Monday, February 24, 2014

Barre Crawl: The Dailey Method!

We just returned from a week in sunny San Diego, California. Doesn't that sound nice? Yes, it was. The weather was beautiful. We stayed with a fun friend, went to Sea World, Legoland, the Safari Park... We Instagrammed photos like this:

And this:

But really, we spent most of our time doing this:

Watching Bob the Builder in our pj's as early as 2.30am. Flying west with early-rising east-coast small people is not very restful, but we had miles to use. We wanted to go someplace warm. We love our friend. It all seemed like a good idea at the time.

I mention this because I was kind of a basket case during the first few days of our trip. Not enough sleep + sightseeing + eating my weight in chocolate - my usual daily barre workout = a very creaky and cranky Mommy.

So it was with great joy that I skulked like Quasimodo into The Dailey Method's San Diego studio bright and early Tuesday morning! I was very excited to try TDM, ever since I watched this video:
I love this. Mostly because I've actually made people feel my thighs before.

Plus, first class was only ten bucks! Barre-gain!

Anyway, The Dailey Method was founded by Jill Dailey, a kinesiologist. Unsurprisingly, TDM is very alignment-focused. It's one of the barre brands that really prides itself on being uber-safe. Honestly, I've done lots of barre and have found pretty much all of it to be very therapeutic. I've never taken a class that has been bothersome for me, but for anyone with specific issues, TDM might be a good choice.

And--TDM has childcare! The San Diego studio offers it a few days a week and it's very affordable--only $5 per class, and there are deals to get it even cheaper. For this, may God bless them and keep them and make his face to shine upon them and give them peace. Amen.

My instructor was Ashley, and she was terrific. She cued really well, and led us in an oh-my-good-grief-I-could-barely-get-through-it seat section. Really. I could hardly do it. Wow.

TDM isn't quite party-in-a-box like Physique 57, but it was a super class with lots of stretching. You know how I feel about stretching. I felt like Gumby when it was over. In fact, I had unbelievable lalalas after this class. The crappier you feel when you go in, the better you feel when you go out. Words to live by.

I would have loved to have taken more classes at The Dailey Method, but I'm part of a family and the world doesn't revolve around me. This is what I tell my small people and I have to practice what I preach. Still, we made time for another really amazing class that I'll tell you about next time!

In the meantime, check out The Dailey Method. They have 53 locations around the world--mostly the west coast of the US, as well as studios in Canada, Mexico and Paris! So for all my Euro-readers, there's something for you. There are also a couple of videos, which I haven't tried, but I've heard good things about them. They're available on download and DVD!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Barre is Great Exercise for Mothers... and Others!

My sister-in-law was just safely delivered of a little baby girl! I'm an auntie again! There is another wee one for me to love and watch grow up, yet I won't have to potty train her! Being an aunt is great!

This blessed event has caused the Darling Husband and I to reflect on the days following our boys' births. The joy... the exhaustion... and the terror of you're-not-actually-going-to-send-him-home-with-us?? Darling Son #2's birth was particularly exciting. There were some significant complications that led to his delivery via vertical C-section, which is more invasive than the usual kind. It was absolutely the right decision. I shudder at how he impaired he would be if he had gone through the birth canal... but basically, the doctor filleted me to get him out safely, and I still feel the effects of it.
Two days old in the NICU.

Overnight I went from having a very strong abdominal wall to no core strength. For a long time after I couldn't sit up without pulling myself forward with my arms, which caused shoulder and upper back pain. My hip flexors took over some of the jobs my abs should have been doing. After a while, I couldn't get out of a chair without searing pain in my hip.

My boy continued to grow, consistently scratching the ceiling of the growth charts, but his condition has resulted in significant developmental delays, meaning he had to be carried, lifted and assisted for many tasks other kids his age learned to do on their own. This translated to a lot of lower back pain for me, since I didn't have the core strength to support him.

I had worked out all throughout my pregnancy and, after the initial recovery period, I resumed my weights/cardio/circuit workouts. I was still plagued with aches and pains. I tried some new workouts, and they only made things worse--more aches and pains, plus I developed an agonizing foot condition, plantar fasciitis. I could barely walk on top of everything else. In short, I was a mess.

