Longer muscles, no.
Leaner overall, sure.
I spent 15 minutes clicking around on the Bar Method website today.
I saw some pushups (!)
I saw some glute bridges.
And as long as we don’t talk about something I saw called “Waterski”…I’ve seen worse exercises.
Admittedly, I’m biased - strength coach and powerlifting dabbler that I am - but I’m not necessarily hating on bar (barre?) or yoga or Pilates or Zumba or whatever exercise class is tickling your fancy.
Exercise is important and most (but not all) of the time, some exercise is better than no exercise at all. So if it’s a Bar Method class that gets you in the door, feeling better about yourself and inspiring and motivating you to make better choices for your health, I’m down.
If you participate in any of these and love it, keep doing it!
If you've joined for the community, camaraderie, relaxation, meditative aspect and mood boosting effects and the physical exercise is something you come to enjoy, something that makes you feel better and something that gives you the results you're looking for, you've hit the goldmine.
Here’s where they lost me:
...elongate, slim down and leave lighter.
(After 3-5 times a week for at least 5 months though, of course)
...trim your shape without the bulk
...ideal for building long lean muscles.
If you've joined classes like these in the hopes of building longer and leaner muscles, you've joined for the wrong reasons.
Building long lean muscles, like the type Bar is promising isn't possibleAnd it's this type of marketing jargon that preys on beginners who believe resistance training is dangerous and something to be feared.
I spent 14 minutes too long.
You get what you get
Practices like yoga, Pilates and barre sell you on the notion that their exercises, training and programming creates unique adaptations (i.e, lengthening) that traditional strength training doesn't.
Barring undergoing quite invasive surgical procedures, you can't change the connection points of your muscles. Muscle structure doesn't lengthen over time, except when it's part of your normal growth pattern as you mature from infancy to adult. Proper training might have the tiniest of effects on muscle length in untrained individuals first embarking in physical exercise. But the visual difference would be practically nonexistent.
It'll work if I stretch more though, right?
Classic static stretching - holding a particular pose or position for an extended amount of time - isn't making your muscles longer, it's changing how our brains think, feel and react to the sensation and tolerance of the stretch.
Flexibility is a trick of the nervous system, not a muscle's alteration into a new length.
Think about it:
If significantly and noticeably stretching and elongating your muscles was possible, wouldn't all us exercisers be walking around with laffy-taffy like, "too long"muscles?
The key to lean
"Leanness" requires building and maintaining muscle mass while reducing and/or maintaining your body fat at a percentage unique to you and your body through a combination of caloric balance, resistance training, increasing physical exercise and movement and decreasing stress.
Some individuals may appear lean and toned at high(er) body fat percentages when compared to others, even if they are of roughly the same height and size. You can't dictate where or how your body will lose fat.
But all the yogis I see are so lean!
We'll leave out the fact that one person's lean is another's bulky and that the majority of time we tend to not be able to see ourselves as others see us and you might in fact already be "lean", but, okay, the yogis and barre peeps you come in contact with and see in class look long and lean. What gives?
For one, they picked great parents ;)
Muscle length is determined by genetics - your bone length (height), muscle belly insertion and origin, etc.
And two, because they started out already lean (and perhaps flexible) it made their bodies more "suitable" for yoga, an activity and sport where being lean(er) and more flexible is advantageous. The were predisposed to be pretty good at yoga, which probably made them invest more time and energy into their practice, which then made them even better at yoga.
Not to mention, communities built from the classes mentioned here generally have created health minded cultures (even if some of their information is misguided), prioritizing other healthy habits which would help them achieve and maintain a leaner physique.
What to do
- Reassess your training. If being leaner is your goal and the physical activities you've been doing haven't been helping you reach that goal, why not try something else?
- Build muscle. Resistance training will provide you with more of a caloric expenditure and is better suited for helping to reduce bodyfat and change body composition.
- Spend time in a caloric deficit (maybe). If you have high(er) body fat and want to see more muscle definition and look leaner, it will require spending some time in a caloric deficit, reducing the amount of food you are consuming.
- Spend time in a caloric surplus (maybe). Building muscle requires eating additional calories. If you are someone with low body fat to begin with, it might be appropriate for you spend time in a caloric surplus to build more muscle to look lean and toned.
- Keep doing what you're doing. If you love the type of exercise and movement you're doing and it works for you and your particular goals- keep doing it!