It’s 5:30 on a Monday morning, and a few dozen tank top and leggings-clad women are about to kick off the week not with a bang, but a shake.
I’m one of them, having finally found the motivation to check out Fresno’s Bar Method studio after a running injury has left me out of the running, so to speak.
Usually, if I’m up before dawn it’s to knock out 800-meter repeats on the track or run the hills at Woodward Park.
Today I’m sitting on the carpeted floor of an upscale fitness studio, awaiting further instructions.
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At our instructor’s cue, everyone gets up and begins marching in place, lifting their knees high. (Later, I will come to recognize this as the traditional warmup.)
From there, we’re put through an hour of low-impact yet challenging moves: arm work with light weights, to shape the arms and strengthen arm and back muscles; pushups; thigh and seat work at the ballet barre; ab work; something intriguingly called “back dancing”; and — finally — a final stretch.
Nothing I do in the hour is overly difficult, but I am surprised by the way every move works each targeted area to the point of exhaustion.
My form is admittedly not great — when given the option to do the more advanced splits during the hamstring stretch, I opt for the very modified version — but the instructor gently intervenes with verbal and hands-on corrections.
The personal attention is something I’ve found lacking in some of the gym-based yoga and cardio classes I’ve taken. I’m not sweating at the end of class but I feel things. Muscles I haven’t paid attention to in ages are making their presence known. I sign up for another class.
This, I think, must be the secret to The Bar Method’s growing popularity. Beginning with one studio in San Francisco in 2001, the brand has spread to 25 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada.
Jennifer Hoekstra, owner of The Bar Method Fresno, was so taken with the workout while living in Southern California that she decided to open her own studio upon moving to Fresno.
Now, with the nearly-three-year-old studio at Herndon and Palm avenues “bursting at the seams,” she’s preparing to open a second area location in Clovis. The new studio will open on May 16 in the Dicks Sporting Goods shopping center at Clovis and Herndon avenues. The address is 1295 Herndon Ave., Suite 101.
“I felt strongly that Fresno needed this unique experience,” Hoekstra said.
And it is an experience. Though The Bar Method borrows from dance-based training, it’s not dancing. The workout has its roots in The Berk Method, a dance conditioning technique developed by German dancer Lotte Berk in the 1940s.
The exercises, which The Bar Method founder Burr Leonard developed under the guidance of a physical therapist, are designed to tone, slim and elongate the muscles.
“It works by targeting problem areas, improving posture and safely strengthening and slimming down muscles,” said Hoekstra.
Along with the exercises specific to The Bar Method comes specific terminology.
Trained instructors — who have completed a lengthy certification process — frequently tell their students to “grip” and “tuck” their seats.
I learn not to be alarmed when I find my quads vibrating uncontrollably during a series of wide second-position squats performed on releve — the “shake” is a good thing.
“Pretzel,” “waterski” and “the zinger” are all names of different exercises. I learn to identify risers, mini mats and balls, some of the props used in a typical workout. And “back dancing?” That’s the grand finale before the final cool-down stretch, a series of lower body lifts and tucks performed to upbeat music.
The Bar Method Fresno and Clovis studios offer four different classes for various experience levels.
No prior experience is necessary to enroll in a Level 1 or Mixed Level class, but one must take a minimum number of classes in either of those categories to qualify to take the advanced Level 2 class.
After completing 40 classes and a minimum of 10 Level 2 classes, students can register for the faster-paced Bar Move classes. Class schedules for the Clovis studio are now online at www.fresno.barmethod.com.
I’m a long way from even thinking about registering for those Bar Move classes. The Mixed Level class is enough of a challenge. But after four weeks, my chronically tight runner’s muscles are beginning to relax a bit.
I’m even a tiny bit closer to eventually doing a split — something I never envisioned my body doing.
The progression, according to Hoekstra, is an important part of The Bar Method experience.
“The most challenging part of these classes,” she said, “is to free your mind of life’s stressors and challenge yourself at the barre. Though challenging, it’s refreshing to pleasantly surprise yourself each time.”
The Bar Method Clovis
1295 Herndon Ave., Suite 101
Visit http://bit.ly/1ScxQcR for a pre-opening new client special.