Bonus: Suzanne Bowen – Smarter Exercise and A Smarter Self-Image


Jonathan: Hey, everyone, Jonathan Bailor here with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Very excited about today’s show because we have a wonderful fitness enthusiast trainer, streaming workout provider and just general provider of southern hospitality when it comes to the health and fitness world. We have none other than Suzanne Bowen of SuzanneBowenFitness.com. Suzanne, welcome to the show.

Suzanne: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

Jonathan: Well, Suzanne, I was getting a little bit of hard time before we started the show that I detected a just wonderful, ever so slight southern accent in your voice and I mentioned that only because I want to start the show off talking about the growth and development from little Suzanne to the Suzanne we see today that’s providing all this wonderful workout information, and what got you from there to here.

Suzanne: Well, I grew up in a small town in Alabama and I always wanted to live in New York City. That was always my goal and I found myself there in my twenties as a flight attendant. I had studied interior design in college but I found that I was buying all the fitness magazines and not the design magazines that I could and I was also reading a lot about health, Dr. Andrew Weil’s books. I changed my career path and started studying fitness mainly in the early – 2000. I went to an interview for a job at the Lotte Berk Method Studios in New York City. I didn’t know what that was.

Well, it was a five floor studio on Upper Eastside of Manhattan, and I have never heard of Lotte Berk. I couldn’t even pronounce it. I went for a receptionist job and interviewed and ended up meeting one of the instructors who said “What is your goal?” I said “I wanted to teach fitness. I’m just trying to get my foot on the door.” She put me through a process of auditions and I became an instructor there and that studio is the original barre studio in the United States. If you’ve heard anything about barre fitness, it’s a huge phenomenon. It’s a huge trend in fitness now. There are so many different barre techniques, including my own BarreAmped, and I was there in the original studio and that’s where I got my start and that was pretty incredible.

Jonathan: Well, can you tell us a little bit about the barre technique and the promise that it offers?

Suzanne: Well, the barre technique comes from a fusion of different methods. Ballet, modern dance, pilates, yoga so you get the precision and the mind-body connection of pilates, and you get the mental mind-body connection of yoga, and then you get these great strength moves based on dance. There is some techniques that are a little bit more big range in motion, maybe more cardio-minded, where my technique is a lot more focused and controlled, at least in the beginning.

Muscles are fatigued very fast so we get into, say the quads – we call it thigh work. You get into these positions and you fatigued the muscles in five minutes and you don’t let the muscles have a break. They’re just these small, tiny movements. I guess you know it’s that’s what works. That’s why it works and it creates beautiful shape, especially a female’s body, and I’ve never seen anything change a woman’s body like barre.

Jonathan: Suzanne, what are your thoughts on – it seems like so much of what we hear about in terms of the fitness world today, you used the word in your description of your method that I love, but I think is so underplayed, and that is precision. The idea of if we’re trying to, not only for – let’s look at it from a health perspective. From a health perspective, you don’t just do anything for your health or you wouldn’t just take a pill. You would be very precise.

If you’re going to take a pill, one, why are you taking a pill in the first place? But if you’re going to take a pill, you’ll be very specific and precise about the prescription you would take, and when it comes to our body, if we’re trying to transform the way our body looks or works, that’s not about just doing any sort of movements or flailing around like using a chain saw. It’s precise. It’s a sculpting, is it not?

Suzanne: Totally, my method and the way I train is based on form first. Alignment and form is huge. You work at the level where you can perform the move well but still be challenged. Instead of doing a push-up with poor form or without any thought, which is a lot of the way people work out. I see it and I’ve seen it for 12-13 years now. It’s all about form. You’re performing a push-up, maybe your range of motion is an inch, but you can perform it well.

You get strong in the right places and you keep your body safe, and you get really good solid results. Then and only then, you move on to the next level and to the next level so that’s why this method works because you’re in that precise, tiny range of motion where the muscles around your joints gets strong. You stay in good form and you not only do you stay strong and you get good results but you’re really attuning your mind to your body which gives you that stress-relieving benefit.

Jonathan: Suzanne, that actually reminds me, ironically, when we’re talking about the alignment of many different methods and there’s a technique in more of a – let’s call it a traditionally masculine realm of strength training that I know John Little, who co-wrote Body by Science with Dr. Doug McGuff. He talks about – it’s called ‘max contraction training’ where you just find the most challenging but biomechanically correct portion of a movement, whether it’s a squat or curl or push-up, and you just focus on overloading that position. Again, it’s very small, it’s very controlled, it’s very precise because when you do that you can focus on nailing the movement in safety and you minimize all the other risks that could be involved. It’s a risk/reward balance, right?

Suzanne: Right, that sounds almost identical to what we’re doing and what we do with my training is once you can perform that tiny move well at the lowest point, at that most challenging position and it could be five inches – say you’re doing a squat or you’re doing what we call parallel in Barre. You may be a beginner at five inches down so you bend your knees, sit down about five inches with this incredible alignment.

Well, the next two months you might go down a couple more inches. Each person’s little set point is lower or different or maybe it’s higher. It’s always different but once you master that, then you can move your range of motion a little bit to maybe a little bit bigger so you’re continuing to challenge yourself, but you have to be able to maintain that form. It’s just form, form, form.

Jonathan: Well, Suzanne, how do we help bridge this gap? Because right now I see there’s, maybe in the mainstream, two – I might be giving it more credit than it’s due, but there’s very, very active, aggressive movements – when you watch most people strength train, you’re throwing things around, you’re flipping things, people getting hurt or you’re jogging, which means you’re – again, most people don’t know how to run and if they are running, they’re running on pavement and it’s just like “Oh my god.”

