When you walk into the compact gym at the Vertical Method in Cow Hollow, there is so much equipment hanging from the ceiling and arranged in 12 individual stations, it can feel a bit intimidating. Yet inventor and founder of this small-group, standing-posture workout, Jennifer Davis, is warm and welcoming, and once class starts, she explains not only how to use each piece of equipment but also exactly what part of your body you’re targeting as you go.
A former competitive ballroom dancer from 1996 to 2006 and dance coach and judge of amateur competitions until 2014, Davis designed the workout on a key principle of dance: posture, meaning an elongated, upright torso, strong core, and an open chest. In ballroom dance, the partnership is actually gender neutral, yet each partner must carry his or her own weight while moving in perfect symmetry with a properly aligned upright posture. Davis literally turned a wooden ballet barre from horizontal to vertical, creating her patent-pending VertiBar, which becomes a client’s “partner” during the workout. She filed for a patent for the Vertical Method in early 2014 and for a full U.S. patent in January 2015.
During a Vertical Bar workout, the bar serves as a “second spine,” allowing participants to be aware of the backs of their bodies (referred to as “back body” in yoga and dance) and quiets large muscle groups so that secondary muscle groups get stronger.
According to Davis, the VertiBar offers both resistance and assistance, “creating awareness of one’s back body, which is often out of sight, out of mind.” Davis is also keenly aware of new studies on the evils of sitting in both the fitness and business worlds. “Sitting weakens posture, and extended slouching folds the body forward, tightening the chest, rounding the shoulders, and promoting a forward head position.” Davis believes that this kind of poor posture not only limits shoulder mobility and encourages neck and back pain, but it can also increase stress. The Vertical Method is low-impact exercise and conditioning with a focus on standing posture musculature.
During an hour-long VertiStrong class, now all taught by Davis, clients use the floor-to-ceiling VertiBar along with rubber resistance bands, light free weights, foam rollers, and small exercise balls, and eventually a very short time on a mat, to systematically activate and strengthen each muscle group. During much of the class, students stand with their backs to the bar, with three points of contact — head, shoulders, and the lumbar spine, or lower back, touching the bar, promoting an upright posture and forcing exercisers to use their deep abdominal muscles. Shoulders, back, core, hips, and legs are all used in a moderate workout set to pop music.
A longtime gym rat who also practices yoga and ballet, I found the workout to be balanced and interesting while not especially challenging. That said, I definitely felt each muscle group being worked.
Each class holds only 10 clients, and Davis provides lots of encouragement and personal attention as well as individual adjustments. Davis also teaches Barre90º classes, similar in some ways to popular ballet-barre workouts, focusing on high-intensity movements alternating with dynamic stretches to strengthen and lengthen muscles almost done while standing. The Vertical Method also capitalizes on two of the hottest trends in fitness right now: using one’s own body weight and very little equipment to train, and small-group personal training.
Currently the studio on Webster Street is the only Vertical Method location in the country, but Davis plans to open new studios as well to develop new classes. She is working with professional health and fitness specialists and trainers to incorporate yoga, Pilates, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), TRX, and more into her workouts. In February, Davis began teaching VertiMove with HIIT, and in March, she plans to add Counter-Spin, a class that helps counteract the downward posture of popular spin classes.
While the Sunday morning class I took was all female, Davis says she has lots of male clients as well. Davis admits she first developed the Vertical Method for her male ballroom dance clients to help them develop strength and better posture after spending long sedentary hours at desks or commuting. “I created the VertiBar to train men to open the chest and strengthen the back and hips without arching the lower back and popping out the ribcage.” And after all, our mothers all told us to stand up straight and stop slouching, right?
Vertical Method Fitness: 2848 Webster Street (at Union), $15–$400, 415-610-0261, vertical-method.com.