Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What I Learned From Spying on Cassie

We're home now after a whirlwind trip to New York City where I spent some quality time at my HAPPY PLACE!!!
Gateway to happiness!!!

I promise I'll stop blogging about Physique 57 soon, but I can't move on to other topics without telling about my latest two classes. I loved them. Dearly. Really, if Physique 57 were a person, I'd marry it.

Speaking of being married, yes--I already am, and must pause for a moment to give a big shout out to the Darling Husband, who dealt with our small people while I hung out with my other lover. A squirrely six-year-old + two-year-old who has not yet learned to heel + stroller + Rockefeller Center + gigantic Christmas tree + tourists + subway = one harried husband. The look on his face once I returned from my classes was harrowing. (It must be what I look like everyday when he comes home from work.)

We flew into the City on two wheels Friday afternoon and I hurried up to Spring Street to take a mixed level with Emily. Oh, these Physique instructors... they're so engaging, you feel like you're besties after just one class.
This is Emily. Her dog likes giraffes. FYI.

Awesome. It was awesome, unsurprisingly. Emily is energetic and cute as a button, as per usual with Physique instructors. I didn't pull out all my Olympic-style-live-class-badassness for this one because the following day I was scheduled for Formula 57, one of Physique's specialty classes. I'm taking a wild guess that Formula is pretty hard considering they "recommend clients take 20 Mixed or Intermediate classes as well as several Mat 57 classes beforehand." So I decided I should pace myself and took 8 pounders as my 'heavy' weights instead of 10s. Then Emily praised someone else for using 10 pounders and I wanted to shout out (like the nerdy tool that I am), "Teacher! I can do 10 pounds, too!" It's ok, though, because a few minutes later she patted me on the head and gave me a cookie for my nice, deep, wide second-position pliĆ©, so that was good. Woof.

However, I ended up having one of my bad sleep nights, clocking barely five hours. That is not good when you're performing in the Olympics, people, so at the last minute I switched from Formula to Mat 57. Not that I expected Mat to be easy. Nothing at Physique is easy, but I figured in Mat I'd at least get to be on the floor a little bit more often. This turned out to be a most serendipitous decision!

The instructor for Mat was Kim, who was the beginner modifier in the Classic Vol. 2 DVD. This means she is like a member of my family because I LOVE that one and have done it 500,000 times. Kim was.... oh my goodness.... awesome. (You knew I was going to say that.) She had another class immediately before that backed right up against ours. That would leave me exhausted and wanting to climb under a rock for having to be so perky and sweet for two hours, but Kim's enthusiasm never let up. She was warm, engaging, energetic--all without being annoying. If I were that perky, you'd want to smack me. I don't know how she did it. I'll have whatever she's having.
This is Kim. She smiles more in real life.

The really fun part of Mat was that Cassie, the beginner modifier from the Classic Vol. 1 DVD was taking the class, too! (Again, love it. Done it 500,000 times, Cassie-like-member-of-family, etc.)
I had never taken a class with a Physique instructor as a fellow student and wow, it was awesome. She was just behind me to the left and I kept watching her in the mirror and craning my neck to see her. Here are a few things I learned:

  • Cassie's movements were very controlled. There was no flailing around to get into position, as I am inclined to do when a class moves as quickly as Mat. Cassie flowed from one move to the next.
  • Barre is famous for small movements--in any barre class, they'll get you into some about-to-be-insanely-painful position and then tell you to move 'up an inch, down an inch.' One of the things I love about Physique is that there are also some gross motor moves thrown into the mix, but you'll still hear a fair bit of 'up an inch, down an inch.' When Kim called out this command, Cassie moved quite literally an inch. It can be tempting to think 'I'll be a badass and move more than an inch, because if one inch is good, two must be better.' No. It isn't.
  • Cassie fully extended her limbs on every move. It was beautiful to watch and it's really the way to get into some of those deeper muscles. I tend to have very tight hamstrings, so I struggle with fully extending my legs on certain exercises. However, I really feel the difference when I try.
  • Cassie is a dancer and watching her do Mat was like watching a dance. I've always wondered why barre studios have this thing about hiring instructors with a background in dance. You really don't need to be a dancer to do barre, but if you kind of treat it like a dance, you get more out of it. I am NOT a dancer. I have never taken a dance class in my life (and it shows) so at first, I felt kind of silly acting like one in a live class, but I'm learning to get over it. This is one of the nice things about getting older--I don't care as much what people think. Just leave me to my pretend Alvin Ailey performance, thank you very much.

I had a lovely little chat with Kim after class (you know, the one who might as well be my sister,) and would have loved to have accosted my other sister Cassie, but she was talking with other people. I'm really kicking myself for not having taken a picture with the two of them (you know, to put in next year's Christmas card) but I was honestly a little disoriented after Mat. Post-barre lalalas + lack of sleep + starstruckness = very foggy brain. I was concentrating mostly on remembering to gather up my belongings (don'tforgetyourshoes, don'tforgetyourshoes, dontforgetyourshoes.) What a missed opportunity. Mom would have loved to see a picture of the kids she never knew she had.

Cassie might read this one day and be really freaked out that someone studied her in class and then blogged about it... I'm sorry, Cassie. Sometimes sisters have complicated relationships. We'll work it out in therapy one day. I'm sure Kim will serve as a great mediator. (She seems like she'd be good at that. I bet she's a middle child.)

