The Method

Core Strengthening and Other Benefits of Signature Bar Method Exercises

February 5, 2010

In the fall of 2004, Kate Burgess, a marketing executive who lives in Chicago, developed severe back pain. She went the round of doctors and therapists, took anti-inflammatory drugs, tried injections, massages, back braces, chiropractic care and physical therapy. Kate had been athletic before the onset of her back pain. She remembers feeling “so incredibly sad to quit all the sports I was involved in.”
Finally after years of searching for a cure, Kate managed to find some relief from acupuncture. Nonetheless her doctors told her that she would never be able to do a sit-up or a crunch again. She continued to look for solutions anyway and, as she tells it, “decided to give Bar Method a shot.” That was a year ago. Today, Kate says, “I can do things that professionals told me I could/should never do. I am in this €˜better place’ physically (and thus emotionally).”

round backKate shares her positive outcome with hundreds of Bar Method students who came to the technique with back conditions. The reason that Kate and so many other students have benefitted from doing the Bar Method workout is that it was designed with back rehabilitation in mind. Two exercises in particular, “round-back” and “flat-back,” which were reformulated from the Lotte Berk Method original exercises with the help of physical therapists, are highly effective at both rehabbing problem backs and maintaining healthy ones.

What precisely are the benefits of these two exercises?  To get an informed answer I asked four physical therapists, all of whom take the Bar Method – Mary Dellenbach, a PT in Fort Collins, Colorado; Heidi Morton, our consulting PT in Summit, New Jersey; Jayme Anderson, a PT who consults for us in Walnut Creek, California; and Julie Bolanos, who is both a PT and a Bar Method teacher in San Mateo, California.

“Round-back”, says Mary Dellenbach, “assists in proper pelvic alignment” by stretching your hamstrings. “Using your abs while stretching your hamstrings assists in strengthening your core muscles, also key in preventing and relieving back pain.”

Heidi Morton loves “round-back” not only for core strengthening power but also for its ability to align and strengthen knee muscles. As an open chain quadraceps strengthener, in which the feet are off the ground and therefore the body’s weight is not a factor, quad muscles get a chance to work across the knee to evenly contract and lock the quads into place thereby balancing and stabilizing the patella.

Jayme Anderson says that “round-back” helps students learn better use of their abdominals while breathing. “Research is emphasizing the importance of the coordinated interplay between the diaphragm, the pelvic floor muscles and the deep intrinsics, and the abdominal wall. Round-back “happens to be,” she says, “an effective activator not only of the abdominals but also of the pelvic floor.”

Julie Bolanos sees many benefits from “round-back,” among them:
–stretching of the thoraco-lumbar spinal muscles,
–strengthening of the anterior upper extremity muscles, coupled with co-contraction of posterior muscles,
–strengthening abdominals, hip flexors, quadriceps, gastrocnemii, anterior tibialli, and intrinsic foot muscles,
–endurance and stamina,
–pain-relieving for clients with spinal stenosis, and
–alignment of the patello-femoral joint.

(Read more about how The Bar Method works as preventative physical therapy.)

In answer to those of you who wrote me last week asking about “round-back” and “flat-back,” they are core stabilization exercises that are taught only in the Bar Method studio version and not in the home dvds. The reason we can’t offer them to those of you at home is that they require a securely wall-attached bar, a piece of equipment that most home users don’t have access to. In the future we plan to develop a bar for home use that will work for “round-back” and “flat-back.” Meanwhile both the dvd and studio versions of the workout effectively sculpt and elongate your body. The studio version however does so more efficiently for now since it includes “round-back” and “flat-back”.

NEXT WEEK: Physical therapists talk about the benefits of “flat-back.”

Find Bar Method exercise classes at a studio near you.
Sample and buy Bar Method exercise dvds.