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Breaking Up with the Barre

Posted Feb 14 2012 9:41am

If you follow me on Twitter or dailymile , you might have noticed something’s changed about my workouts. And no, I don’t mean the running hiatus that runs from November – April. That happens every year. It’s called “winter.” I’m talking about the fact that what I once considered my staple, my constant in exercise — barre classes — are no longer a part of my life.

A quick summary for those of you who haven’t been reading for the last two years (in other words, 98% of you) — in January, 2010 I was offered the opportunity to take Core Fusion classes at exhale spa for a month at no charge, as a Core Fusion Challenge . The only condition was that I document my experience on my blog and exhale’s blog, and that I take before and after measurements and photos.

From the first day of the challenge, even though it was not my first Core Fusion class, my life was somehow changed. Call it the right place at the right time, but in January, 2010 I needed something to occupy me. I also needed something to help me with body image issues I’d been going through ever since getting sick in August, 2007. And I needed to get in shape. I was running here and there, and maybe going on an elliptical sometimes, but that was the extent of my working out. I needed something.

So I jumped right into that challenge and even though it sounds dramatic, my life did change. And even better, I learned more about exercise and why strength training is important for women. The results were practically automatic. I felt happier and more at peace. I had something to work for and seek accomplishment in. I had an outlet for stress and bad days, and a place to feel comfortable, in my element, at home. The staff was wonderful to me and even when I had an injury went above and beyond to work with me and help me. I went from not liking or caring much about exercise to truly loving it, embracing it, making it a deeply embedded part of my life. I fully credit Core Fusion for that. And I am forever grateful to everyone at exhale.

So why did I stop?

A few things happened to lead me away from the barre class. And I want to note that it isn’t specifically Core Fusion that I don’t do any more; it is ALL barre classes based on the Lotte Berk method (small movements, high rep, ballet-style).

In November 2010, I was treated for a labral tear in my hip. I know when this pain started — during a gluteal exercise in class. I felt it, and I kept taking class and repeating the same movements. I didn’t want to lose what I worked for all year. It was stupid and you know what they say about hindsight. I just didn’t think it was a real injury. But it was. ( My Hip Injury – Part 1  and  My Hip Injury – Part 2 ).

The pain was only bad during specific moves that aggravated it. Unfortunately, a large part of barre classes are comprised of those movements and it was too much to modify. I was still able to take other exhale classes, such as Core Fusion Cardio. And I went at least once a week. But the main class, the majority of their class programming, was the class I could not take.

At the same time, I was taking a few Refine Method classes. Brynn Jinnett, a former ballerina and barre class instructor, had just opened the studio.

She explained it better to me than I can explain in an interview last year (which is also up on the Refine Method website under “Why”):

“While Brynn enjoyed the boutique studio atmosphere, she saw many women at these studios working so hard, but still not achieving the results they wanted because of faulty information about exercise . After she retired from dancing and began to think about fitness as a long-term career, she decided to learn more about the body from those at the top so she could really separate fact from fiction. She started a two year period of research into exercise physiology and nutrition which entailed lots of reading and mentorships with some of the top athletic trainers, physiology professors and fitness business owners across the country. Her research took her from time with the most successful collegiate strength coach, watching him work with players training for the NFL, to work with the top exercise physiology professor USC, who is studying how muscles grow. In creating the Refine Method, she tried to apply the incredible knowledge of these top exercise science professionals to the specific aesthetic demands of the thousands of clients she has taught at NYC‘s top boutique fitness studios. Her goal in creating the Refine Method is to educate her clients to not just train hard, but to train smart.

While I was getting the hang of this different type of workout, I had my doubts. In a barre class, you work specific muscle groups as they burn and shake. In Refine, there is no burn. In a barre class, the thighs section is so hard you have to take breaks and you pray for it to just be over already as you try and push through the pain. In Refine, there is no pain. And nothing lasts long enough to have to stop because it hurts so much.

It sounds like I am praising Refine, but at the time these thoughts were me doubting it. I didn’t believe that an exercise that didn’t burn could produce results. I didn’t believe that doing three arm exercises a class could tone my arms — especially when my arms weren’t on fire! Even though the class totally kicked my butt and I really enjoyed it, I had a hard time accepting that I was really working my abs without being in a curl position practically in tears.

I made a couple of attempts at Core Fusion again, but each time my hip would bother me after, even if I thought I was avoiding the things that hurt. Really, my hip injury was an overuse injury from constantly performing the exact same type of movements.

