Ballerinas Are Badass: The Bar Method Examined
As much as I love and practice monogamy in my marriage, I’m a bit promiscuous when it comes to exercise. My love affair with running has been the Mr. Big of workouts, but still cannot fully hold my interest. Because of my lingering behavior, I’m constantly finding new methods to get a burn. In my muscles, that is.
Recently, I found an elitist-looking dance studio that piqued my “latest trends” radar into doing some research. Despite my assumption that it was a ballerina boot camp, I Googled on and found it was a Bar Method studio. As I discovered, much to my surprise, the method was established by a badass ballerina, Lotte Berk, long before our current fascination with health and wellness. As in seventy years before it.
In the 1930s, Berk peaced out on those crazy Germans and headed for London. During this time, Berk sustained a back injury and so spawned the Bar Method. She created it to help her and other athletes heal from injuries, but as the success of it grew, so did her studios. A student of Berk’s, Lydia Bach, brought the method to Manhattan where actors, dancers, and athletes of all types became the clientele. To be cliché, the rest really is history as the method spread nationally and can be found in many if not most states.
Essentially, “the method” fuses yoga and body pump into a fat-blasting routine that sculpts and shapes your body like nothing else. The smiling website models looked tickled pink to have round rumps by way of the method. Jealousy overcame me and I, too, needed to look so happy holding a wooden bar.
My first class was pretty intimidating for a gym rat who wears boyfriend tanks and Nikes. This studio was a little out of my comfort zone with smiles and lululemon around every corner. At one point I was even complimented that I had “great energy.” Worried I was being summoned into another yogi cult, I joined the class.
The class begins with upper-body work using light, two-pound weights. The routines are designed to be repeated at high repetitions with little to no weights. After my flagella arms finished the last pump, I was happy I used finger weights. The remainder of class is spent using your own body weight, which can be an untapped resource to many of us. You don’t realize how much your leg weighs until you’re lifting it, squeezing it, and rotating it for ten minutes. Everything the instructor challenges you to do on one side must of course be repeated on the other. This makes the class increasingly more difficult as your limbs face fatigue just holding you up. The class continues to each major muscle group - thighs, booty, abs, then “back dancing.”
An interesting and life-saving aspect of the method is after each circuit is completed, there is an immediate thirty second to one minute stretch and recovery opportunity. I’m confident that few could complete the class without these. Because your extremities are being squeezed so tightly, the muscles become very tight. A common experience your first several times is pretty intense body shaking. Nothing like a seizure, just tired muscles firing warning signals that they may be failing you soon. The immediate stretching allows your muscles to relax. It stretches them back out and elongates them to give them that lean, yoga look.
While I didn’t sweat, I did take excessive breaks to regain what little energy my muscles had left. If training for the Black Swan was anything like this, Natalie Portman is a saint.
Not just for ballerinas, the Bar Method has become increasingly popular workout among athletes of all backgrounds. After only one class, I understand how quickly and effectively it shapes and tones. Despite the cost, the method is totally worth the dough it expends both from your bum and your bank.