Q & A with Burr Leonard: Founder of The Bar Method

Written by Judie Hurtado

It all started nearly 30 years ago in 1981. Burr Leonard had actively taken Lotte Burke classes and ten years later, began teaching the classes. In 1991, Leonard and Carl Diehl opened their first studio in Connecticut. In 2000, they formed The Bar Method, Inc. The rest, as they say, is history. Now, nearly 20 years later, The Bar Method have created and franchised 32 (and counting) studios all over the United States and have also produced DVDs. Celebrities such as Drew Barrymore and True Blood hottie Anna Paquin have become obsessed with this total body workout that transforms bodies from head to toe.

MBG: How would you describe The Bar Method to someone who has never heard of it?

BL: The Bar Method is an intense, fat-burning workout that quickly and gently sculpts, aligns, elongates and leans-down the entire body. During the hour-long workout, students sequentially target all major muscle groups alternating between the front and the back of the body so that one side is always stretching while the other side is toning. This design creates a graceful, dancer-like body that is at the same time lean and defined. The Bar Method also strengthens core muscles, stabilizes joints, and improves posture.

Has being physically active always been a part of your life? When did it start?

I was always athletic in school, and I fell in love with ballet and jazz classes in early adulthood. In my early 30s I discovered the Lotte Berk Method and became a dedicated student. In my early 40s I married Carl Diehl. Two years later, Carl and I opened our exercise studio in Greenwich, Connecticut as a licensee of the Lotte Berk Method.

What made you decide to create The Bar Method?

As soon as I began teaching my own students in Greenwich, I noticed that the exercises were hurting some of their shoulders, backs and knees. I consulted with a physical therapist named Rick Stebbins who showed me how to re-think the positions so that they were safer for students’ joints. I discovered that the new alignment that we came up with made the exercises not just safer but also more precisely targeted making them more effective. Over the next decade, Rick, my senior teachers and I worked on re-creating the whole workout. I also developed a new teaching technique that contributed to making the class more efficient, fun and effective.

At the end of our ten-year term with the Lotte Berk Method, Carl and I decided that our technique had diverged from the original to such a degree that we decided not to renew. We incorporated The Bar Method in 2000 and opened our flagship Bar Method studio in San Francisco in 2001.

Is The Bar Method effective for all body types or does it work best on certain types?

The Bar Method is highly effective for all ages and body types with the exceptions of those who have not yet reached puberty who’s muscles are not developed enough to add significant muscle mass, and those who are obese who’s weight is too great to use as resistance because it presents some risk to their joints.

For the rest of the population there is no better workout for reshaping and realigning the body. It is also a great way for people who have been injured and can no longer practice impact sports to stay in peak condition. It is gentle, non-impact, and highly structured so that students can work at their own pace. The Bar Method also includes a set of modifications for those with joint issues. Many of the exercises are derived directly from physical therapy and help students who are healing to achieve the best possible outcome during their rehabilitation. At the same time, the Bar Method is ideal for sports training. It is intense and thorough enough to make anyone a better athlete at her or his sport.

Why do you think so many people claim to be "addicted" to this workout?

The Bar Method is highly addicting for everyone. The class is like an inner triathlon, an intense series of exercises that are excitingly challenging, either mentally, physically, or both. The mere act of getting through a class gives students a heady sense of triumph. Then there is the unique feeling of total transformation the class gives students’ bodies afterwards. No other workout produces this thorough a sense of having been worked from head to toe. Last and most important, the class gets students clear, noticeable results. You walk out of a Bar Method studio feeling as if you’ve given yourself a present. Your thighs are leaner, your seat is higher, your abs are flatter and your posture feels straighter.

How quickly would the average woman see results?

The rule of thumb as to when typical students see results is around three months if they take class regularly at least three days a week. This length of time actually varies tremendously depending on students’ goals. Losing a lot of weight, rehabilitating an injury, changing posture, or becoming more toned all take different lengths of time. For this reason, the time it takes for our students to get changes actually ranges from a few days to two years.

What type of routine do you recommend? Do you recommend other forms of exercise?

