5 most misunderstood exercises in The Bar Method

I’ve been teaching The Bar Method for 8 years. I explain to clients every day that The Bar Method is not easy, you probably won’t understand it at first, you’re going to suck at it and it will take consistent practice for the light bulb to finally go off. This method of barre fitness is unique in that we set up the exercise to expertly position your body in a way that creates stability to then perform an exercise using one or two primary muscle groups against the weight and stability of the rest of your body. In other words, you have to focus on more than just the moving parts. If the rest of your body isn’t doing its part to provide the stability or the counter resistance needed, you most likely won’t feel it in the right spot, nor will you likely understand what you’re supposed to be doing. Some barre exercises are easier to understand than others however, over the past 8 years, without fail, most clients have trouble understanding the purpose, the position and the execution of these 5 exercises. These are the top 5 most misunderstood exercises in The Bar Method.

1. One-Weight Lifts

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The purpose of one-weight lifts is to tone and strengthen the posterior deltoids as well as to improve posture and body alignment. It starts with the stance. The first thing the instructor says in this exercise is “stand with your feet hip-width apart and step your working foot back and slightly out to the side” or some iteration of that. This is also the phrase that most people miss because they are looking for their lighter weight or still trying to figure out which direction to turn. If you take the time to position your feet properly, you’re more likely to position your body in the correct hip and shoulder alignment. Speaking of alignment (the most important factor in this exercise), your shoulders and hips need to be side by side with your abdominals drawn up to protect your back. So if your back, hamstrings, or hips are tight you will most likely need to step your back foot out farther in order to be able to drop your working hip in line with your other hip. Once you’re in the correct alignment, pull your abs up to protect your back and look down to keep your neck in good alignment with the rest of your spine. Now that you’re in the proper alignment, you can target your deltoids, lats and triceps more effectively because your trapezius muscles, rhomboids and abdominals are stabilizing you. If you’ve never worked on your alignment, then it will take some time for your body to figure it out and “remember” the proper position. Be patient and keep practicing. The last thing I’ll mention is the heaviness of the weight. In 8 years of doing The Bar Method I’ve never used a 4 lb weight in this exercise. I personally think it’s unnecessary because this exercise is more about the alignment and engaging the proper muscles in your back than it is about lifting a heavier weight. If you’re in the proper position with the muscles in your back & shoulders firing, believe me, that 3 lb weight will be plenty heavy for you.

2. Diagonal Seat

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Every time I teach diagonal seat I think to myself “oh boy, I think we need to have a whole workshop dedicated to this butt buster!” Don’t worry, I didn’t understand it when it was first added to The Bar Method about 3 or 4 years ago either. However, once the light bulb went off I fell madly in love with it. This barre exercise is misunderstood because it combines the lifted working leg of fold-over with the tuck of standing seat. It does double duty sculpting the glutes and hamstrings by using the weight of the backwards-extended leg plus the resistance of the tuck. So, how do you master this beast? It’s all in the hinge. Again, this is one of the first cues the instructor gives “hinge diagonally forward at your hips. Grip your glutes and keep your back straight.”

Say what? Hinge from where? Straighten my back? You just told me to hinge forward? I’m confused.

If this was ever your reaction to our set-up then keep reading because I’m hoping to clear it up so you too can fall in love with this intense exercise. Your biggest challenge in this exercise is to tilt your body 45-degrees forward (hinge from the hips) and stay that way throughout the whole exercise. Your abdominals will work very hard against the stability of your back to keep you in that position (which is why it’s difficult for most people, especially if one of those areas is weak). Once you can get your body to stay hinged forward, work really hard to hold the resistance in your glutes. You will have to constantly re-tuck your glutes as they will definitely release overtime and before you know it you will have lost your tuck altogether. Lastly, and probably the most difficult thing to do is to keep your lifted leg about 10 inches behind your working hip. This is important because it keeps your hard work focused on your upper glutes. When that gap shortens, the work moves out of the targeted spot and into other areas and therefore it’s not as effective.

