Today I have a very good question from one of my dear readers named Chiara about her current workout and the fact that she is trying to lose 20 pounds. Her biggest concern is whether or not barre alone would be enough to help her lose weight.
I decided to post her original question and my response here, since I think what she is asking is a problem many women have. It’s quite long, and I hope that sharing it here will be helpful to you! 🙂
I hope I’m not bothering you, I just wanted to say that I love your website. I found it yesterday (accidentally, while I was googling Ballet Beautiful) and I have already read all of your posts and ordered Ballet Body from Amazon.
I’m totally new to barre workouts, but after reading your reviews on some of the DVDs I’m hoping it will help me achieve the body I want.
I was just wondering if you could advise me on what exact workouts to do?
I’ve been doing Tracy Anderson for a few months now and I love how it totally transformed my arms and abs, the only problem I have is with my thighs which are huge.
I try to do Tracy Anderson’s muscular structure workouts 5-6 days a week for 60-70min and then 45-60min of spinning (I’m not doing Tracy’s dance cardio because I never got serious about learning the routine). If I’m short on time I only do Tracy Anderson.
A few times a month I might go for a jog but that’s usually only in the summer time.
I do a lot of cardio, especially spinning, because I love sweating and I always thought that cardio is a must when you’re trying to lose weight. But you say that doing barre is enough.
I was always really serious about exercising and a few times in the last 3 years I worked with personal trainers who made me do a lot of strength training with heavy weight (weighted squats, lunges, bicep curls with 15 pound weight etc.). And I used to do all of the Jillian Michaels dvds religiously for almost 4 years. I think that made my quads huge.
I’m 5’9″ and around 150lbs, I would like to lose 20lbs (i’m quite in shape because I’ve worked out since I was a kid hehe, I’m 22 now btw)
The diet is another problem I have, I try to eat really clean, low-carb, 1300-1500 calories a day. I have my carbs in the form of oatmeal or green smoothies for breakfast and I often have a slice of rye bread or brown rice/quinoa for lunch. And as for fats I have 1/2 of avocado every single day. And some nuts for snacks.
But once a week I usually have a huge cheat meal/day which leaves me heavy and bloated for the next couple of days….
I don’t know if it makes any difference but I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism a year and a half ago and I’ve been on the lowest dosage of medication ever since.
What barre dvds and how much of it should I do for optimum weight loss?
Should I avoid spinning and running altogether? And what workouts won’t get me thunder thighs?
Sorry for such a long message 🙂
Please don’t apologize, you are not bothering me. That is why I created my blog – to connect with people like you! You have raised an excellent question that has been asked over and over by other women.
Anytime you are not getting results you want from your workout, you should look at a couple of things – 1) the type of exercise you are doing and how often, and 2) your diet.
Workout Type and Frequency
First of all, I have to be honest and say that I don’t know much about Tracy Anderson’s Muscular Structure workouts – other than the fact that she uses very high rep training with very little or no weight.
I also know that some of the things she says about weight loss and muscle tone don’t jive with me, and so I haven’t really gotten into her workouts too much.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t work for some people though…it depends on what your goals are. You have to know what you want.
I don’t want to look like Gweneth Paltrow, to me she just looks like a skinny, long distance runner.
But there are PLENTY of women who like that look and I have heard some glowing reviews about the Tracy Anderson Method.
However, I have also heard some negatives, such as weight gain, loss of muscle tone, injuries/back pain, etc. Plus, any workout that requires me to work out 6 days a week for an hour just isn’t realistic…and I know it’s not realistic for many other women as well.
Consistency is the key to results, and 6 days a week is not easy to keep up with. I don’t know about you, but I have a life 😉
As I mentioned at the beginning, she uses body weight with lots of reps. High rep workouts like this are essentially endurance-type workouts, which means if you plateau (and you will), the only way to continue making gains is to do more. Before you know it, you’re working out for 2 hours a day-which is not necessary. In fact, Tracy Anderson has even said that Madonna has to work out for 2 hours a day because her endurance level is so high.
The other problem with endurance workouts is that they train slow twitch muscle fibers which do not have the ability to alter your body composition in any way.
Have you ever looked at a long distance runner vs. a sprinter? BIG difference in muscular structure.