The only problem with Physique is that the closest studio is three hours from my home, which is good news for my faithful readers who are done with my studio crush on Physique 57. Next time I'll talk about something else. Maybe I'll finally get to the post about the evils of sitting, which I know I promised you weeks ago, but I had to pause my exhaustive research because I got sucked in to a fascinating book on the Wars of the Roses. Lord, if there were ever people who needed a good marriage and family therapist, it was those Yorks and Lancasters.... maybe they should have called Kim?

PS--if you're interested in Kim's Mat 57 class, there's a great, funny review on Rate Your Burn, which I think is spot-on (love the bit about thinking Kim had been raised on a candy farm in the mid-west. hahaha! Great joke. Wish I'd thought of that.) Mat 57 is similar in format to Physique's Strong and Lean online workout, if like me, you regrettably live three + hours away from a studio.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How I'm Spending my Christmas Vacation

Sweating. At Physique 57! The happiest place on earth!

Well, for me, anyway. I made the next stop on my barre crawl: Physique 57 Scarsdale.

Yup, Physique 57 has made it's way to New York's Westchester County, and coincidentally, good friends of ours just moved there. Prior to Scarsdale, our friends lived just a few blocks from P57's Upper West Side location. I keep trying to get Darling Scarsdale Friend to come with me, but she's not interested. Some people have no appreciation for the awesomeness that's right under their noses.

Anyway, I mentioned something about needing to come back to their house after the class for a shower before we headed to our Christmas destination and DSF said, "Why will you need to shower? Isn't it just a lot of stretching?" Hahahahahahahahaha!!!! <sigh> Uh, no, it is much more than stretching. Maybe it's better she didn't come with me.

The best part of the class is that it was taught by the one and only Tanya Becker. I was so excited to take another class with Tanya, one of Physique 57's founders. You may recall I took one with her back in May, during which she kicked my tail to such a degree that I couldn't walk downstairs for a week. Still, Tanya is such a great instructor, I couldn't wait to get back for more. I had to expend a lot of energy trying not to overwhelm her with my enthusiasm. I'm a little labrador puppy-ish when it comes to taking classes with Tanya.
See? Don't I appear very restrained? And fluffy? Needless to say, it was before class.

Physique 57 starts off classes with what they quaintly call 'the warm-up.' It involves heavier upper body weights, pushups, planks, etc. It's hard, and I was in full sweat by the end... of 'the warm-up.' Tanya instructed us to return our weights to the bins and one of my classmates beheld my sweaty beastliness with a look like this:
Tanya said, "It's ok, Stephanie. I'll turn on the fans for you." I think I have to accept it: I'm a heavy sweat-er.

The whole thing made me wonder about sweat, and why some of us seem to do more of it than others, so I did some research. Here is what I learned:
  • Men tend to sweat more than women. (Well, obviously this doesn't apply to me. Really, I can procure all manner of pork products and fry them up in a pan. I'm all woman.)
  • Sweat is the body's way of cooling off when it becomes overheated. Overweight and obese people sweat more than people at a lower weight because it takes more to cool off heavier bodies. 
  • Apparently, fit people do begin to sweat at a lower temperature, because a fit body runs more efficiently than an unfit one. (Let's go with that explanation.)
But actually, I have another theory--it's my whole 'this is the Olympics' hang up. As I think I've mentioned before, I don't like to leave anything on the table when I take a live class, especially at Physique 57. It's such a treat to get there. I don't want to leave feeling like I could have done more. That, and I really try to maximize 'the warm-up.' I have found that when I push myself in 'the warm-up,' I get much more out of the workout overall. 

By using the heaviest weights I can (with proper form) and giving it my all, I 'stoke my metabolic rate,' as Tanya puts it. For example, when I use 10 pounders instead of 8's, I burn significantly more calories throughout the entire workout. And by significantly, I mean 50-100 calories overall (according to my heart rate monitor.) That's a big chunk, people. I've tested this theory using the DVDs, which means I'm doing exactly the same workout, unlike the classes during which exercises and intensity can vary. 

That's why I kind of chuckle when they call it 'the warm-up.' Really, it's more like 'the blow torch.'

The great thing about Physique 57 instructors is they really push you. (In a nice way, because they care.) They don't just leave you alone if your form is good, they will get the most out of you.

For example, Tanya had us on the floor for ab work toward the end. We were on our backs with our legs up and she had us alternating side-to-side with our arms outstretched. Tanya held her hands up for me to 'high five' her on each lift, which made me reach up just a little bit higher, because of course I couldn't leave Tanya hanging. I was pretty tired at this point, but Tanya showed me what I had left in me, and it was... well... it was something, at least.

Tanya is also seriously funny. She was cracking jokes the whole time which made the hour fly by. I loved every minute of it and can't wait to get back.

The best part: all my training over the last few months paid off. I am proud to say I can successfully negotiate stairs despite a few killer thigh segments yesterday. I can't straighten my arms, but who cares. It's Christmas. As long as I can open presents and lift a wine glass, I'm good.

If you are anywhere near Scarsdale, NY, get thee to Physique 57! Starting in January, they're expanding their class schedule, and the studio is uber-suburban convenient. I hopped right in my car after I got over all the post-barre lalalas. And look!

The temperature was 57 degrees! Freakishly warm for December. Even the weather joined in on the P57 love fest. How about you?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What I Eat


That's what I eat. Sometimes all at once, which isn't such a good thing. Anyway, someone recently asked me about my eats, so I thought I'd give you a brutally honest report.