During and after Refine? My hip was fine. I was happy to have a workout to do, and a convenient one at that. But Brynn, the founder of Refine and former barre class instructor, knew that I (and others from a barre background) had our doubts and so she wrote two extremely informative, easy-to-read, intelligent blog posts to explain why the “burn” doesn’t mean we are getting the best workout — or the smartest. (Lowering the Barre Part 1 and Part 2 )

As 2010 ended and 2011 began, I was taking Refine most days, and Core Fusion Cardio once or twice a week. And of course, I didn’t lose any strength. As I am sure you all suspected, I got stronger. One day in Refine I looked in the mirror as I was in a hinge-back abs exercise, and I didn’t recognize my own back peeking out from behind my shoulders. First of all, my back has never “peeked out” visibly before. I was strong. I looked strong. I was shocked.

[ Photo  - Dori & Brynn at Refine, 2011]

I was also well enough injury-wise by then to train for a marathon. I took my training easy because I was so concerned about aggravating my hip injury. I had a training plan designed specifically for me that included just three days a week of running. I didn’t do any speed or hill work because I wanted to play it safe with my hip. And when I completed my first marathon , I blew my 4:59-predicted (and hoped for) race time out of the water with a 4:33:29.

I credit Refine. And overall awesomeness.

I was still scared to truly leave my barre roots behind, and I continued the Core Fusion Cardio and Bootcamp and even added in Core Fusion Yoga every now and then. I craved that abdominal curl position, thinking it was the only way to keep my abs. But as I learned more from Brynn and read other sources about the core and the back and how our bodies work, my back started hurting during this exercise. A lot. I don’t know if it was mental or not, but the pain felt real and I realized one day — I don’t want to be doing this exercise that I now know to be harmful.

I still took the non-barre Core Fusion variations, but Refine remained my predominant workout and I found myself preferring it to the others. So when my exhale membership ended on December 31, I thought about attempting to renew it. And then I decided it wasn’t worth it.

I gave up Core Fusion Cardio — which I loved. I thought I would miss it . . . but it turns out I don’t. I thought I needed to hold four-pound-weights high up in the air for an hour straight because without the burn I wouldn’t be strong or have muscles . . . and it turns out it that is not the case. Because now I am all-in with Refine. And I found this time that by doing these exercises that Brynn vetted and approved and studied and practiced and researched — by doing exclusively those, I’m seeing results faster than before. I’m getting even stronger than before. I took off a few months to train for the marathon, and coming back was so hard. I could barely single pushup (Brynn laughed as I flopped onto my belly) and I turned my jump-backs into less intense step-backs. I felt constantly winded. But now that I’ve been back for a couple of months, I can’t believe how quickly I reached my previous level of fitness — and then surpassed it.

I take class less often now than I used to. And I’m still getting stronger. I don’t need to work out five to six days a week to see the changes. And this time, after the marathon, I decided that I didn’t care about visible results. I’d rather spend time relaxing with my boyfriend, rather than every free second working out, and so my goals changed. I just wanted to get a little stronger again and back in shape. The clearly visible results were a by-product. An awesome one at that.

The Refine class itself has changed a few times in the last year. When Brynn learns that something can be revised or made better, she does that. The class is constantly being tweaked to adapt to new discoveries in exercise science, or small ways to make it even more challenging, while many standard barre classes are the exact same class as they were 50 years ago. They’re firm in their beliefs and don’t adapt as quickly (if at all) to new knowledge. Every class is very much the same. With Refine on the other hand, no two classes are the same. We are always working different muscles in a different sequence, so our minds and bodies don’t get bored and plateau — and no one exercise lasts very long, so you can always push through. Refine teaches you to move in a way your body recognizes. The result is challenging exercises that don’t cause physical pain while you’re doing them.

I had the opportunity to take a different barre class a few weeks ago. It was Figure 4 , which I had taken once before and loved. It is different than a cookie cutter barre class; Kate, the founder, combines exercises in tandem for a more effective workout. And even though I adore Kate, I knew while I was there that this class was no longer for me. Knowing what I now know — I just don’t care for barre classes anymore.

Sure, I can push through the shaking thighs and burning pain — but why? Why would I want to be in pain, even if it’s just for a few minutes? What could possibly be THAT important to me that I force myself to accept (and embrace, as the instructors often tout) pain and discomfort for an extended period of time? A good body? Calories burned? Hard quad muscles?

It might be worth it for others. In fact, barre classes are worth it for many. I strongly believe that any exercise you can actually commit to is worth it. It once was worth it for me. But now that I know I can get a phenomenal, safe, highly effective and results driven full-body workout without the pain that is simply a part of the class, well, there’s just no going back.



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