I had started doing Physique 57 DVDs during my pregnancy and loved them, but after I hadn't done them with enough consistency to see marked benefit. When DS2 was 15 months old, I decided to undertake one of their rigorous monthly challenges--30 to 90 minutes of Physique, six days a week. I got up early and did it first thing in the morning before anyone else was up. Sometimes this meant as early as 4am, but I was determined.

By the end of that first month, my plantar fasciitis was completely healed and my other discomforts had subsided significantly. I could get up and down with ease! My hip flexor pain was greatly reduced, my posture was better and my back didn't hurt anymore.

People are often asking me about my 'results' from barre. Really, I get emails regularly about this, and I'm realizing most people want to hear about pounds and inches lost. Yes, I lost some pounds and inches, but what I gained was far more than that--I can get up out of a chair! I hop out of bed in the morning like I did when I was a child! I feel my core switch on when I need to lift or shift my nearly 40lb. child! Do you have any idea how wonderful this is?? Honestly, I get misty when I think about it. Barre gave me my body back. This is why I am so passionate about it.

So what is it about barre? Here are a few reasons why it's great for mothers... and others:

Barre workouts are very core-focused. I learned the hard way that a weak trunk sets you up for all kinds of problems. If your core isn't up for the task, your body will call on other muscles to pick up the slack--muscles that weren't designed to do what you're asking of them. A good barre workout will work your abdominals from start to finish, and will include back strengthening exercises as well. Even if you aren't strong enough to do some of the movements at first, getting into proper position and holding it will recruit those core muscles and begin to strengthen them. I'm still not quite where I was before I had DS2. I don't know that I'll ever be, but my core strength has significantly improved.

A little bit goes a long way. It's hard to make time for workouts when you have small children, but I find even doing just a little bit of a DVD yields big dividends. Sometimes I'll do the warm-up/arm section and that's all I can get in before an interruption. I'll go back later and do the thigh section, then maybe seat or abs after that. Whatever I can get in is time well-spent.

Barre is posture/alignment focused. Pregnancy and caring for small children is hard on your posture. Carrying weight on your front (be it from pregnancy or carrying a small person around) can cause your shoulders to round and your back to arch. Good form is key, and a good barre workout will develop postural muscles and have you standing straighter throughout the day.

The stretching! Barre workouts incorporate a lot of stretching. I know I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Stretching muscles after strength work results in greater strength gains, not to mention the obvious benefit of improved flexibility and feeling-great-ness. Love the stretching!!

Minimal equipment! Nothing can replace the awesomeness of a live class with a knowledgeable instructor, and I suggest everyone take a live class from time to time. But there are many great barre videos that offer good form pointers, and most use little to no equipment. AND, these workouts are usually performed without shoes, which is great if you have small people who are sometimes quite literally underfoot.

Lastly, barre is no-impact. I don't mean low impact--I mean no impact. This is a great blessing when you have relaxin coursing through your body. Relaxin is the hormone that allows the uterus and pelvis to accommodate the baby during childbirth. It remains as long as you are breastfeeding and makes your joints feel loose. It's a weird sensation, and any impact exercise just didn't feel good to me. A challenging barre workout can give you some great intensity without jarring your already wonky joints.

Mercifully, the DS2 is doing great. He started walking last summer (Praise God and all His cherubim and seraphim!) and is learning to climb in and out of carseats, chairs, etc. He is a joy and a delight, and absolutely worth all it took to have him. And he loves barre! He says, 'Let's do workout,' and has co-opted the kitchen towel rack as his barre.
I'm never going to be able to keep a towel there again...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Barre-gains: Fitness on the Cheap!

Over the past nine days I have taken three live barre classes. And I paid absolutely nothing. That's right--nothing. I think I've shared with you how cheap I am... cheap. And that my barre habit can be... expensive. So I've made it my mission to troll around and find the best deals on classes and video workouts, and now I'm bringing this veritable treasure trove of information to you. FREE!

You're welcome.

Of course, I should mention that I live in a pretty happy place for barre accessibility. The Boston area has lots (and I mean LOTS) of barre classes available. I've only begun to scratch the surface. And lots of choice means lots of competition which means DEALS.