Before I get started, I want to tell you that I didn't plan this post in advance. It's not like I decided at 5am that today is the day I'm going to record what I eat for posterity, thus making exceptionally wise and healthy food choices that make me appear healthful and disciplined, etc. We keep it real here at the barre.

Ok, here we go.

5.00am, wake up, roll out of bed and turn on coffee pot, which is conveniently located in my closet. Yes, I don't even have to walk downstairs! I believe in coffee. Roll back into bed until I hear the blessed gurgling sound of completed brewing. So, that's one large cup of Peet's with about a 1/4 c. half-and-half. (I like my coffee light and spicy, just like me.)

7am, Breakfast Egg Salad from the Physique 57 book. This involves quinoa, steamed baby kale, a hard boiled egg, olive oil and some avocado added.

11.30am, fix lunch for small people and inhale 2? maybe 3? tablespoons of peanut butter. Now I'm too full for lunch.

1.45pm, eat large salad with organic greens, goat cheese, slivered almonds, avocado and mandarin orange, followed by maybe a quarter cup full-fat Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey.

4.45pm, start making dinner for the small people. Daddy's out of town on business, left this morning. He travels a lot. After a couple of days, we get into a groove, but we're not there yet so I pour myself a glass of sangria, which weakens all resolve. Oh no...

5.15pm, inhale steamed broccoli (maybe organic? I don't know) and an ungodly amount of Dino Bites (definitely not organic... or free-range, but 'made from whole grains,' according to the package. Whatever.)

Check out that list on the left--lots of omega-3, iron, etc. Probably a load of crap, but nice attempt to relieve the cognitive dissonance of feeding your children processed dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.

I know. God didn't intend chicken to come in the shape of dinosaurs. It's unnatural. It's also convenient and the kids like it. When Daddy's away, something has to give. Do I sound defensive? I do. I am.

5.30pm, Small people wanted more Dino Bites than I anticipated, so I'm still hungry. Eat 2? Maybe 3? tablespoons of peanut butter. (In case you can't tell, I eat a lot of peanut butter. If it weren't for nut butters, I'd be a total babe.) With chocolate chips. I continue to munch chips from the bag. A bad idea. I know this. I realize that I'm starting to feel yucky. I put away the chips.

As you see, my diet isn't perfect. But you know what? I don't believe in perfect. I believe in good enough. I'm kind of a recovering perfectionist, so this is progress for me. I used to try to eat 'perfectly.' In fact, I've tried many times to eat 'perfectly,' each time tweaking my definition of 'perfect,' and each time, failing.

So I've given up perfect. Now I try for good enough. Eating healthfully is important, but it isn't paramount. I'm not righteous because of what I eat. Or don't eat. I truly believe this, but at the same time, I struggle. I've ingested, along with Dino Bites, some of the moralistic laws of the food purist culture.

The food purists denounce the factory farms, the pesticides, the genetically-modified foods, etc. There are, of course, variations within the food purist camp, but really, I think the food purists make some decent points. We've seriously messed around with our food supply to a rather alarming degree. There are some real injustices surrounding how food is grown and produced, some of which negatively affect our health, our local economies and our planet.

But the food purists, generally, have a lot of laws. A lot of thou-shalt-nots, and this is where I have a hard time getting on board with them. I think organic, family-run farms, farmer's markets, free-range, etc. is all great. However, when it becomes something to which you shackle yourself, something that binds you to such a degree that don't eat large categories of food, when you can't relax your laws to receive or extend hospitality, I can't get behind that.

We do function best on real, whole foods in their natural state, but we don't need to be enslaved to them. (We also don't need to be enslaved to cookies, but that's another post.) Food is meant to nourish us, to sustain us so we can... well, get on with things. I don't want to go around providing people with a list of all the things I don't eat. (Please note, that's don't eat, not can't eat. There's a difference.) If I'm hungry and Jesus is offering me a fish sandwich, I'm not quibbling over whether or not the fish was wild-caught and rich in omega-3s.

But that's ok. I have Dino Bites for that.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Magazines! Yay!

I went to the hair salon the other day. Such a fun place, mostly because someone washes my hair for me, and I walk out looking way cuter and fluffier than I did when I arrived.

And--there are magazines.
That was me the other day--getting fluffed up in more ways that one.

I like magazines. They're full of colorful images of beautiful things and people. I learn new recipes, new exercises, and juicy tidbits about celebrities (and when I say 'celebrities' I mean people I've never actually heard of because I've been living under a rock called 'motherhood' for the past six years.)

I will delightfully nibble on magazines' sweet and savory delights every six to eight weeks at the hair salon, but I cannot bring myself to consume them any more frequently than that. They, and the advertisements contained therein, do such a wonderful job of showing me all the areas that are wrong with me and my world and how to fix them. They sell me all kinds of products I never knew I needed, expose flaws I never knew I had. Magazines are fun, but I'm going to go out on a limb and call them junk food for the mind. (I'm not talking about periodicals like The Economist, by the way. That's just a soporific--better than Ambien.)

Years ago, when I was young and poor and living in New York City, I consumed a steady diet of magazines. I would be stuck on a subway platform waiting for my train, and lo, there would be a newsstand decked with yummy magazines... or an enterprising homeless person selling last month's issues liberated from local recycle bins. I would inevitably succumb once the crackly voice came over the loudspeaker that the uptown local was experiencing delays. What else was I going to do? Actually chat with a fellow passenger? Please. This is New York.