To gain create a lean, sculpted physique with visible muscle definition you need to build muscular strength – while at the same time dropping body fat.
It’s the fast twitch fibers that are responsible for reshaping your muscles. No matter how hard you train your red fibered muscles, they don’t increase in size or strength, so they will do nothing for you in terms of sculpting your lower body.
Spinning can create “pumped” quads/legs in some women, due to genetics. So I think spinning is best avoided in your case.
I like what Mike Cola over at FitnessContrarian.com had to say about this problem:
Glycolytic super-compensation is a body building technique used to increase the size of muscle cells. If a bodybuilder wants to quickly increase the size of his or her legs they could first deplete their carbohydrate store for a day or two then train their legs hard and long with multiply sets of leg exercises. This is somewhat similar to the intervals performed in spin class. This will carbohydrate load or over compensate your normal glycogen stores in your legs and make them bigger.
From what you told me about your diet, you generally don’t eat a large amount of carbs. But you did mention that you have one cheat day per week where you eat whatever you want.
If you load up on carbs and sugar during this time, your body may be storing them in your leg muscles as glycogen in preparation for your spin class. And every time you hit that spin class, you deplete your glycogen stores over and over. So you have basically taught your body how to be very efficient at storing glycogen and using it for fuel – in the bodybuilding world it’s called “carb loading”.
Also, spinning is very much a leg strengthening exercise and can cause you to develop larger thighs/quads than you would like. I used to spin a couple of times a week and I had much bigger quads then. I also craved and ate carbs like a mad woman. Essentially I was carb loading without realizing it.
Running should be fine, but I like walking best.
In all honesty though, you really don’t need to worry about doing extra cardio if you are doing intense barre workouts.
Too much cardio, or the wrong type, can actually prevent you from getting the lean, sculpted look you desire.
As far as your diet goes, at 5’9 150lbs, 1300-1500 calories really is not enough food for your height, weight, and exercise intensity level.
Ideally you want to make sure you are eating lots of cooked vegetables and a good amount of healthy fats, while eliminating refined carbs and sugar. A moderate amount of complex carbs is fine since a diet that is too low in carbs or calories can be very harmful-especially if you have thyroid issues. Restricting calories when you are already have a sluggish metabolism/hypothyroid lowers your metabolism even further. (source)
And if your calorie restriction is too extreme in relation to your exercise intensity, the stress from this can cause your body to break down and use your muscle for fuel, which will result in an even slower metabolic rate.
There’s also hormones…which I won’t get into because this post is getting to be so long. But, not eating enough carbohydrates and exercising too hard too often can really wreck a woman’s delicate hormone balance – which in turn can prevent you from losing weight. (source)
Personally, I don’t eat any gluten, sugar, or dairy. This is strictly for health reasons, but it has the side effect of keeping me lean. I also take a number of supplements, but the most helpful for weight loss would definitely be probiotics and multivitamins.
I am confident that if I stopped working out and only walked three days a week for example, I wouldn’t gain weight because my diet would prevent it from happening.
Diet is SO VERY important to your success.
Hypothyroidism and Intense Exercise
Since you mentioned that you are hypothyroid, I really want to mention a couple of things about that here. I will try to keep it short, since it’s kind of a complex topic :).
Since you are hypothyroid you need to be very careful about doing too much exercise. I say this from experience, I have been exactly where you are.
I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroid, along with severe adrenal fatigue. I have always LOVED and craved very intense hard exercise because it made me feel alive. Without it I felt sluggish.
I have since learned that the reason this happens is that intense exercise stimulates a sluggish thyroid, but over time the thyroid does not respond to the stimulation anymore and hypothyroid results. Looking back now, I know that my intense workouts definitely did not help, and most likely contributed to my thyroid/adrenal problems.
The reason that those of us with low thyroid function often enjoy high intensity workouts is because these workouts give us a surge of energy.
