Regular workouts keep me in decent shape. But I’m always looking for ways to get faster, stronger, and more flexible. There are a myriad of options out there, which can be overwhelming for beginners and seasoned athletes alike. I’ll play the role of guinea pig and review some of the new and unusual exercise classes being offered around the region, with the hope you’ll find one that appeals to you and gets you moving. If you would like to suggest a workout for me to try, tweet me @apoztv.
It’s the workout a slew of celebrities swear by. Madonna, Kelly Ripa, and Natalie Portman all credit their fab, sculpted physiques to ballet barre workouts. But what do these classes actually entail? And how do the exercises differ from those I typically perform? I headed to The Bar Method in Boston to search for answers and see what all the fuss is about.
The first thing you notice upon walking through the door is the serene atmosphere. There’s no loud music, no cardio machines, and no sweaty people exercising to loud music. Instead, there are two carpeted studios, complemented by bright, white walls, each equipped with nothing more than a ballet bar, small rubber medicine balls, lightweight dumbbells, and mats.
I was admittedly skeptical. There would be no running or jumping and no lifting heavy weights. Heck, one participant even told me I would barely break a sweat -- so how strenuous would this really be? I was so skeptical, in fact, that I had planned to head straight to my regular gym afterward for a “real” workout. It didn’t take more than five minutes before I was humbled.
The name of the game here is small, isometric exercises to strengthen and sculpt the body, combined with fat-burning intervals. A brief warm-up was followed by 20 push-ups. But these weren’t regular push-ups. They were the excruciating “down for a few seconds, up for a few seconds” type. Now, I do push-ups all the time. But the slow movements immediately ignited a fire in my arms they had never felt before.
The next few sets of exercises targeted the legs, for which we used the ballet barre. They were simple movements, mostly a variety of calf raises and mini-squats while holding onto the barre and squeezing a medicine ball between our thighs. Slowly targeting muscles that aren’t normally used not only caused another burning sensation, but also made my legs shake uncontrollably. I was slightly embarrassed and looked around the room to see whether this was happening to anyone else. Thankfully, for the sake of my ego, it was.
The remainder of the hour-long class was spent performing movements that worked the abs/core. It’s important to note that each set of exercises is followed by stretching, which helps to elongate the muscles, thus improving flexibility and posture.
The entire workout reminded me of physical therapy, where you work to strengthen what is weak. I learned afterward that The Bar Method’s corporate headquarters employ a team of physical therapists to oversee workout plans and make recommendations to instructors. While it’s true I did not break a sweat (some participants told me this is part of the appeal for them), the workout was a good learning experience. Although I exercise on a regular basis, there are muscles I’ve been neglecting and there are always things I can do to get stronger, perhaps raising the “barre” and integrating a class such as this into my routine.
Oh, and my muscles continued to shake for hours after class. But instead of feeling embarrassed, I now viewed it as a sign of accomplishment.
The Bar Method, Boston, www.boston.barmethod.com, see web site for schedule and variety of pricing options.