But all this mental snacking came at a price. I'd look at the glossy images of beautiful people, then gaze at my own and couldn't help but be dissatisfied. I needed to be thinner. I needed better skin. I needed more stylish clothes. I needed fuller hair. There were things inherently wrong with me and my appearance, and this or that periodical promised the remedies--a veritable treasure trove of solutions--all for the low price of $3.95. That's what all the magazines told me, and on some level, I believed them.

One day I decided to start tracking my expenses because my meager paycheck wasn't stretching far enough. I needed to plug whatever leaks I could, so I began writing down every cent that left my wallet. I was fairly shocked to find that I was spending a rather alarming amount on coffee and magazines. So I gave up Starbucks and began a magazine fast.

Over the course of a very few short weeks, I found I really didn't miss them. In fact, my life was far richer without them. I was much more content--with my looks, my little fifth-floor walk-up studio, my singleness and my means. I didn't look at myself in the mirror with such a critical eye. I didn't bemoan why can't I meet a decent guy? (Turns out he was living down the street--who knew?) I didn't look at my closet full of clothes with dissatisfaction, or at least, not as much as I had before. Life without magazines was quite remarkably pleasant.

Of course, in stirring up discontentment, magazines are really just doing their job--they're trying to sell things. I can dig it. We all have to make a living. The problem is when they try to sell things that are completely unattainable.

For example, a few weeks ago, I was in the supermarket check-out line and saw this magazine cover:

The headline that stuck out for me was 'Get Legs like These!' PLEASE. People. I don't care what magic exercise they feature, I will never have legs like hers. Why? Because they're HERS. This model and I are two totally different people. Why on earth would my legs be like hers? It's absurd. Yet on some level, we internalize these messages. Magazines publish headlines like these because they work. They make a careful study of what sells, and headlines like 'Drop Two Sizes!' 'Mind-Blowing Sex!' and 'Get Legs Like These!' get the job done. They also use a lot of exclamation points! Maybe I should start using more exclamation points?! Yay!!

Really, if this model has fabulous legs, good for her. The problem is, I really don't believe this model's legs look like that in real life. Those legs have been airbrushed, at least. At worst, they've been lengthened and slimmed using artificial means. Take a minute to watch the following:

Yes, they actually lengthened her limbs and cut away at bits of her body to make her appear slimmer, not to mention readjusting her eyes and messing with her skin. I don't mean to suggest that every magazine is guilty of this extreme level of deception, but the technology is there. It's possible, and I'm inclined to believe they use it more than we realize.

As fun as magazines are, take your psychological pulse after perusing a few. Do you feel a greater degree of dissatisfaction with your appearance? With your life? Then please, consider a magazine fast. It doesn't mean you have to give them up forever. I'm happy to say I can now enjoy the delicious nibble on a can of mental Pringles without discontentment seeping in, but it was not always so, and it took going cold turkey to realize it.

I did thoroughly enjoy my little outing the other day. I learned how to better organize my closets, a few more uses for quinoa, and that Elizabeth Taylor once melted a sweater with an iron. I'd say that was time well spent, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Deep Thoughts... and Push-Ups

I can tell from page views that my faithful readers aren't super keen on hearing all the gory details of my trips to Core Fusion, but I do need to brief you (briefly) on my last visit, during which I took the Core Fusion Sport class at the Boston Battery Wharf location, and after which I will reveal all my deep thoughts. I know, you're excited.

First of all, Battery Wharf!!!
It was a palace! The Back Bay studio is very small (and no wonder, since it is in the major high-rent district--it's neighbor is Hermes, need I say more?) and the 'changing' rooms are two very small toilet stalls. Battery Wharf, on the other hand, has a HUGE locker room that might just be bigger than my house. It features digital lockers, robes, slippers, showers, a sauna, hammam and a 'quiet lounge' that was all dark and lalala... the perfect place to hide from my small people. Oh yeah, and even the sinks had very yummy smelling hand soap. I'd go back to Battery Wharf to wash my hands alone.

I was scheduled for Sport this time, the last of the non-yoga standard CF classes I had been itching to try. After my experience with Bootcamp, I'll admit I was pretty scared the week leading up to Sport. Bootcamp, you may recall, seriously kicked my booty. I'm not exactly Zena Warrior Princess, but I can usually get through a class reasonably well enough, but Bootcamp had me retreating into child's pose more often than I'd care to admit.

I was so apprehensive about Sport that I was even tempted to put it off another week, but at the last minute, I realized I needed to put on my big girl undies and just have fun with it. I like exercise. I don't need to pretend every live class is the Olympics. (That's deep thought #1.)

After oohing and aahhing over the locker room, I walked into the studio and asked a very friendly classmate what equipment to take. She said a medicine ball, a resistance band and 'lots of towels. We sweat a lot!' I have found my people!

Then I asked my friendly neighbor how Sport stacks up to Bootcamp in terms of difficulty. She immediately asked with whom I had taken Bootcamp. "Meg," I responded. "Oh, Meg's Bootcamp is notoriously difficult. You started at the top!" That made me feel a little better. She then tells me that Sport was designed to be a hybrid of Cardio and Bootcamp. Since I got through Cardio, she suspects I'll get through Sport just fine.

