HOW THE BAR METHOD CHANGED MY [BACKPACKING] LIFE

Cross training has proven to be crucial in just about any workout regimen. I didn't invent the concept, but after trying my hand at just about every two sport combination I have found my perfect pairing and I thought I would share it with you all as you likely enjoy hiking just as much as me. 

THE BACK STORY:

I used to run a lot, though, I wouldn't call myself a runner, mostly because I never truly enjoyed it. I competed in half marathons every few months and was in a perpetual cycle of training, using hiking as my cross training. I figured that the conditioning I was getting from the miles logged on neighborhood sidewalks would carry me up mountains and through the woods. There was one major flaw in my plan: I was in pain every day and, more devastatingly, my pain started to hinder my ability to hike. My knees could no longer withstand more than three miles at a time before I was walking bowlegged, trying to push on and ultimately collapsing. It was obvious that my days of pounding pavement were over.

I began my search for an activity that could build my hiking fitness while rehabbing my brutalized knees. I tried biking, yoga, and the elliptical, none of which felt right for me. It wasn't until I was three classes into a pilates membership that I was encouraged (by the pilates instructor no less) to try barre. 

THE BAR METHOD

When I came to my first Bar Method class, I will openly admit, I was wary of this style of exercise. A workout modeled after that of a ballerina? I have a great deal of respect for their art, but c'mon, my quads carry me up mountains. Still, I tentatively ventured into the modest studio tucked into a corner of Sugar House with an open mind.

I was humbled. While I felt strong throughout class it became evident that I was missing a critical piece in the fitness equation: Grace. 

After about three months of regularly attending class I went on a backpacking trip where I used this new tool to help carry me up the mountain. I navigated the rocky terrain with an ease I had never known before. In trips past I would let the weight of my pack thrust my upper body toward the ground while I struggled with its heft, but on this trip I utilitzed my newly-strengthened postural muscles to keep me upright. I tapped into muscles that I had never stimulated before I became a regular at The Bar Method. Instead of growing weaker over the miles I felt stronger with each step as I moved with grace and purpose, not just brut power.

That backpacking trip sealed the deal. I had found my perfect pairing, and once I did I wanted to know more. Why was this specific combination my jackpot? What happened in that quaint studio space that provided me with this newfound strength and confidence on the trails? My curiosity led me to an interview with the owner of The Bar Method in Salt Lake City, Carrie Goodwin. 

THE INTERVIEW

...or my attempt at one. 

I asked the owner of The Bar Method in Salt Lake City, Carrie Goodwin (please see below for a quick bio), what makes The Bar Method so special, what it is about this workout that gave me something I hadn't found anywhere else. She explained that there are five key factors of The Bar Method:

1.  Building Strength

2. Building stamina using all of the muscles together as a team

3. Increasing flexibility

4. Creating grace through coordination and control of all body parts

5. Body Alignment

We then dug into the method behind The Bar Method. The repetitive motions we execute during class, those tricky positions and squeezes that make our legs quiver, are all for a specific reason. We keep the motions small and isometric to fire up the muscle while staying in the muscle. Our muscles work in two modes: slow twitch and fast twitch. In slow twitch we are sculpting our muscles, changing their shape, and in fast twitch we are creating power and endurance. 

I asked Carrie if she could tell me which exercises are the most beneficial to hiking. She circled back to the importance of all of the muscles working together as a team. Understandably, Carrie believes that every part of the body should be conditioned properly, that every part is beneficial in backpacking (and in life general, of course). She was able to explain that for me specifically, someone who used to run as her primary method of exercise, my glutes were likely underdeveloped before we met. The Bar Method classes incorporate exercises that target each component of your glutes; max, med, and min, to give you the "around the world" of your backside. 

I would say that if I had to pick one aspect of The Bar Method that is my favorite, aside from the stellar people, it would have to be the stretching. The instructors go to great lengths to ensure that the clients are in proper positioning for the safest, most beneficial stretch. Each class incorporates stretching throughout our workout, not just before and after. I have applied  this curriculum to hiking, stopping every mile or so to relieve myself of my pack and stretch.  Carrie explained that stretching not only increases flexibility which reduces injury, it also keeps us from moving into our joints when the muscle gets fatigued. I have included photos of a few of my favorite stretches that can be done on the trail. 

SO, THAT'S IT!

That's my testimonial. I am not being paid by the organization for this lengthy review. I am not sponsored. I simply found a valuable tool that I implemented into my hiking regimen and wanted to share the benefits with you all. Hiking can be tough, but there is an undeniable correlation between fitness and fun on the trail: the fitter you are the more fun you have. It really is that simple. Instead of collapsing into my tent at the end of a thirteen mile journey I am scrambling up scree to find a perfect perch for sunset. I hope you can find what gives you strength and confidence to enjoy those extra side miles on your next trip. 


SEE BELOW FOR SOME OF MY FAVORITE STRETCHES TO ENJOY AFTER A LONG TREK


To deepen this stretch let your head hang heavy over your leg and bend your elbows, possibly resting your forearms on the ground beside your outstretched leg.

To deepen this stretch let your head hang heavy over your leg and bend your elbows, possibly resting your forearms on the ground beside your outstretched leg.


The Half Lotus stretch can be done by sitting straight up, leaning backwards, or, for a  very  intense, deep stretch - fold forward over your legs. 

The Half Lotus stretch can be done by sitting straight up, leaning backwards, or, for a very intense, deep stretch - fold forward over your legs. 


Posture and straight lines are the most important keys to this stretch. Legs should both be at 90 degree angles. Silly dog playing in the snow is not required but always encouraged. 

Posture and straight lines are the most important keys to this stretch. Legs should both be at 90 degree angles. Silly dog playing in the snow is not required but always encouraged. 


A super straight back leg is crucial in a runners lunge. Raise your arms overhead and tip backwards for an added stability challenge. Keep arms wide with shoulders down away from your ears for a chest stretch.

A super straight back leg is crucial in a runners lunge. Raise your arms overhead and tip backwards for an added stability challenge. Keep arms wide with shoulders down away from your ears for a chest stretch.


Stretch at the bar isn't always possible in the wild, but I have managed to use fallen trees for this amazing side body stretch. 

Stretch at the bar isn't always possible in the wild, but I have managed to use fallen trees for this amazing side body stretch. 


*Carrie lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and three daughters. She took her first Bar Method class from founder Burr Leonard in 2008. As she left, she was invigorated, stronger and moved with a renewed aura of confidence. Once a runner herself, she found that the Bar Method challenged her mind and physical limits like never before. It was her lovely children that encouraged her to open The Bar Method. She wanted to teach them that a woman's passion, dedication and hard work can change the world. I think she has accomplished exactly that. 

Carrie's favorite hikes are in Zion National Park, a favorite vacation destination for her whole family. I hope to hit a trail with them someday!