A couple months ago, I started looking for a new kind of exercise.

I wanted something that would strengthen my core, tighten me up, and complement my regular regimen of trail running, mountain biking and hiking. Over the summer, I attended a few Barre3 classes — which I loved. They were a fun and interesting combination of yoga, Pilates and ballet moves set to music, and I left the sunny studio (in Corvallis, Oregon) sore, tired and feeling like I'd had a great workout. I was in the process of moving down to Berkeley, California, and since there weren't any Barre3 studios, I checked out The Bar Method

A month (and 10 classes) later, my body has been transformed — or at least, it's beginning to! I have never seen results this good in such a short amount of time, and I've done other exercises intensively. Pilates made my core feel strong, but not much more. Yoga (so much yoga), which is great for the mind and flexibility, didn't change my body one whit. Spinning helped me drop a few pounds and upped my cardio capacity, but it didn't change my body shape much. Personal training probably comes closest to Bar in terms of reshaping body parts with muscle. Unfortunately, I don't make enough money to be able to justify a regular trainer. 

But these Bar Method classes are a whole different ball game, wholly unlike anything I've done before. They have promised to reshape me, and it feels as though they truly are — and reshaping me in the way I have been looking for. I can get big muscles when I do strength training (not all women do, but I have that kind of body). As described by several students who had been lifting weights and doing other kinds of muscle-building exercises, Bar Method eventually debulks the body, creating long, lean muscles, which I didn't know how to get other than swimming. I'm getting to be both strong and lean, with a powerful core and better posture. 

The "method" here is in the combination and timing of a series of movements, which always includes the following categories: arm, thigh, seat (butt), rounded back, curl, back dancing and a final stretch. Within each of those categories though, the teachers mix up the movements, so while you're always hitting those main topic areas, what you do during each class changes except for a few always-repeated warm-ups and stretches. 

Bar Method is an outgrowth of the famous Lotte Berk Method. Lotte Berk was a dancer who fled the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s and later put together a routine to help rehab her back. Berk opened her own studio in London in 1959 and began teaching. In 1971, a student of hers brought the technique to New York City and in 1981, Burr Leonard, who founded Bar Method, took her first class there. Leonard went on to open studios in Connecticut in the '90s and refined the older method with the help of physical therapists to make the movements safer and more effective. Leonard and her husband then opened studios in California under a new name, The Bar Method, in 2001. 

There are other barre classes besides the Bar Method, and they all seem to use a ballet barre and take inspiration from the dance world, though specific exercises vary. But what they seem to have in common is that they are all strength-training classes in which you use your own body weight, focus on creating long, lean muscles, and are injury-averse. Both Barre3 classes and Bar Method have been incredibly careful about placement and posture to keep injuries at a minimum, which I appreciate. There's nothing worse than getting into good shape and then hurting yourself so you lose all that progress. 

Bar Method is low-impact enough so that people at all levels can start. There are several very pregnant women in my classes, which is totally impressive to me (I can't even imagine doing the exercises with an extra 20 pounds of baby) but it's also evidence that the work is do-able for many different body types.

Yes, there are modifications available, but because the movements are small and specific, oftentimes you're just moving an inch — but it's the most difficult inch! You can do Bar Method at seemingly any age — there are many women in their 50s and 60s in my classes, as well as college students — and you can also do the classes if you have injuries or other issues. 

But results don't come easy; this is also the most challenging workout I've ever done. When you're doing the exercises properly, you are regularly getting the shakes in your muscles, yet you keep going — which is hard, so very hard! The Bar Method requires serious focus, dedication to doing the movements precisely and listening closely to the instructions. Teachers are rigorous about fixing your position and posture, and they all seem very well-trained (unlike the huge variety of yoga teachers I have taken classes from), keeping in mind both your limitations and pushing you to do a little more. 

I'm in my second month of these challenging, body-shaping classes, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.