Here are a few ways to get your lalalas for less:

New Client Deals

Everyone knows the hardest part is getting people in the door, so most studios offer deals for new clients. Physique 57 has a buy-one-get-one for newbies, Pure Barre in my area offers new clients one month unlimited for $100, but some studios give you your first class FREE. Last Saturday I took a BarFusiontm   (yes, it's trademarked) class which is offered at a local pilates studio. FREE!

New Studios

Scout out new gyms and studios--they usually offer enticements to get the word out. I have a week at a new Equinox gym near me. FREE! Tonight I'm off to a pre-opening special at a new Pure Barre studio. FREE! Last weekend I took a Bar Method class taught by a trainee instructor. FREE!

Did I mention these were FREE?!

How do you find out about these sweet deals? Research--scour the studio's website. Sign up for email alerts, 'like' their page on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Instagram (follow me while you're at it--@stephaniehsiang on Twitter and @momsatthebarre on Instagram.)

Ask -- nicely

I've mentioned before the value of ask-and-you-just-might-receive. Last fall I asked the nice lady at Core Fusion if she'd please-oh-please revive a long expired sweet deal... and she said YES! So it's always worth it to ask. Politely. I've gotten all kinds of perks in life from asking nicely. The worst they can say is 'no.' And they just might say 'yes!' And that is money in your pocket.


This is a viable means of supporting your habit. I posted about entering contests back in December. I had won second place in a Physique 57 Instagram contest. They were going to give me a portable ballet barre, but I wrote and asked if I could have some free classes instead, since I already have a barre. They said YES! So those classes I mentioned over Christmas? FREE.

Oh yeah, I also won the Ballet Physique contest I mentioned in December--no classes since they're out in Colorado, but they gave me their awesome video downloads and a bag of treats!
Look! Cute t-shirt, headband, yummy barre bar and... grippy socks!!

On Superbowl Sunday I entered a couple more photo contests with my darling children.
I had to pay DS1 a quarter to cooperate, but it was well worth it, because I won one of them. Now I have a week unlimited pass to a local Pure Barre studio. FREE! (Oh yeah, and since I won, I gave him a $1 bonus. So I guess it wasn't exactly free, but still... Having cute children in photo contests really helps, so it's important to keep the talent happy.)

FREE is awesome, but at some point, you have to pay something. This is when you turn to Groupon, Gilt City, Rue Lala, Amazon Local, Classivity and the like. I'm kind of new to these types of promotions, but a woman was just telling me she tried a class at a local studio for peanuts, so this is a great way to get in door. I just bought a Groupon for Barfusiontm classes--a steal at $5.50 per class.

I should mention that many of these deals require you to be a new client. There's only so much milk you can get for free before you have to buy the cow. But while I have my favorites, really, I've never met a barre class I didn't like, so I can go for a while on newbie deals.

But what if you're not in such a plush environment for live classes? The same rules apply to online classes. I'm not a huge fan of streaming classes, simply because I find my internet connection sometimes freezes, and if the small people are around, they like to push buttons and that's just not helpful. But if you have decent internet and don't need to wrestle your device from hot little hands, streaming classes are a great option.

The same rules usually apply--there are free trials on a number of sites for new clients. has live Core Fusion classes and they offer the first two weeks for free!

Youtube has tons of free classes. Not all of it is on the up-and-up so I'm not going to post any links, but some are entirely legit. Like Jessica Smith. Try her out.

Suzanne Bowen is another barre instructor with a huge library of workouts with a free trial offer. If you like it, the monthly fee is very reasonable. I found them a wee bit dry, but Suzanne is lovely. The workouts are solid, and Suzanne is big on stretching. What's not to love about that?

Another great site I found is Booya offers a new workout each day from different boutique studios in New York City. You can sign up for access to the daily workout for free, or for a small fee, you can tap into the entire video library.

Really, the options online are practically endless. May your thighs burn... and not your wallet!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ditch the Scale?