And she was right. Sport was very challenging, but fun! I had a great time. Just like the Mother Abbess tells Maria in The Sound of Music, you can't run away from your fears--you have to face them. You have to climb every mountain, ford every stream, etc. (That's deep thought #2.)

I learned a lot from my humiliation experience at Core Fusion, and Bootcamp in particular. One of the great things about challenge is that it reveals our weakness--pressure reveals the cracks, then we can do something about it. (Deep thought #3)

First of all, I have terrible balance. I used to be able to do balance poses reasonably well, but since I had a C-section with Darling Son #2, my core strength has been an issue. Motherhood is sacrifice, people. (#4)

Secondly, I need to work on upper body strength. As long as I was on my feet, I was fine. Put me into plank, and that's when all the trouble started, so I'm embarking on a push-up challenge.

Push-ups are an amazing exercise that, if done correctly, really engage your entire body. Bracing your core and your thighs during push-ups makes them more effective and safer. Yes, push-ups are hard and you can start out on your knees, but really, if you want to progress to full-form push-ups you have to, well, just do full-form pushups. Based on my experience and exhaustive internet researchtm, push-ups from the knees do not really help you progress to push-ups from the toes.

If working up to full-form push-ups is your goal, start out doing push-ups on an incline, then lower the incline as you get stronger, until you can work right on the floor. You can start out against a wall, progress to a countertop, then a stair, etc. Here's an example:
I don't recommend using a 6-year-old as resistance.... or wearing a dinosaur hat. 
Interestingly, I also read a post on Burr Leonard's blog that featured a little blurb on push-ups. You may recall Burr from my last post (during which I recommended her blog, not her DVDs.) Burr suggests getting into plank and doing very shallow push-ups--just moving up and down an inch. Burr says this works the smaller postural muscles, like the serratus anterior among others, and allows you to engage every push-up muscle 'without killing yourself.' People will exalted knowledge feel free to chime in, but really, I like not killing myself, so this might be a good option. Though I will say there is something very satisfying about doing a deep push-up. You feel like G.I. Jane. She was a badass.
But could she do it with a six-year-old on her back? In a dinosaur hat? (#5) 
That we'll never know.
Well. I think that's enough deep thoughts for the day. Ponder all these things in you hearts, my faithful readers. Next time I'm going to talk to you about sitting.
I know, you're excited.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Not All Barre is Created Equal: My 10 Best Barre DVDs

I've been getting emails from readers wanting to know about barre DVDs, which are my faves, which ones I didn't like, which are the 'best,' etc. So I've compiled a list.

I should start out by telling you that, in my experience, there are two kinds of barre lovers: the ones who like it a little faster-paced, a little peppier with some cardio effect, and those who prefer a slower, calmer, more meditative workout. Both can be wicked hard and very effective, it's really just a matter of taste. I'll come clean and tell you that I am a member of the former camp and my list reflects that. I like my barre with a kick... sometimes literally. The slower, tiny movement, mind-body type of barre usually doesn't keep my interest, but that's just me. You might have to go on a few barre crawls to find your favorite watering hole.

Alright, with disclaimers out of the way, here we go:

1 & 2 Physique 57 Classic 57 Minute Vols. 1 & 2.  I really can't decide between these two. As I told someone in an email, choosing my favorite would be like asking me which of my children I love more. Can't do it. Love them both. I definitely find Vol. 2 to be a little more cardiovascular, and it features one of my favorite lower body floor exercises of all time: the hairpin.
You lie on your side in an L-shape and lift the top leg in various ways so as to cause a fabulous burning sensation in the saddlebag region. Ahhh.... love it.

On the other hand, Vol. 1 has a great upper body section that really fires you up from the beginning... and it has the dreaded pretzel move, which is another great bum burner.
I suppose if you were to go all Sophie's Choice on me and force me to make a decision, I might have to say Vol. 2, but I'll probably have to see a therapist for a while and I'm sending you the bill.

Cons: One of the things I love about Physique 57 is that they use heavier weights than most barre workouts. Not that the other barre people don't seriously hurt you with those 3 pounders, but I think it's good to go a little heavier from time to time. Still, I find I like to supplement with a little more upper body work, and while they recommend two sets of weights, I usually use three sets because my biceps and my lats can't be sufficiently challenged by the same 'heavy' weight. (Lats are a bigger muscle and need heavier weights than biceps.)

P57 Classic 1 & 2 are led by Tanya Becker, whom I adore. I find her very funny, and I can tell you that she is particularly motivating in a live-class setting. Personally, I appreciate it when I'm struggling through a tough seat exercise and Tanya tells me it's 'a party for my bottom.' Others find Tanya's exuberance to be a bit... shall we say, overwhelming? Also, there's a fair bit of how-sexy-you're-going-to-look talk and I really don't like that. I can tune it out for myself, but I really don't like the small people hearing all of that. I want them to know the many benefits of exercise that have nothing to do with daddy wanting to grab mommy's bum. (Not that she says that in the videos, but I'll just say it's a natural by-product of the workout.) So, FYI.

3. Physique 57 Thigh and Seat Booster
Oh Lord. Have mercy. If this workout doesn't completely slay you, you aren't doing it right. Shelley Knight hurts you so good in this one that clocks in at 30 minutes. Your heart is pumping, your legs are burning, it's a doozy, but in that crazy Physique 57 fashion, you're actually kind of enjoying yourself at the same time. The only reason this one isn't #1 is that it isn't total body. There is a little bit of upper body work in the beginning (a few pushups), but it's 90% well.... thigh and seat. duh.

