How A Ballet-Inspired Workout Helped Me Heal

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Web1Photo: Courtesy Of Laura Ruof.
I am not a runner — I do not run under any circumstances. In a fight-or-flight scenario, there is no option for flight with me — I’m going to have to stay and stick it out. My lack of running is due to sports-induced asthma as well as some emotional scarring from my high school field hockey coach. And, it’s left me with fewer options when it comes to working out. I wish I was one of those people who went for an evening jog along the river to clear their head or who signed up for a last-minute 5k over the weekend just for fun. But, I am not that girl.

I have a small frame, but I’ve never consistently worked out. My whole life I was what some may call “skinny fat.” I had no muscle; my body was not strong; I was not in shape. Not only that, but an autoimmune disease had sidelined me (I thought) from exercising. So, there I was one year ago — achy, weak, and feeling stuck — when something inside of me told me that I just had to get moving.

The closest gym to my apartment was a studio called Bar Method. I knew that Bar (sometimes spelled Barre) was based in ballet, and the website said it would make me stronger, was low impact, and incorporated the science of physical therapy. It sounded like exactly what I needed, so I booked a class.

The classes at Bar are an hour long, which I love. I really can’t commit to a 90-minute class of anything. Inevitably, I get bored, and 90 minutes suddenly turns into two hours of my day gone. At Bar you wear yoga pants past your knees and whatever you want on top. There’s also special, grippy socks, and the floors are comfy and carpeted. There’s music playing the whole time that switches between motivating, during activity, and calming, during stretches. In Bar you mix it up: First you focus on working out an area, then on stretching that area to elongate the muscle (giving you the “long and lean” effect). In fact, the teachers say that the stretching part is just as important as the actual working of the muscle.

I was really anxious about going to a new studio. Studios can have a reputation for being intimidating and elitist, but Bar Method is, seemingly deliberately, not that way. The teachers go out of their way to make you feel really special in your first class, so you don’t end up feeling lost and like you don’t belong. And, because the teachers are that way, the clientele seems to follow their lead. My teacher, Anna, learned my name and called out encouraging comments to me throughout the first class. And, everyone gets positive comments, not just the new people.

During the exercises, my heart rate was up, but I was never out of breath. Being out of breath makes me feel like I’m 16, panting around the field hockey loop all over again, so this was a win for me.

Bar Method classes are consistent in sequence no matter which teacher you have. But, they switch up the moves, so your body never gets used to the workout. There’s a special form common in most moves called the “tuck.” The tuck is when you tuck your tailbone under, squeeze your glutes, and engage your core. So, even when you are working your legs or arms, you’re working the rest of your body, too. Surprisingly, the better you get at Bar Method, the more challenging it becomes. The stronger you get, the deeper you go into the muscles, until you are barely moving at all.
It’s said that an advanced Bar class just looks like a bunch of women standing still in a room. You will actually find that joke funny once you take a class. I promise.

If you couldn’t tell, I went back. I went back a lot. Bar Method was addictive for me — as soon as I was done with a class, I wanted to take another one. One time they turned me away because I tried to take two classes in one day. Whether this is a personality flaw of mine or evidence that Bar is amazing (both?), I’m not sure. It’s got a friendly atmosphere, super-helpful teachers, and you get results insanely fast — what’s not to love?

Bar Method completely changed my body. I have a straight boyish figure, and it gave me a little bootie, gave me some lean muscle in my legs, and completely firmed-up everything else. Most importantly, I feel super-strong for the first time in my life. I started sleeping through the night; I don’t get tired in the afternoon; and, I feel as if my body isn’t working so hard to carry me through the day. Because my muscles are stronger, my joints don’t have to work so hard. Plus, I’ve experienced all the added mental benefits to working out.

If there’s any part of you that thinks you can’t do Bar Method for whatever reason, know that if I can do it, then you certainly can. When I started I hadn’t worked out once in three years. They have a lot of students with autoimmune diseases, arthritis, and injuries. So, the teachers are all extremely knowledgeable and happy to tailor moves to your needs.

There are Bar Method-brand studios all over the country. If you don’t have one near you, then any variation on a bar or barre studio will be very similar. If you can’t afford the monthly membership ($250 in NYC, less elsewhere) there are DVDs you can use at home. Bar uses mostly your own body weight to tone and build muscle, so you don’t need a lot of gear cluttering up your apartment.

Perhaps the biggest difference I've noticed as a result of practicing Bar Method was the change in my posture. A lifelong sloucher — family, coworkers, and strangers were always coming up to me and pulling my shoulders back as if they just couldn’t take it anymore — I thought I would never get to a place where I could actually get my shoulders to stay back. But, Bar Method completely changed that, and everyone noticed. By making my back stronger, it didn’t take so much effort to stand up straight, which also elongated my spine and made me look taller.

I can’t really explain how much Bar Method changed my life. It’s more than just a workout — it took me from a place of pain and weakness and made me a mentally and physically stronger person, something you can’t say about every workout. Granted it isn’t cheap, but I have to say that for what it’s done for my life, Bar Method is worth every penny.