I can't tell you how many articles I've seen lately encouraging me to 'ditch the scale.' Tons of them.  And they all use the word 'ditch.' Does no one have a thesaurus?? I do. And I'm going to make full use of it in this post.

Not that I'm cracking on the articles, necessarily. There are some great reasons for giving the scale the old heave-ho, both physical and psychological.

On the physical side, there are some very cogent arguments for scrapping the scale. The main, and most compelling, being muscle. If you're strength training, you're building muscle, and muscle weighs something. (While we're on the subject, I feel the need to point out that muscle does NOT weigh more than fat. Really, I hear that all the time and let's just think about that for a second.... a pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat: a pound.)

Muscle is, however, more dense than fat. See?
So a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. That's why it's possible to weigh the same, but wear smaller clothes. You may be eating well and building muscle and scale weight remains the same (or might even tick up a bit), but your body composition is changing. You have more muscle and less fat.

Dieters who do not strength train often lose muscle mass along with fat. You might congratulate yourself on a 20lb. weight loss, but when you realize some of that was muscle, the party's over. That lost muscle is also going to slow down your metabolism. Increasing muscle mass pays dividends, but many people still get discouraged when they don't see the scale number going down. If that's you, then please, shelve your scale. It's got a hold on you, but it's not giving you the whole picture.

And that brings me to the psychological side. A lot of people get really hung up on their weight, and often choose their ideal weight very arbitrarily. I've know women in their late 40's who want to weigh what they did when they were 25. Never mind the fact that they were poor graduate students living in a fifth-floor walk-up in Alphabet City with six other girls subsisting on ramen noodles. Were they healthier and stronger at 25? No. They were just thinner.

I heard of a woman wanting to weigh X because it's lighter than her sister, another wanting to weigh what she did on her wedding day, even though she was so thin from having stressed out about the wedding and hadn't eaten in three weeks. And I've been there. At one point in my life, I wanted to weigh 125lbs., simply because that sounded like a nice number to me. If I weighed 125 lbs., I'd be downright scrawny. For me, that's an absurd number not based in any kind of reality.

I know people who step on the scale, and if the number they see is 'too high' in their minds, it ruins the day. If this is you, please, deep-six your scale. (See? Aren't synonyms fun?) Your weight is so not the sum total of your worth as a person. The state of your soul is undeniably more important than the number you see on a scale, a measuring tape, a body mass index chart, etc. Sometimes you'd never know it from our culture, but it's true.

Despite all these great arguments for jettisoning your scale, I still have mine. I've arrived at a peaceful place with my scale. It lives in my closet and from time to time I'll step on it and see what it says. If it's higher than usual, I don't panic. If it's lower than usual, I don't rejoice. Whatever I see, I plug it in to the rest of the data pertaining to my physical self. Because I really just see my scale weight as information. That's all it is. It's information, just like my cholesterol numbers, my blood pressure, my height, my age, my degree of flexibility, etc. (And yes, my cholesterol, BP and other numbers are more significant than my weight!)

Some scale detractors tell you your weight is 'meaningless,' which is ridiculous. It's not meaningless--it means how heavy I am. It's certainly not the whole picture, but it's part of it. We just have to put it in it's proper place. If you can't do that right now, then sure, get rid of it. But I don't think we need to discount weight altogether.

Recently I saw a news report about a family that had quite regrettable eating habits. The wife said something I found compelling--"I don't know what I weigh. I don't ever weigh myself. I don't need a scale because I know I'm overweight." Her doctor finally cajoled her onto a scale. It turns out the number was even higher than she expected. She was not heavier because she had been hitting the weight room. She was heavier because she had been eating three times her daily caloric needs in processed convenience foods and she felt lousy. In her case, not weighing herself was the result of denial. And once she saw the scale weight, along with a host of other numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, waist circumference, etc.) she had a more complete picture of her state of health. It motivated her to make positive changes.

Are we really going to say that wasn't valuable? It's just not the only thing that's valuable. I believe in cultivating healthy habits, ones you can live with, and then see where the needle on the scale falls. The scale, the blood pressure cuff, the cholesterol numbers, the measuring tape.... they're all tools we can use. The key is to use them, not let them use us.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the scale? Enquiring bloggers want to know!