all fitness levels at Bar. I recommend starting with a level 1 class - it will still be plenty hard, but the slightly slower pace + more instruction will help you get the hang of each exercise. You can move at your own pace, and take the harder modifications as you feel comfortable.


And finally some other general thoughts about working out….

Buy cute gym clothes. You know that great feeling after you get your hair done or when you're wearing a new lipstick color? You feel good about yourself. You feel pretty. The same thing works at the gym. I used to throw on old t-shirts and sweats, but I'm now a firm believer in investing in nicer gym clothes. Nicer doesn't have to be expensive, but it does have to be cuter than that ratty t-shirt you've been wearing for years.

There are mirrors everywhere at the gym. Since you can't avoid them, why not give yourself a little mental boost when you catch your reflection in them? I'm not ashamed to admit that I've actually been excited to go to class because I have a new tank top or headband to wear. Vibrant colors are especially good for an extra energy boost. And particularly for Bar Method, I recommend slim-fitting clothes so you can easily keep tabs on your form & posture.

Some of my favorite lines are Pure + Good from Anthropologie, Lululemon and Nancy Rose. Gap, Old Navy, and Target also have cute (and more affordable) options.

Stick with what motivates you. It does you absolutely no good to have a fitness routine that you don't follow. For whatever reason (or rather for all the reasons I listed above), I've stuck with Bar Method, but it comes after many failed attempts. I hate running. I'm bored after 5 minutes on a cardio machine. Crossfit still scares the heck out of me. I could force myself to plod through these forms of exercise, but history tells me I'll eventually run out of motivation because I'm not really invested. Even if it's just taking a nice long walk - it's something and it's better than nothing. If you haven't found whatever it is that keeps you motivated - keep trying. There is something out there for everyone.

Invest in your health. Bar Method isn't cheap, but it's a small price to pay when you consider all of the benefits. It's also added motivation. I signed up for monthly unlimited classes - the most cost effective option if you go 3+ times a week. Because I've already spent the money, and I know it wasn't just pocket change, I'm much less likely to cancel class. No, I don't always feel like going to class, but I never regret it either. As the saying goes, I'd rather be sore than sorry!

Play the long game. Some people swear they get instant results from Bar and other forms of exercise. It's great if you fall into the immediate results camp, but I didn't have that experience (and I don't really think it's realistic). I didn't drop 2 dress sizes or several inches overnight, but I did see results on my improvement in class right away. With each class, I got a little better at tackling each element, and that was really motivating. It was gradual, and I still have so far to go, but over time, I really started seeing my strength, posture, energy, flexibility and body change for the better. Celebrate the small victories, be patient for the big ones. They will come!

Now go forth and Bar. There are studios all over the country, and although nothing beats the in-person experience, you can also do the DVDs at home.

p.s. If you're local, and you're tempted to try it, let me know. I get a few free guest passes each year, and I'd love to introduce you to the Bar Method!


  1. I love this. I feel like I share the same story as you, especially with the push-ups, and not dropping 2 dress sizes! I didn't see tape measure/scale results until 9 months, and it's still something that I struggle with... But when I look in the mirror - SO different now!

    I also had Lauren as my first Level 1 teacher, and then my first Level 2 teacher... We've come a long way! xo

    1. I completely agree - it's so easy to get discouraged when you only measure success on the scale. Bar Method finally helped me break free from that obsession. Hopefully I'll see you around the studio sometime! :)

  2. Great article! I didn't lose a lot of weight, but what I love is that even after I feel like my diet hasn't been as good as could be, I'm still surprised at how my clothes fit. And it's because I consistently go to class four times per week. I also "grew" one inch at my yearly physical because of my improved posture.

    1. I love that you grew an inch just from improving your posture! I love that side affect of Bar Method - it's amazing how much better we can look just from practicing good posture.