Cons: Hmmm... let me think.... Shelley is very chatty and talks a mile a minute. Again, I don't mind this, but some people might. Oh yeah, and Shelley tells you that you can eat whatever you want for dinner, which is a lie. I've mentioned this before so I won't beat a dead horse.

4. Ballet Physique Amped Up.
This one is a great little gem out of a boutique studio in Colorado. I love the Ballet Physiques so much I'm going to give them their own post soon. It runs about 50 minutes and it's a great one. There are some really creative moves and Amped Up has an awesome floor seat section. LOVE IT. Also, it uses some heavier weights (and when I talk about 'heavier' weights when referring to barre, I mean 8-10 pounders. You can leave the really big boys in the rack, if you're that kind of lifter.)

Cons: No cons. I love this workout. I mean, I still have two Physique 57s farther down on the list, so if you can top anything by P57, you're a keeper in my book.

5. Ballet Physique Signature Sculpt
This is the sister video to Amped Up. I did it at 8.30 last night because I had a craving for it. It's kind of long, a little over an hour, but it's worth it because it really leaves no muscle unshaken. It uses one set of light weights and includes an awesome standing seat section.

Cons: it's a little on the long side. Not that it's really a con, exactly, just more of an FYI.

6. Physique 57 Advanced Express 30 Minute
It's hard, but it's short. Tanya really puts you through your paces. It's great when you have some energy to burn but don't have a lot of time. Honestly, the only reason this and the other Express are on the second half of the list is because they're short and I finish wanting more, more, more! Of course, short is the point. We don't always have a full hour, so it was kind of Tanya to give us something shorter. Here I am being so ungrateful about it. I'm sorry, Tanya. I'm very thankful for Express.

Cons: None that I can think of.

7. Ballet Body Upper Body.
This is one of Leah Sarago's Ballet Body DVDs. Leah also has a couple of other DVDs that are kind of yoga-ish and about a hundred thousand downloads. Upper Body is a super creative and *uber* challenging 45ish minute workout that involves a lot of interesting moves in plank and some very fluid light weight work. Leah will HURT you. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Cons: So, so, so much plank. I mean really, you feel like you're never going to get up off the floor and you're going to live for the rest of your life in plank. Consequently, I found it very strenuous on my wrists. You can modify by doing the exercises on your forearms, and I would strongly recommend this your first time through. Leah promises your wrists will get stronger, and she's right, but even holding a book the day after I first slogged through Upper Body was painful. I need to haul small people in and out of car seats, so this was a problem for me. Also, it's a little dry, but the music is good.

8. Ballet Body Total Body.
Another one of Leah's. This is the only one of the four in the set in which Leah is instructing directly. The other three (Upper Body, Core and Lower Body) are all voice-over. I really prefer direct instruction. Leah is a great instructor and provides excellent cueing either way, but I find voice-overs to be a little stiff. Total Body includes three 20-minute segments of upper body, core and lower body, so it's a nice introduction to Leah and a great way to get your feet wet without committing to the other three longer and more grueling parts-specific workouts.

Cons: The production quality isn't the best. The sound is a little echo-y, but I found I was able to get over that. And the set is just big and white. Again, not a deal-breaker, but leaves me a little 'meh.' I can get over it, though. It's a good workout.

9. Physique 57 Express 30 Minute
Another from Tanya. Both the Express workouts are awesome because they require very little equipment--just a playground ball, a mat and a barre or other support (a heavy chair works fine.) Therefore, they make great travel workouts. You can even substitute a throw pillow for a ball if you need to, but having one is nice. I actually have a little ball that someone gave to Darling Son #1 that I use for travel. It inflates with a straw and deflates easily. I've co-opted it as my travel ball. I gave him life; he can give me a ball.

Cons: No cons. Awesome.

10. Pure Barre, the original with Pure Bare founder Carrie Rezabek Dorr.
This is the first of many DVDs by PB, and it's actually the only one I've done. (I entered a contest to win Studio Series, the latest ones. If I win, I'll let you know what I think.) I like it, it's a good workout that hits everything, especially a fine floor seat section. Though I couldn't find it with any of the usual sellers... I'm actually wondering if it might be out-of-print?

Cons: The production quality isn't the best. The set is dark and Carrie is wearing a black outfit, so it can be hard to see the moves.

Barre DVDs I tried and particularly didn't like:

Pop Physique: a Southern California studio that put out three DVDs last year. They were fine, I just couldn't warm up to them. Their style is very young and trendy... maybe I'm just too old? Or too from New England? They also shouted a lot. I don't like shouters.

The Bar Method: Designer Sculpting and Fat Free led by Bar Method founder Burr Leonard were the first barre DVDs I tried and they nearly completely soured me to barre. Burr is an institution in the barre world and is a great instructor, but they were so slow, I nearly fell asleep. Burr does a great job setting you up, but then says, 'Ok.... Are you ready? We're going to start now.... Let's go!' This leaves me yelling, 'For the love of God and all that is holy, would you get on with it, please?? Nap time is FINITE and PRECIOUS.' So no, as much as I respect Burr and highly recommend her blog, I just can't get into the DVDs.

Fluidity: I have the accompanying barre, which is a tank and is awesome because you can really simulate the moves you'd do in a class with a wall-mounted barre. I don't like the videos, though. The music is atrocious, plays continuously on loop and the instructor says the word 'pubis' far too often.

