High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become the “it” way to work out over the last few years, with studios and gyms capitalizing on the quick-but-effective way of training that alternates between bouts of intense activity, like sprints, with periods of less-intense active recovery or complete rest. Fans of this super-efficient workout swear by its ability to torch calories, burn fat, and build muscle, all in much less time than, say, a 5-mile moderate-intensity run.

Another purported benefit of HIIT is your body’s ability to stay in fat-burning mode long after your workout is finished, which is music to the ears of anyone who follows their Saturday sweat sesh with a boozy brunch. Known as the afterburn effect, this process is said to rev up your metabolism and torch calories for up to 24 hours after exercise. It’s a theory many HIIT-based studios tout as a major health benefit of their workout, promising you’ll reap the rewards of their one-hour workout for days.

But are these benefits too good to be true? Here’s what the science has to say about it.

What is the afterburn effect, anyway?

The process is scientifically known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). It refers to the oxygen your body needs to restore itself to the pre-workout state (your resting metabolism). Your body uses oxygen to produce fuel (scientifically known as adenosine triphosphate, or ATP) needed for your muscles to fire up during exercise, but it can also call on stored energy sources that don’t require extra oxygen. HIIT workouts typically utilize the latter more so than steady-state exercise, and will also require more oxygen post-sweat session—this is why these short bursts of intense, taxing exercise are associated with the afterburn effect. (Interesting right? Read more on understanding this science.)

“Those [oxygen and calorie burn] go kind of hand in hand after exercise,” says Tedd Keating, Ph.D., C.S.E.S., associate professor of exercise science at Manhattan College. “Your metabolism stays up for a period of time after exercise.” Although your body continues to burn calories after a workout, it’s usually only 6 to 15 percent of the total calories you burned while exercising. So if you burned 300 calories during your workout, your afterburn would only be about 18 to 45 calories. (Exercise isn’t the only way to maintain a high metabolism, btw. Eating a sufficient amount of protein post-workout will also help.)

EPOC is not limited to HIIT workouts—it’s present after all aerobic exercise—but the level of exercise intensity does play a role in just how many calories your body burns post-sweat. Keating reiterates this sentiment by saying that for low-intensity activity, say a treadmill jog, you can expect a lower afterburn effect (about 6 percent calorie burn, toward the lower end of the range), but with HIIT workouts and things like Tabata and speed drills, you could reap an afterburn closer to that 15 percent mark.

There are a few other factors that alter your individual afterburn rewards as well: weight, fitness level, and muscle mass all play a role. “People who are more aerobically fit, their bodies are going to be better fat burners as a whole,” says Keating. You can expect these people to have a more sustained afterburn effect.

The 24-hour idea is a stretch.

The claim that your body continues to burn calories for up to 24 hours afterward is deceiving. Although people who are more physically fit may derive longer benefits from the EPOC effect, it’s usually only up to a couple hours, tops.

study out of Colorado State University evaluated participants who performed sprint interval training and then measured their post-workout calorie burn. Although the results did show energy expenditure within 24 hours after the workout (it should be noted that your body is constantly burning energy/calories, even at rest), most of the calorie burning was seen during and just after exercise, with the numbers dropping significantly from there.

So does that mean the 24-hour EPOC effect is just a fairy tale? “Never say never. There might be a really heroic exercise program that can do it,” Keating says. “But your typical high-intensity sprint interval stuff that’s being recommended now, like four 30-second bursts or something gentler like 10 one-minute bursts, probably aren’t going to give people that big 24-hour afterburn.”

HIIT benefits go beyond the afterburn effect.

Even though HIIT is one of the most effective workouts to burn fat, the potential afterburn effect is just part of the puzzle, says Keating. During high-intensity workouts, your body produces more epinephrine and human growth hormone (HGH), which both have fat-burning capabilities; one study found that a 30-second sprint on the stationary bike resulted in a nearly 450 percent increase in HGH production. Other reported benefits of HIIT are improved insulin sensitivity and blood pressure, along with simply being an efficient way to work out.

Interval training is also better at preserving lean body mass, says Keating, and the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn while at rest. Plus, as you get more fit, you’ll increase your VO2 max, which is a number that indicates how efficiently your body uses oxygen during exercise.