Bar Method students need to do the workout three-to-five times a week to get results. Doing so will give them an excellent all-around fitness and great body tone. Many students enjoy doing other sports or fitness routines, and I recommend that they do as much of them as they can, as long as their chosen activity is reasonably safe for them. The sport of running is low on my list of healthy activities because it tends to impact people’s joints, can wear down their immune systems and even loosen their skin. Even so, if running is what feeds someone’s soul, it can be done safely with the help of good coaches.

Do you have tips for someone who is new to The Bar Method? What about if someone has been doing this workout for a while -- how can they change things up?

My advice for new students is, hang in there. People bodies change in stages, and not all new students are going to see these changes at the same time and in the same way. Read my blog: “Fitness Tips: Why You Might Bulk Up Before You Slim Down.” Some students go through this bulking-up stage, and others don’t. In addition, new students needs to stick to coming to class at least three times a week, preferably more often, for the first three or four months. That way, their bodies will not yoyo between being firm and not so firm.

For more advanced students, my advice is to gain mastery. Rarely is someone’s posture, alignment, strength or performance of every exercise perfect. A Bar Method class is an excellent opportunity to work on such challenges. I’m occasionally surprised, for example, that some of our regular students don’t take posture more seriously as much as we coach them to do so. Achieving better posture would make a huge difference in the way they look and feel.

What is your own exercise routine? Do you practice The Bar Method? If so, where?

When possible, I take five Bar Method classes a week. I love taking that many. When I’m traveling or involved in a project however, I usually take two-to-three. Luckily I know the classes are there for me when my schedule frees up. I also enjoying taking ballet and jazz classes, but for the past two years I’ve have been too busy to go.

Some say that your classes are pricey. How would you respond?

If you buy our auto-renew course, our classes actually become very competitive with those offered by typically-priced yoga studios. As for our company’s approach to pricing, we operate solely to provide great workouts and comfortable surrounding to our students, not to make a high profit. If our classes cost more than some others, it is because we offer more highly trained teachers, more thorough oversight of teaching and staff quality, and more inviting, comfortable surroundings.

Let's talk about the DVDs that were released a year or so ago. Are they as effective as live classes? How can someone using them make them even more challenging?  

Thousands of DVD users have emailed or written me that the Change Your Body and Accelerated Workout DVDs have changed their bodies. The new ones due to be released this October are more intense, fun and fast-moving than ever. I don’t think users are going to need to find ways to make them more challenging. They are plenty challenging already the way they are.

I've heard that there are new DVDs being released later this year. Is that true?

This October four new Bar Method DVD workout will become available on our website. One of them is a 38-minute long beginner’s workout that is both simple to do and surprisingly challenging. It is led by Joey Decker, master teacher and owner of the Burbank, California Bar Method studio. Two of them are truly killer workouts, one led by me featuring exercises performed with a playground ball and one led by Marnie Alton, a dynamic master teacher/actress/singer. The fourth DVD is a workout for pregnant students led by Lee Potter, who was in her third trimester with twins when the DVD was taped, with a lot of wit and good humor. All of them are fun, well-produced and expressly designed to quickly change people’s bodies.

How important is diet in your own life? Do you follow any particular diet?

I just wrote a blog on diet that describes my approach to food. I’m a vegetarian because I don’t enjoy the taste of meat – and I like thinking that I’m making my carbon footprint a bit smaller, but I don’t believe everyone has to be vegetarian to be healthy and ecologically aware. Mainly, people need to stay away from sweets, added sugar and fads and eat a balanced diet consisting of whole, nutritious foods. If they want to lose weight and/or keep off weight, they need to moderate their portions, eat a healthy breakfast, and not eat after dinner. I believe the media effectively sells a lot of people on eating too much. People need to ignore the commercials. Munching on a Dove Bar is not my idea of a “my moment.” You don’t need candy to give yourself a “moment.”

Do you meditate? How do you relax?

I occasionally meditate but not often enough. My boyfriend, who has spent years studying meditation, is inspiring me to do it more regularly.

What is one of your guilty pleasures?

On Sunday evenings my boyfriend and I order a pizza Milano. He pours each of us a glass of red wine, and we sit on our bed and watch a movie On Demand while we eat two and sometimes three pieces of the pizza. Our Pomeranian sits on with us balancing his hind legs and ends up getting about eight pieces of the crust.

For more on Burr and The Bar Method:


Burr's Blog

Bar Method San Francisco, LA on Twitter

Bar Method San Francisco, LA on Facebook

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