The New York City Ballet Workout. Boring. Totally ineffective. Watching the dancers is lovely, but really, I'd rather just pop popcorn and watch the dancers. I think I'd get about as much useful exercise lifting the popcorn to my mouth as I did doing this DVD.

Cardio Barre: I know, it sounds good, doesn't it? But it's not. Basically, it's a barre workout on speed. It goes so fast it's difficult to maintain any sort of decent form. I just felt like I was flailing around, which is not what barre is all about.

These days there are hundreds of barre DVDs out there. I certainly haven't tried them all. I feel like I've found my people and unless something really special comes across my radar screen, I stick to what I know. As a result, this is by no means an exhaustive list. I'm sure there are more, but I just need to put this epic post to bed. Feel free to add suggestions or ask questions below. Happy shaking!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In It to Win It

I've started entering contests. Barre studios, fitness-related businesses, blogs more famous than mine, they have contests. I've typically not bothered because really, I never win anything, so why try? But of course, if you don't try, you're guaranteed never to win anything. So I'm trying.

Usually these contests involve sharing something on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. You know, you promote them, they reward you with the lure of free stuff. Well, I'll play the game. I need to find a way to support my habit, so sure, I'll retweet something for ya.

Here's what I'm in the running for at the moment:

  • Two months of unlimited classes at my local Pure Barre. (Can you see the drool? Yes, that's drool, not sweat.)

  • Five free classes at Physique 57 and a portable ballet barre. (Oh please. How fun would this be?? I'm driving through NYC at Christmas time. If I win this, Darling Husband is going to actually have to buy me a Christmas present.)

  • A bag of treats from The Ballet Physique, a boutique studio in Colorado that put out a couple of fine barre DVDs last year. I'll review them one of these days. I'm hoping I'll win and get some cute BP grippy socks. Surely a bag of treats from a barre studio would include grippy socks?

A lot of these contests are just luck-of-the-draw, which means I can't rely on my wit and charm. Though some of the contests have required some degree of effort. For the Physique 57 contest, I had to take a picture of myself doing one of their moves during my Thanksgiving travels. I dragged the boys downtown to the Public Garden and made them kneel down on the cold, hard ground by the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture. It was quite literally freezing and they were thoroughly confused as to why we were kneeling and cheering by the ducks. "We're trying to win a contest! Yay!" Darling Son #1 loves winning, so he was in. Darling Son #2 was just along for the ride.

 They're good sports, my boys.
In the past I never would have entered contests because I just didn't air my workout for everyone to see. I was a workout-behind-closed-doors-with-the-shades-drawn type of person. I was afraid I'd look stupid or people would make fun of me. I was afraid, and it just wasn't my schtick to be really out there about my workouts. Or other things, for that matter. You have to remember I'm not from the generation that tells the world what I'm having for breakfast, what I just bought on Amazon or see how long my toenails have gotten? Here's a picture on Instagram!

And that brings me to the hardest part of this contest entry--Instagram. I had to figure out how to set it up and post pictures and what on earth does the hashtag do?? I still don't know, but I did it and now I'm on Instagram. #howcoolamI? (You can follow me @momsatthebarre. Or on twitter @stephaniehsiang.)

So now my blog is two months old. If the blog were a person, it would lift it's head off the blanket for a few seconds and plunk it back down again, but I've learned a lot in the past two months. Honestly, it can be hard to put yourself out there. I push 'publish' and have a little panicky moment... what if people think it's stupid? What if it's not funny? What if it's funny when it really shouldn't be? What if people see that picture of me and wonder why, with all the exercise I do, are my thighs not thinner? And so on. And so forth, etc.

But really, I'd say the blog has been worth the trouble so far. Even if no one reads it, or finds it helpful, or funny. Because I've realized there are sort of two kinds of people. There are those who go out and do things, and there are those who sit on the sidelines and whine about never winning anything. I've often been among the latter, but with my blog, I'm entering the world of the former. It's just my little blog, but I'm doing something, my own little thing that's fun and entertaining for me. And I'm entering contests, not to mention the 21st century of social media.

Ever since the frozen ducks photo shoot, Darling Son #1 periodically asks, "Did you win?" You know what? I just received some happy news! I didn't win the Physique 57 grand prize. (The winner got her whole family in the mix, including her husband who I'll admit had a very funny look on his face. I should have made DH get down with the ducks.) But they liked my picture so much they're giving me a prize, too! I'm getting a portable ballet barre! I actually already have a ballet barre, but that's ok. The point is I entered! And I even won something! From my happiest place on earth! Yay! 

What about you? Are you a sideliner? Or are you playing the game? Winning has turned me into such a deep thinker...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Core Fusion Revisted

Greetings, faithful readers! I'm back after embarking on my special 3-for-the-price-of-1 deal at Core Fusion. I did Cardio and Bootcamp this weekend, and I'm scheduled for Sport on Saturday. I was going to wait and review them all at once, but I could write a book on one of them alone, so I think I'd better just get started.


I arrived at the Back Bay studio bright and early for this heart pumping little gem. I'm not going to lie, I was a little scared. Fear of the unknown and all that. I asked a classmate for suggestions on what weights I should take. She kind of hemmed and hawed... she takes 4lbs., but she's been coming for a while. I'm a first-timer, so she suggested 3lbs., or maybe even 2. There were lots of weights in the bins, so I took 2s, 3s, and 4s. I'm here to push myself, people.