The bottom line: While HIIT exercise is a great way to get in shape, be wary of fitness studios promising to transform your body into a magical fat-burning machine long after you towel off. That doesn’t mean you should ditch your favorite boot camp (remember, HIIT training still improves endurance and body composition), but keep in mind that the afterburn effect isn’t a free pass to binge on junk food for two days.

Walk through almost any health club or training studio and you are likely to see individuals lying on the floor rolling around on a tubular piece of foam. In the recent past, self-myofascial release (SMR) and the use of foam rollers has been promoted as a way to reduce tension and increase muscle length during either the warm-up or cool-down phases of a workout. As a result, most fitness facilities now provide a wide variety of rollers for members to use, which means your clients are probably using them, too. To be able to provide your clients with accurate information and effective exercise solutions, you must have a clear understanding of exactly how using a foam roller provides the necessary stimulus on muscle tissue to reduce tension and change muscle length.

How Muscle Tightness Affects the Body

There are two specific components of a muscle: (1) the striated skeletal muscle comprised of the contractile element responsible for producing movement; and (2) the elastic fascia and connective tissue that is interwoven between the various layers of skeletal muscle. It’s important to note that striated skeletal muscle is enveloped by fascia and other connective tissue. When healthy, the entire structure can be pliable, easily allowing surrounding joints to move unrestricted through their structural ranges of motion (Schleip, 2015; Myers, 2014). If a muscle is overused for repetitive motions or held in a specific position during extended periods of inactivity, however, collagen can form between the layers of skeletal muscle, creating adhesions or knots that restrict the ability of muscle sheaths to slide against one another (MacDonald et al., 2013).

Collagen is a protein molecule bound in a triple-helix formation to give it rigidity. It is a component of the fascia that is produced in response to an applied mechanical stress. Ground substance is a collection of individual collagen molecules that comprise the extracellular matrix (ECM) surrounding individual muscle fibers. The ECM is a viscous fluid that can reduce friction as individual muscle fibers slide against one another.

When tissue is warm and moved frequently, the ECM becomes more gel-like, reducing friction and allowing easier movement between individual fibers. However, if tissue experiences a combination of dehydration and lack of movement, the ECM can become stickier, limiting the ability of fibers to slide against one another. If fibers remain inactive for a period of time, the collagen molecules of the ECM will actually bind together for stability, which can create an adhesion between the various layers of muscle (Schleip, 2015). When adhesions form they can cause a muscle to remain in a shortened position, which restricts its ability to lengthen and allow movement at a joint. Scar tissue is an example of how collagen produced by the ECM binds together to help a tissue regain its structure after an injury. Once a scar is formed, it can limit the ability of the tissue move through its normal range of motion (ROM), which can then impact normal joint function.

During normal movement and activity, collagen is produced parallel to muscle fibers to provide structure and elasticity, helping the tissue to be more resilient and less susceptible to a strain injury. Performing strength-training exercises through multiple planes of motions can help produce collagen that makes fascia capable of withstanding multidirectional strains (Myers, 2014). In healthy, functional muscle, the fascia allows the layers of muscle to slide against one another with minimal restrictions. Adhesions formed by collagen binding between layers of muscle can limit tissue extensibility and significantly reduce joint motion. If a muscle on one side of a joint is held in a shortened position, it can send an inhibitory signal, causing tissue on the other side of the joint to lengthen. This creates an imbalance of forces around a particular joint, which can change both joint structure and function. Changes in muscle length and joint structure can restrict normal movement patterns and be a cause of injury for active individuals.

Traditional massage therapy works by manually manipulating muscle tissue to break up collagen adhesions and realign the tissue to allow the layers to slide against one another unimpeded. Breaking up adhesions can help reduce muscle tightness and improve joint ROM. Unless you are a properly accredited massage therapist, however, it is outside of the scope of practice for a health and fitness professional to apply manual pressure in an effort to break up adhesions. And, because it is not practical to have the average client spend the time or money to work with a massage therapist prior to a workout, foam rollers are a means of applying pressure to break up and realign muscle as a component of the warm-up for exercise.

The Science Behind Foam Rolling

The pressure and motion of a muscle moving on a foam roller can help break up adhesions and realign muscle tissue to be able to function normally (Mauntel, Clark and Padua, 2014). In general, foam rollers provide the greatest response when an individual places a body part directly on top of the roller and moves rhythmically to apply pressure to the underlying muscle and elastic connective tissue.

