Less is More: Which weights should you use in the warm-up

While I’m on the topic of technique, it seems appropriate to also discuss the weights we use in the warm-up, and how to know if you’re using the right ones or if you need to increase/decrease the weight. I love when my students pull me aside to ask me which weights they should be using, however, unfortunately it doesn’t happen often enough. Good news for all of us…I created this blog (aka soapbox) to give you my unsolicited advice. First of all, nothing irks me more than when a client comes in and picks up weights that are too heavy and ignores my advice to go down in weight. I’ve literally had clients shake their head “no” at me while lifting 5 lb weights over their shoulders, arching their low backs and using their trapezius muscles instead of their deltoids. This isn’t crossfit ladies so put down the heavy weights…they’re not making you stronger.

What does make you stronger is identifying and using the muscles you want to work while not engaging the other overused muscles such as those in your neck and lower back. This takes time, patience, and a commitment to good form. Which means you will most likely need to start with lighter weights than what you are used to so that you can learn the correct alignment, the proper form and most importantly, the skill of differentiation: the power to use one muscle without unconsciously engaging another. The Bar Method is a path to mastery for both teachers and students, which in my opinion, is the greatest benefit of the method. The beauty is in the details and the progress you make when you give yourself permission to TUNE IN to what you’re doing and LET GO of any preconceived notions of what you should be doing. So let’s discuss weight recommendations:

Shoulder walks: 2-3 lbs

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We always suggest you use your lighter set of weights in shoulder walks for a couple of reasons.

  1. This exercise primarily targets your anterior deltoids, a small, tear drop shaped muscle on the front of your shoulders used to stabilize your shoulder joint. Because it’s a smaller muscle, it doesn’t take a lot of weight to make a big impact to this muscle group and with your arms extended fully straight it creates even more of a challenge for your deltoids.
  2. It also works your core muscles, specifically those in your abs, glutes and upper back and teaches your body good posture and alignment by recruiting several muscles in your back and shoulders as stabilizers. So, using heavier weights in this exercise potentially creates momentum in your movement that has potential to pull your body out of the proper alignment. Therefore, preventing you from realizing all-of-the wonderful core strengthening benefits.

Bent-elbow lifts: 2-4 lbs

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I can make the same case here as I did above for shoulder walks, however you can experiment with a little heavier weight in bent-elbow lifts because, well, your elbows are bent and therefore it’s a little, dare I say, easier for your shoulders to move your arms in a bent position vs. when they are extended in shoulder walks. It’s still very important that you engage your stabilizers in your back so as not to unconsciously use your trapezius muscles and posterior deltoids to lift the heavier weights. The heaviest I would suggest you use in bent-elbow lifts is 4 lbs and that’s if, and only if, you feel completely stable through your entire core (I’ve seen students pull off 5 lb weights but it’s rare.) Give it a try if you think you’re ready. You can always drop back down to 3 lb weights.

Biceps curls: 3-5 lbs

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Don’t be shy, pick up your heavier weights for biceps curls! Show off your guns, girl! In this exercise, you are using three different muscles to bend your elbows (biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis) and therefore you have more power to lift heavier weights than you do in the other exercises. Furthermore, we aren’t in this exercise long enough for you to bulk up, so as long as you are working with a stable core you can and should use heavier weights in this exercise.

One-weight lifts: 2-3 lbs

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As I mentioned in this post, one-weight lifts is one of the most misunderstood exercises in The Bar Method and that’s partly due to students not knowing what weight to use. People often mistake it for an arm exercise when in fact it primarily targets the back of your shoulders and the muscles in your back. Sure, some of the choreography we perform in this exercise specifically affects the muscles in your arms, but in general this is an exercise for your back and shoulders. The most challenging part about this exercise is figuring out your alignment and engaging your stabilizers. I would suggest starting with a 2 lb weight until you’re able to keep your hips and shoulders square, your core stable, back muscles engaged and your weight above your hip in line with your shoulder. If you want more of a challenge after all of that, then go up in weight and enjoy a deeper burn in your back, triceps and deltoids.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or comments about using the weights in the warm-up. I would love to hear your feedback!

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5 comments

  1. I’m in the teacher training program for The Bar Method Honolulu and am literally obsessed with reading all your articles. A fellow teacher just shared the blog with me today and I can’t wait to incorporate this information in my teaching. Thanks so much!!!

    1. Thank you Carey! Best of luck to you…the training program is rigorous but so rewarding! Please let me know if there’s any topics you would like to see me write about in 2017! Thank you for reading! XOXO Jessica

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