I found myself a spot... which was weirdly the same spot I had when I took the barre class at CF back in July. Why do we instinctively go back to the same spot? Has anyone scholarly studied this? I didn't even really like that spot back then because it wasn't near a mirror. It's nice to be near a mirror to check form, but I stayed put because a.) I had a good view of the instructor, and b.) it was in the back. I figured if I was totally out of my element, at least I'd be in the back.

The class started filling up, so I checked out how all the veterans were placing their equipment. First I arranged them artfully thus:

Then I noticed some people were placing theirs beside the mats like this:
Or how about this?
Ok, could we please start the class and put me out of my obsessive weight-arranging misery?

It was a lot of mountain climbers, some lunges and squats with upper body weights and finished with abs and stretch. I found it challenging, but doable. My heart rate was very elevated throughout the whole class, which was a little disappointing. I wish it had been planned as a high-intensity interval format, rather than high-intensity steady state. HIIT is proven to be more effective than steady-state, and in my opinion, the intervals make it more interesting. I did find myself watching the clock every now and again.

How did I feel afterwards? Invigorated! Not quite the same feeling as the post-barre lalalas, but good none the less.

Oh yeah, and the weights? I used the 4 pounders. I'm a badass.


I can't say I was feeling quite as scared of boot camp. I figured I got through Cardio just fine, so really, what was all the feeling scared about? I'm in pretty good shape. I can do boot camp.

I drove downtown with Darling Husband and the small people. They all went to the Children's Museum while I walked over to the Back Bay studio. Ah, the bliss of walking all by myself.... really, it's the little things in life.

I got to the studio, grabbed my mat and staked my claim over in the front corner--mirrors all around. I was all set to enjoy watching myself be a boot camp badass.

The instructor was Meg, and she was super. She came right over to me and introduced herself and asked me if I had any injuries or issues she needed to be aware of. I love it when instructors do that kind of thing. That's why a live class is so awesome. She was super nice, offered me some modification options and made sure I had the equipment I needed. A+ for Meg.

Here are the required toys:

Yay! Class is about to start! Prepare to see badass in action! In lots of mirrors! Meg started us off with a brief warm-up, then we headed into multiple sets of mountain climbers, burpees, pushups, plyometric jumps, kickboxing-esque moves with weights and then all kinds of horrible things with those medicine balls. Including planks and pushups on the ball, which hurt my hands. That's why I didn't use the ball. Yeah, because my hands hurt.

Apparently I picked the badass corner because they were all around me. And not sweating. Why aren't people sweating? Are you kidding me? I'm a beet red sweaty beast, and my neighbor, who is beautiful, by the way, is not sweating. At all. Neither is the major badass behind me to the right. Beautiful Neighbor is looking at me every once in a while, probably wondering when is the right time to call the paramedics, yet she sweats nary a drop.

I know, I shouldn't compare. Compare = despair. Comparison is the thief of joy, etc. All true. But I can't help it. And I can't help telling you about it. We keep it real here at the barre. I finally look at the back row, which I can easily see through all the mirrors at my disposal. They're sweating. I feel better.

Actually, I really don't know why all the badasses were in my corner, because it turned out to be a pretty crappy spot. That's the main thing I don't like about the Back Bay studio--the room is very small and it's an odd shape. I don't know that you can be near a mirror and see the instructor at all well. Even though Meg provided excellent verbal cues, I'm a visual learner. It really helps me to see someone doing the moves, especially when I'm tired. I find it hard to concentrate on the cues when I'm that tired. Although, with all the sweat in my eyes, I was finding it hard to see anything at all.

So, yeah, it was wicked hard. Wicked. Hard. I couldn't even do it all. Towards the end I was modifying a lot and I actually found myself wishing I were at the Children's Museum at one point. That's saying a lot, since while the Children's Museum is a small person's paradise, it's not so much fun for the big people.

Finally, Meg tells us to get on the floor. Yay! We get to do abs! We get to be on the floor in some position other than plank! My old roommate Becky used to say she loved doing crunches because at least she got to lie down. I'm kind of with her on that now. You know it's bad, though, if I'm excited to do abs. I don't really like working my abs because they're weak and it hurts. But really, after the Boot Camp Amongst the Badasses, I'm actually kind of excited.

At last, the whole thing ends and we all return our toys to the toy box and schlump out of the studio. I thank Meg on the way out and tell her she kicked my tail. She says, "You did great!" She's lying, but I appreciate the sentiment.

How did I feel afterwards? Humbled. I climb into the car and Darling Son #1 says, "Did you win?" Umm, no, I definitely did not win, but I tried, and that's what counts.

Would I take it again? Of course. What a question...

Core Fusion Sport is on tap for this weekend. I'm excited (and by 'excited' I mean scared,) mostly because it will be at the Boston Battery Wharf location and I've never been there before. Back Bay is a little more convenient for me, but let's face it, the whole thing is a schelp so what's a little more schlepping? I'm hoping the studio is a little more able-to-see-the-instructor friendly, but we'll see... literally, I hope.

If you're interested in these classes but don't live near an exhale Core Fusion location, there are Cardio and Bootcamp DVDs. My cardio class was similar to the DVD, but I'd say the class was much harder, which is typical (I almost always find live classes harder than DVDs.) I've never done the Bootcamp DVD, but I might have to try it now. I need to prepare for my next attempt at badassness.