There are two theories on why foam rolling works to alleviate muscle tightness:

  1. The first hypothesis on how foam rolling creates length change is based on the principle of autogenic inhibition, which happens when intrinsic sensory receptors—the Golgi tendon organ (GTO) and muscle spindle—identify changes within muscle tissue. The GTO senses tension placed on a muscle, while the spindle identifies length change and the rate of change within a particular muscle. Autogenic inhibition is the response that occurs as a muscle is placed under tension. The GTO senses the tension and sends a signal to the spindles to allow the muscle to lengthen. In the case of foam rolling, the pressure of the foam roller on the muscle increases tension on the muscle fibers, signaling the GTO to allow the muscle spindles and fibers to lengthen (Mauntel, Clark and Padua, 2014; Mohr, Long and Goad, 2014). (Note:This is also the basic physiological mechanism for how static stretching creates length change in muscles—an acute tension in the muscle leads to a neurological signal that allows the muscle to lengthen.)
  2. The second hypothesis for how SMR with foam rolling works is that is causes an increase of internal muscle temperature. Rolling muscle and connective tissue on a foam roller creates friction between the roller and the involved muscle. This elevated heat causes the tissue to become more gel-like, allowing it to be more pliable. Once tissue has greater extensibility, it is easier to lengthen, allowing surrounding joints to achieve a complete ROM free from restrictions (Mauntel, Clark and Padua, 2014; Healey et al., 2013, MacDonald et al., 2013).

It’s not 100 percent clear which theory is responsible for the outcome, but it has been shown that using myofascial foam rolling can lead to an increased muscle length, which, in turn, allows for greater joint ROM without a loss of strength.

Foam rolling, says Kyle Stull, the Education Content Manager for Trigger Point Therapy, which makes the GRID foam rollers, “may increase blood flow and elevate heat in the involved tissue. We’re not sure which is more responsible for changing muscle length, but we do know that using foam rollers may help individuals increase range of motion immediately after use.”

Using a foam roller for myofascial release can reduce muscle tension, which can help lengthen a muscle, but this is a short-term change in the architecture of the tissue. For best results, it is important to move through a ROM to ensure that the involved tissue can adequately use the change in extensibility and length. Stull points out that while foam rolling can lengthen tissue, it does not help improve joint ROM, which occurs as the result of the tissue having the ability to successfully lengthen and shorten to articulate a joint without any restrictions.

The benefits of using foam rollers include its ease of use and ability to provide an acute response for improving muscle length and joint motion. By contrast, a drawback to foam rollers is that the amount of pressure required to break up an adhesion can be uncomfortable or even painful for some clients. As with any mode of exercise, it’s important to understand both the advantages and disadvantages, and to identify the best practices for how it can be used with your clients.

In addition to years of anecdotal evidence of clients claiming to feel better after foam rolling, the evidence observed in the scientific literature suggests that using a foam roller for myofascial release may provide the following benefits (Mauntel, Clark and Padua, 2014; MacDonald et al., 2013; Healey et al., 2013; Shah and Bhalara, 2012):

  1. Reduce tissue tension, which allows muscles to experience an increase of joint range of motion.
  2. Reduce the risk of developing adhesions as the result of collagen binding between layers of muscle tissue.
  3. Help reduce soreness after an exercise session, which may enable individuals to recover in a shorter period of time.
  4. Help promote a feeling of relaxation after a workout, which is an important psychological benefit.

When to Use Foam Rollers for SMR

The natural inflammation that occurs during the tissue-repair process, combined with a lack of movement after an exercise session, could be a cause of muscle adhesions. Exercise-induced muscle damage signals the repair process—this is when new collagen molecules are formed to help repair and strength tissue. If tissue is not moved, the collagen could bind between layers of muscle. Muscle damage can change both the firing patterns of the motor units responsible for muscle contractions and the sequence in which muscles are recruited and engaged to produce a movement (MacDonald et al., 2013). Using a foam roller can help minimize the risk of the new collagen-forming adhesions between layers and possibly increase the speed of post-exercise recovery.

Additionally, using a foam roller for myofascial release during a warm-up may help reduce tension while elevating temperature in muscle and fascia without the use of any exercises that could cause fatigue (Healey et al., 2013). During a warm-up, it is important to only use the foam roller for a brief period of time to elevate tissue temperature and reduce tension. Applying pressure from a foam roller for an extended period of time could desensitize the muscle and affect its ability to contract during the workout.