This happens because:
1) Stress and intense exercise activate the sympathetic nervous system (source)
2) The sympathetic nervous system activates the thyroid:
The thyroid is activated by the sympathetic nervous system as part of the fight-or-flight response to stress. If the nervous system is excessively sensitive or overstimulated, overstimulation of the thyroid occurs. The first effect is an increased thyroid and adrenal response. This may continue for several hours, days or years, depending upon its intensity. Then the thyroid weakens and can no longer maintain its response. Hypothyroidism then results…
…This type of hypothyroidism can be caused by any type of stress. Eventually the thyroid becomes nutritionally depleted and cannot function properly. If the autonomic nervous system is out of balance, the thyroid is not properly stimulated by the pituitary to produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormone. (source)
As you can see from the quote above, this is NOT a natural process, and the thyroid will NOT continue to be stimulated in this manner. In fact, over time, it will lose its ability to produce the necessary hormones to function properly.
The fact that intense exercise as a stressor can negatively affect the thyroid has also been covered by Chris Kresser on his blog:
Overtraining has been shown to affect blood levels of important neurotransmitters such as glutamine, dopamine and 5-HTP, which can lead to feelings of depression and chronic fatigue. The stress caused by intense, excessive exercise can negatively affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, possibly causing conditions such as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is known to cause depression, weight gain, and digestive dysfunction along with a variety of other symptoms. As we know, high stress in general can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, and the stress caused by excessive, intense exercise is no exception…
Daily intense exercise overstimulates the thyroid since it keeps the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) dominant. The problem with this is explained in this article from Natural Path Health Center:
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is often called the ‘fight or flight’ nervous system because the SNS prepares the body to fight or run from danger. When the SNS becomes the dominant branch of the nervous system, blood is shunted away from the internal organs and into the muscles and the periphery of the body (the arms, legs, etc.) to facilitate action. Since there is an increased utilization of nutrients and hormones, as well as greater tissue destruction when the SNS is engaged, it produces a catabolic (break down) effect on the body. The SNS is dominant when you are exercising, working or doing something that requires increased delivery of blood to the muscles; this includes stress…
A general rule of thumb is that if you can’t perform an exercise comfortably on a full stomach, the exercise is stimulating your SNS. With that in mind, you can easily envision how the great majority of exercises serve to further stress the SNS; keep in mind that SNS stimulation keeps the body in a catabolic (breakdown) state.If you are stuck in a SNS dominance in response to the stressors in your life, exercises that stimulate the SNS will only serve to perpetuate an already dysfunctional situation. Many people experience this as poor sleep, illness, anxiety, poor digestion and/or increased muscle tension…
Moderate exercise choices that would not stimulate your SNS include yoga, pilates, walking, and workouts like Essentrics or Ballet Beautiful.
I think the biggest thing you should focus on is really listening to your body, and be honest with yourself about how much you really FEEL up to doing.
I used to push myself to work out when I really felt like taking a nap. I just told myself that I would feel better after my workout, and it was true.
But my thyroid stopped responding and my hard workouts just weren’t making me feel good anymore. In fact, they were making me feel worse. A couple of years after having my son, I noticed that I would crash after my intense workouts – I would literally feel like taking a nap.
As a result, I was forced to change what I was doing – which is how I found Ballet Beautiful and Essentrics. I had to do SOMETHING, so I became fully devoted to these workouts to see if they could really help me maintain my muscle tone and keep me lean. And I have been pleasantly surprised.
Recommended Workout Plan
Since losing weight and thinning out your legs and thighs is your main goal, any barre workout will be great for you. However, my two favorites are Physique 57 Volume 2 and The Bar Method. Both of these are superb interval workouts.
As far as getting a longer looking muscle in the legs, while toning and strengthening them, NOTHING beats Essentrics. These workouts are truly amazing!
As far as Essentrics workouts go, Class of 2012 is my favorite because its the most thorough, and really toned and flattened my abs. But the shorter workouts are very challenging and give good results too. In fact, the shorter workouts may be ideal because you can do them everyday without worry that you will over train – and since they are only 25-30 minutes long, you can really be consistent without feeling like exercise is taking over your life 🙂
Chiara, I hope you get the results you want, and remember feel free to reach out anytime! I’ve enjoyed chatting with you this past week 🙂
If you have any question regarding your workouts and how to get the results you want, please feel free to contact me any time via Facebook or leave a comment on any post here – I love comments and personally answer every single one I get. Also, be sure to sign up to receive exclusive tips on how to get the best out of your barre workouts (top right)!
Resources and Recommended Reading:
Your Thyroid and How to Keep it Healthy: Second edition of The Great Thyroid Scandal and How to Avoid It