3. Round-Back

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One of my favorite barre exercises. I love this one because it burns like crazy when you do it right and you can literally witness your legs tapering right before your eyes. But as I look around the room I can’t help but notice eyes glazed over, a few yawns and occasionally eyes closed (maybe taking a nap?) So let me try to breathe some life back into this exercise for you! Clients often remark of feeling it in their hip flexors and not in the intended muscles. Perhaps you feel the same way? First consider your mat placement and if you should use a riser or not (hint: most people will need a riser to support their hips or give them a little extra height to reach the barre). Having the correct mat and riser placement will allow you to sit with proper alignment and therefore give you the best workout and results. You may even feel inspired to try the L-shape! Read my blog post I’m just a good girl with bad habits before you attempt L-shape so you don’t pick up bad habit #4. Round-back is a barre exercise designed to work your core so you should feel your abs contract, press down and pull in. If you are feeling your hips and not your abs, slide down the wall a few inches to see if that helps release your hips. You also may need to press up against the barre harder with the heel of your hands (without using your shoulders), and breathe deeper to engage your abs and release your hips. Round-back also tapers your calves and upper legs while burning fat from working your biggest muscle groups, so fight hard to keep your leg straight and listen for the choreography changes so you get the most out of this fast-paced, fun exercise.

4. Flat-Back

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I hated this barre exercise for the longest time… well into becoming an instructor. I didn’t like doing it and I didn’t like teaching it. I totally get it, if you phone this one in because you don’t understand it. I’m here to tell you to stop that bad habit because it’s magic once you make it to the other side. Flat-back has two distinct benefits. It flattens the abs and burns lots of calories. It does this by recruiting the transversus abdominus (T.A. muscle). It’s the deepest abdominal muscle and responsible for pulling our waists tighter against our spines and stabilizing our spines when needed. However, it’s difficult to recruit at first and can be especially challenging to turn on for some people (especially if you just recently gave birth or had some other abdominal surgery). My advice is to be patient, breathe deeply to connect to your diaphragm and cease the opportunity to raise your feet when you feel your abs pull in and tighten. If you notice your shoulders shrug and contract when you raise your feet then you’re not quite ready to lift your feet and you probably need to recruit your trapezius muscles a little better to keep your shoulders locked down. In order to do this, position your hands about shoulder distance apart and aim your elbows on a diagonal outward toward the center of the room. Press against the barre and use that resistance to help you lock your shoulders down then try lifting your feet again. Start with a few reps and keep adding a few more reps off the floor until you can do the entire sequence in good form. You’ll find that certain foot positions work better for you than others, which is why we change it up. Notice what works for you and lift your feet when those options are presented to you. The last thing I’ll mention is your bent knees…the more bent your knees are, the more flexed your hips are, the less likely you’ll feel it in your abs. As a rule of thumb, position your feet forward enough that your knees are bent to waist height or right under your rib cage. Not only will this take the pressure off of your hip flexors, it will also raise your heart rate by engaging your quadriceps, and you will burn more calories and become leaner from this barre exercise. Don’t be discouraged, this one is difficult but it absolutely pays off. Stick with it!

5. High-Curl

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High curl is misunderstood for two reasons: 1) people think it’s too easy and 2) They only feel it in their hip flexors. High curl can be very effective and challenging, if and only if, you’re in the right position. However, figuring out the correct position can be tricky. First, if your hips tend to fire up in this exercise you can do one of two things with the riser: 1) place it under the front of your mat to sit higher and increase the extension in your hips 2) place the riser on top of your mat behind your back to provide a little more back support so you can hinge back to the 45-degree angle that is necessary to work your abs. Once you hinge back to 45-degrees and it starts to feel difficult to hold, grip your glutes, bend at your waist and lock that position of your body in place. Breathe sharply to fire your transversus abdominus and perform the arm choreography to the best of your ability while keeping your position stable. Be careful that when you “lift your chest” you don’t sacrifice your tuck or the bend at your waist. Keep working on your position and hinge back out of your comfort zone to realize flatter abs and a stronger core.

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