“Using a foam roller before a workout can increase temperature and reduce tension, allowing greater joint motion,” explains Jeff Alexander, an Orange County, Calif.-based personal trainer who developed the Alexander Method of SMR. “But it is important to use for only a brief amount of time. You would not want a deep tissue massage before a workout because it could change a muscle’s ability to produce force. The same is true with a foam roller—too much pressure could reduce the effectiveness of the warm-up.”

When using a foam roller for myofascial release, Stull recommends moving at a consistent tempo of approximately 1 inch per second while remaining on areas of tension for up to 90 seconds to allow the tissue to relax and lengthen. Because SMR can help elevate tissue temperature, Stull will often have clients use a foam roller for active recovery between strength-training exercises during a workout.

MacDonald and colleagues (2014) compared a group of participants that used a foam roller after exercise to help reduce muscle tension with a group of participants that did not. Their observation was that the foam-rolling group experienced peak muscle soreness 24 hours after a workout while the control group experienced muscle soreness up to 48 hours after a workout. If using a foam roller can help reduce soreness and shorten the recovery time after a workout, it could allow clients to increase their training volume to maximize results.

Healey and colleagues (2013) also conducted a study on the use of foam rolling for recovery and observed: “Post-exercise fatigue after foam rolling was significantly less…the reduced feeling of fatigue may allow participants to extend acute workout time and volume, which could lead to chronic performance enhancement.”

A review of the research literature on the use of foam rolling for SMR by Mauntel, Clark and Padua (2014) revealed that applying foam rolling as a component of a warm-up can help reduce muscle tension without limiting a muscle’s ability to produce force. A reduction in muscle tension can help improve joint function, allowing optimal movement efficiency and enhanced muscle performance, both of which can help reduce the risk of injury during exercise. Their conclusions support Alexander’s belief that using a foam roller should be limited during warm-up. Furthermore, they observed that gains in joint ROM occurred after only 20 seconds of treatment, with more consistent results being demonstrated after 90 seconds to three minutes of treatment.

Conclusion

Further Your Knowledge

Looking for more information on foam rolling and self-myofascial release? Check out these helpful ACE blogs to further your knowledge:

Recover Faster and More Effectively With These Foam Roller Moves

Foam Rolling Moves for the Lower Body

Why You Should Be Foam Rolling

Why Foam Rolling Doesn’t Eliminate Cellulite

Foam rolling can be an important component of a pre-exercise warm-up and, for best results, it is best to limit the application of pressure to two minutes or less per muscle group. Alexander recommends using a foam roller only for muscles that demonstrate restrictions that change joint motion. “The best practice for using a foam roller is to reduce tension in the tissue, and then immediately perform multiplanar movements to help the tissue adapt to the new length while controlling joint function,” explains Alexander

Foam rolling can also be used effectively at the end of a workout to reduce muscle tension and promote recovery. It is up to you to identify the best time to apply foam rolling for each client’s specific needs. If SMR from a foam roller can help reduce muscle tension while promoting a feeling of relaxation, it could be beneficial to teach clients how to safely perform foam rolling movements on their own and urge them to invest in a foam roller that they can use at home on a regular basis.

As is the case with any exercise technique, some clients will love using a foam roller while others will just not be interested in rolling on a piece of foam, regardless of the potential benefits. The true art of personal training is knowing how and when to apply the science of the exercise tools that can make a difference in a client’s life.

 

References

Healey, K. et al. (2013). The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28, 1, 61-68.

MacDonald, G. et al. (2014). Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46, 1, 131-142.

MacDonald, G. et al. (2013). An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27, 3, 812-821.

Mauntel, T., Clark, M. and Padua, D. (2014). Effectiveness of myofascial release therapies on physical performance measurements: A systematic review. Athletic Training & Sports Health Care. 6(4), 189-196.

Mohr, A., Long, B. and Goad, C. (2014). Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. 23, 296-299.

Myers, T. (2014). Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists (3rd ed.). Elsevier, London.

Schleip, R. (2015). Fascia in Sport and Movement. Handspring, Scotland.

Shah, S. and Bhalara, A. (2012). Myofascial release. International Journal of Health Sciences and Research, 2, 2, 69-77.

 

By Markham Heid | Article Featured on Time Magazine

People who dance are easy to spot, even offstage. “They’re very aware of their body’s position in space, and they move almost like cats,” says Marie-Louise Bird, a Pilates researcher and post-doctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia. “But most of us are more like puppy dogs, moving without much attention paid to our posture.”

Luckily, the puppy dogs among us don’t have to go to dance school to get better body awareness. They can just do Pilates.

Ever since Joseph Pilates founded his studio in New York City about a century ago, the training method has focused on strengthening abdominal and trunk muscles—called the “core”—through hundreds of very specific movements. The first Pilates clients were ballet dancers looking for a way to improve their posture and control their movements.

Pilates looks deceptively easy. But the often-tiny movements improve balance and core strength, Bird’s research suggests. Pilates does this in part by reinforcing the bond between mind and muscles, helping people engage the right muscles in the core. This leads to better posture and control over the body’s movements, says Cherie Wells, a senior lecturer in physical therapy at Australia’s Griffith University. Wells’s research has found that the core-strengthening perks of Pilates may also ease pain and improve daily life for people suffering from chronic low-back pain.

Some research has also linked Pilates to better flexibility, trunk stability, injury prevention and athletic performance. (Some former and current NFL players, including Antonio Brown and Martellus Bennett, are fans.)

But it’s easy to do Pilates incorrectly, so if you want to experience all these advantages, good form is essential, Bird says. That requires a good teacher, at least in the beginning. “Results come from a structured class taught by a certified instructor,” says Ann Gibson, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico, who warns newbies not to assume they can pick up Pilates by looking at a few online pictures or guides. “There needs to be a lot of focus on rolling down or up from the ground, one vertebrae at a time.”

The other unique part of Pilates isn’t physical, but mental. One of the key concepts of Pilates is called “centering,” or understanding that all movements originate in your core. “Like yoga, it’s about breathing and focus and being mindful of your body’s movements,” Gibson says. At least one study has linked Pilates to enhanced mindfulness and something called sensory awareness, which may induce relaxation, mood improvements and stress reduction.

It won’t surprise anyone familiar with the classic “hundred” exercise—a grueling Pilates pose performed for 100 beats—that the practice also does something special to the stomach. “Pilates seems to activate the deeper abdominal muscles more than conventional gym exercises,” says Duncan Critchley, a lecturer and exercise researcher at King’s College London. Research from Spain shows Pilates also eliminates “asymmetries” in the abdominal muscles the line the sides of your torso.

It’s probably not the best workout for those looking for a vigorous sweat, says Wells. Newer forms of the practice use machines to increase resistance and even aerobic intensity—reformer Pilates and jumpboard Pilates are two examples—but they’re less studied than the traditional forms of the exercise.

Look around online and you’ll find plenty of anecdotal evidence that Pilates can help people lose weight or, even more likely, lose inches, but Gibson says her findings were mixed when it came to Pilates’s ability to reduce waist circumference.

But if you’re searching for a mind-body practice that strengthens the body and has a few pleasant side benefits—like great abs and more poise—Pilates is certainly worth a try.

By India Yaffe | Article Featured on PopSugar

Ever walked into a Lululemon, stared at the leggings wall, and just gulped in wonderment? Us too. There are so many different styles, fabrics, and colors that we barely know where to begin, but that’s also what makes Lululemon so amazing; whether you’re a yogi or a marathoner, they’ve got gear for you. In an effort to curb your confusion, we’ve rounded up some of Lululemon’s most popular leggings and explained what sets each pair apart. For the sake of this experiment, we’ve compared black full-length leggings. That way, you can really understand the subtle but important differences. Because, you know, it’s the little things that matter most.

Wunder Under Hi-Rise 7/8 Tight

Image Source: Lululemon; Wunder Under Hi-Rise 7/8 Tight

Wunder Under Hi-Rise 7/8 Tight

The OG Lululemon pant, the leggings that launched a thousand ships, the Wunder Under Hi-Rise 7/8 Tight ($98) is an icon of its time. This is the pant that makes your butt look good. It comes in two fabrics, Luon and Luxtreme. The Luon feels more like cotton, while the Luxtreme is designed more for sweat-wicking purposes. All in all, though, this is a thicker legging and is better for yoga or Pilates vs. running or Spin class.

Align Pant II

Image Source: Lululemon | Align Pant II

Align Pant II

Fair warning: you’re going to want to live in the Align Pant II ($98). It is so buttery soft, you’ll feel like you’re not wearing anything — which, in fact, is the purpose of the fabric it’s made of, Nulu. This is definitely a yoga pant, but it’s also an errands pant, a brunch pant, or really just an anytime pant. If you couldn’t tell, we like this pant.

Fast & Free 7/8 Tight II

Image Source: Lululemon | Fast & Free 7/8 Tight II

Fast & Free 7/8 Tight II

If the Align Pant II was intriguing, but you consider yourself more of a runner, Lululemon has answered your prayers. The Fast and Free 7/8 Tight II ($128) is made with its newest fabric, Nulux, and gives the same second-skin sensation with the added bonus of being sweat-wicking and quick-drying. They’re a must have for anyone who’s obsessed with that buttery-soft feeling.

Tight Stuff Tight II

Image Source: Lululemon | Tight Stuff Tight II

Tight Stuff Tight II

The Tight Stuff Tight II ($148) is a really well-designed legging. The little panels at the shins are reflective, so you don’t have to worry about heading out on nighttime runs. Plus, the pattern’s so minimal and cute, you’ll have no issue rocking them during the day. These pants are made for sweaty activities, and they’re built with compression, so they look good on.

In Movement 7/8 Tight

Image Source: Lululemon | In Movement 7/8 Tight

In Movement 7/8 Tight

The In Movement 7/8 Tights ($98) are this editor’s personal favorite. I’m someone who likes to switch up my workouts; one day I’m hitting up my favorite Pilates class, and the next I’m sweating it out at Spin. While I respect the fact that different pants are built for different activities, sometimes you just want one versatile piece that can move with you. Enter the In Movement tight. It’s specifically designed to take you through a multitude of workouts; they’re made of Everlux so they’re sweat-wicking and breathable but thick enough to provide support, and they don’t have a back zipper, allowing you to lie down in Pilates or yoga. So basically, sold.

Speed Up Tight

Image Source: Speed Up Tight

Speed Up Tight

World, meet your perfect running legging. The Speed Up Tight ($108) is made of Luxtreme, that medium-thickness, sweat-wicking fabric we discussed earlier. The best part about this pant, though, is that it’s got pockets, and plenty of them. If you’re headed on a hike or run, you don’t have to worry about your stuff, because these pants have got you covered. Bonus, they make your butt look pretty good too.

By Shalisa Pouw  | Article Featured on Fitness Magazine

Barre-based fitness classes have risen in popularity over the past few years, no doubt influenced by those of us wanting to channel super-fit ballerinas like Misty Copeland. If you have a drawer full of leggings and keep a pair of sticky socks in your purse, know that you’re not alone.

So why are these kinds of workouts so addictive? The positive feelings—and results—you get from a good barre class are unmatched. Research has shown that long-term ballerinas are more skilled than novices are at tasks requiring fine motor skills. But you don’t need to perform at Lincoln Center to see the benefits of barre extend to other parts of your life. Here, I share five ways I’ve seen my fitness level improve through barre practice.

1. Strength and definition. When you work your thighs in a barre class, you target that muscle group from all angles. Three thigh exercises will work to fatigue the front, inner, and outer thighs, strengthening the muscles from joint to joint. The same goes for your butt, abs, arms, and back. By strengthening each muscle group thoroughly, you are not only creating amazing definition, you are also strengthening muscles that are often underused and underdeveloped.

2. Endurance. Each barre class includes different types of movements, but most are known for their use of isometric contractions and small isotonic movements. In an isometric contraction, you tighten or contract the muscle without changing its length. Think plank position or those poses where you hold completely still as your legs start to quiver and shake. These contractions utilize slow-twitch muscle fibers that can increase stamina and improve your endurance.

3. Flexibility. You don’t need to be flexible to practice barre, but the amount of stretching in each class can help improve your overall range of motion and reduce your risk of injury. Tension and tightness in your muscles and the tendons around them can lead to back pain and poor posture, and can make everyday tasks like bending down to tie your shoes more difficult. Stretching out your muscles will help relieve stress and allow you to move through your day with a little more ease.

4. Posture. Core muscles are engaged throughout the entire class, and they can be used for the primary focus of an exercise or for stability as you perform a move that targets your thighs or butt. The most common issue that clients come in with is back pain that usually stems from weak core muscles and hours spent sitting at the computer. As you strengthen your core, you will notice that you can sit and stand taller and your lower back will take less stress and tension throughout the day.

5. Mind-body connection. Barre classes challenge you to not only go through the motions of the workout but to focus your thoughts on each and every tiny muscle you are working. Feel your mind starting to stray? Your teacher will give you step-by-step instructions on where to position your body while also offering hands-on corrections to adjust your alignment.

Shalisa Pouw is a Senior Master Trainer at Pure Barre.

A fresh take on an old-school workout promises to make you long and lean—pronto.

Article By  | Featured on Harper’s Bazaar

Die-hard spinners are jumping off their bikes and on to … rowing machines? Yes, it’s true. Call it the fitness trend that no one predicted, but suddenly boutique rowing studios are opening at a fast pace across the country and loads of converts are swearing off cycling classes. “I drank the Spin Kool-Aid like so many—but after a year I plateaued and no longer saw the results I wanted,” says Hilary Rainey, 26, a manager at a nonprofit. She’s a regular at New York’s CityRow studio, going twice a week, and has lost 11 pounds in just under two months. Jessica Luftig, 38, a project manager, has gone three to four times a week religiously since February in lieu of TRX Suspension Training and barre-toning classes and dropped 25 pounds. “I can’t get enough,” she says.

Here’s why: Rowing just might be the most efficient exercise ever. “With each stroke, pretty much every part of the body is used,” says Stella Lucia Volpe, an exercise physiologist and professor of nutrition sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia and an avid rower. And it may let you skip crunches—for good. “A big part of rowing is core strength,” she adds. “People think it’s all arms, but rowing is much more legs and core.”

CityRow founder and CEO Helaine Knapp decided to line a loft with rowing machines after losing weight and making her own body “tight” with a rowing machine at her local gym. She hired a team of fitness pros to create a 50-minute high-intensity interval-training workout (which alternates between the rower and the mat), and opened CityRow last January. Classes are often wait list only.

Similar to indoor cyclists, rowers are meant to stay in sync with one another, as they would if they were gliding across the water. However, unlike Spinning’s call for 95 percent legs and 5 percent upper body, the rowing ratio is more along the lines of 60 percent legs and 40 percent upper body. CityRow’s mantra (“legs! core! arms!”) is repeated again and again throughout each 30- to 60-second sprint.

“Rowing is a full-body exercise, and it keeps the heart rate elevated,” says Garrett Roberts, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer who founded GoRow Studiosin Hoboken, New Jersey. “But then it’s leg press after leg press and row after row, so there’s a huge strength-training component to it too.”

Which is why you’ll get a svelte physique faster. “Rowing burns two to three times the amount of calories of Spinning,” explains Roberts. “Unlike a bike, which only has resistance in one direction, rowing has resistance in both directions—forward and back—making you much stronger and increasing the rate at which you burn calories.”

Josh Crosby, a former competitive rower and a co-creator of the WaterRower GX(a.k.a. Indo-Row), a rowing machine outfitted with a water-filled flywheel, says that the GX not only adds natural resistance but also allows you to hear the swoosh of water with every pull. Crosby, along with fitness pro Jay Blahnik, incorporated the modern rower into ShockWave, a class developed for Equinox gyms. In addition to the stellar calorie burn (up to 800 calories an hour), the workout has a secret perk—perfecting your posture, says Gregg Cook, a ShockWave instructor at Equinox in New York. “Most people are hunched forward over their desk all day,” he notes. “This wakes up all the muscles in your back.”

Ironically, just as the rowing machine is transitioning out of the water, the stationary bike is being submerged—in what looks like a personal Jacuzzi. At London’s Hydrofit spa, clients like Pippa Middleton (famous for her rear view) pop on headphones and watch TV or listen to music as they pedal away. Devotees at Waterbike outposts in France (and a few other European countries) also “ride” for 30- or 45-minute sessions with pulsing water jets—thought to rev up circulation and banish cellulite—that are aimed at dimple-prone areas, i.e., the butt and thighs.

But back to why weaving rowing into your workout repertoire is a must (even House of Cards‘ fantastically fit Claire Underwood has taken up rowing in place of her beloved running). “Rowing truly uses every part of the body,” Volpe says. So you can spin like crazy in water—or a vat of oatmeal, for that matter—and it won’t even come close to the results you’ll get from rowing.