Then you have the other end of the spectrum which is yoga, which I love, but is very different. There seems to be this thing in the middle which is more of what you’re describing was, what some of my work describes, which is movement. It is resistance training. It does cause dramatic metabolic change.

Suzanne: Right.

Jonathan: It is also that precise, deliberate safe. It’s a bit like cutting your hair very carefully with scissors rather than using a chainsaw to cut your hair.

Suzanne: Exactly. What I’m finding and what I’ve seen over the years as the – I’ve been in different health clubs. I’ve been in different arenas and I’ve seen mainly women, because that’s usually who take my classes or they do my work outs, and I see them in these pounding classes, these boot camps or running bleachers and flipping tires and their bodies are not changing. Then you get them into this type of precise exercise and it doesn’t even have to be that long. They don’t have to do hour-long classes. It’s really a quality thing and then they get these dramatic results so it’s pretty interesting.

Jonathan: That quality over quantity paradigm.

Suzanne: Oh, definitely.

Jonathan: To me, I think that’s the message of hope because when you can show results in a fifth of the time, people are like “Oh, okay, I’ll listen now.”

Suzanne: Totally. People are too busy to have to go out and do these hour-long crazy classes that they dread or workouts. There’s so many people thinking of “I just need to pick up running.” I’m not against running. I’m not a runner myself but give me 20 minutes. Just try it, and maybe it takes four to six weeks to really see a difference but it’s huge. Just with the testimonials that we have with the BarreAmped method, it’s just dramatic the results that we see.

Jonathan: Suzanne, another thing that I wanted to talk about is on your website you say very clearly in your My Story section, “I used to be obsessed with being thin.”

Suzanne: Oh, yeah.

Jonathan: I mentioned that only because if individuals visit your website, SuzanneBowenFitness.com, you are the archetype of female beauty. I’m not just saying to flatter you, although hopefully, it’s flattering. I say that because you represent what I would consider modern beauty, which is not this waif-like, skeleton-like, starvation-like per – again, I’ve never met another man who was like “Wow, look at the ribs on that woman. That is so hot.”

Suzanne: You sound like my husband.

Jonathan: If you even look more in the animalistic side of the heterosexual male brain, curves are an important part of that across culture and across time. One thing I struggle with is to me, it’s not necessarily guys who are like, “Just be thin and waif-like.” because a lot of guys like the curves.

Suzanne: Right.

Jonathan: How do we help to have a more healthy image of what healthy actually looks like?

Suzanne: I think, especially women, just need to be reminded, and so that’s in my workouts what I can continue to remind myself of, as well as the people that work out with me. It’s not something that we can just overnight die to. It took a minute for me. I used to just be on this treadmill of perfection. I remember just rationing out food and thinking “Well, maybe one day I would be able to enjoy a treat. Maybe more than a bite of a treat.”

I have a daughter now, and I’m like, “We’re not going to live under that anymore. It’s not the truth.” I really have done a lot of research on what the media, what the fashion industry, what the beauty industry sells us, and it’s not the truth so I think just educating us and ourselves on what beauty is and is not, is really important. As well as being and feeding ourselves, feeding our bodies’ nutrients and beginning to do a fitness that feels good and makes us de-stress, instead of trying to be on this quest for perfection and running yourselves to a tizzy. Just finding things that you enjoy doing and really knowing that you’re feeding your body what it needs versus – it’s kind of a combination of things, I think.

Jonathan: Well, absolutely. It’s interesting because I think it runs so deep because certainly, the pursuit of perfection is the quickest way for anyone to become unhappy, right? You want a guaranteed formula for failure? Try to be perfect because you can’t. Individuals, if they see you, no one’s going to see you and be like – you look, for all intents and purposes, perfect at least on your website.

Suzanne: Well, thank you.

Jonathan: The question then becomes our image of perfection, what is it? Why is it so off-based from what any actual person actually finds attractive or desirable? It’s almost – because the fact that you would even describe the state you are currently in as at least not approaching perfect sort of shows that there’s still – I don’t mean to like psychoanalyze you on the phone or something…

Suzanne: No, that’s cool. I’m thinking. It’s making me think.

Jonathan: My wife is beautiful. I can consider her perfect. I can imagine her being any more attractive than she is but she wouldn’t consider herself perfect. What’s going on there?

Suzanne: I don’t know. I think I’m like 90 percent better than I used to be. I used to just be obsessed and then I had real struggles and I met my husband who thought I was just amazing. I think for me once I had my children and I kind of lost every bit of who I thought I was, and then people, especially Levi, my husband, still loved me and wants to hang out with me and be around me and thought I was beautiful, I realized it’s not just about that. It’s not about how I look anymore and I am not as young as I was when we met. My husband and I had been married almost 10 years.

If you work out with me, you’ll say that I’m not perfect and I’m not struggling to be that way anymore and I’m trying to embrace aging as well. I find that women when they are told that as they work out, some women are not interested in hearing that. Some women do want the trainers – they’re trying to help them be perfect. I’m like “I have cellulite in my legs. That’s just the way I’m made. I have done everything that I can do not to have it but my husband doesn’t care. He doesn’t even see it, so what? Live your life. Big deal.”

Jonathan: I got to tell you Suzanne, this little insight into my own psychology here is there is nothing less attractive than a person who is continuously preoccupied with how imperfect they are. There’s a difference between being “pretty” in 2D with photo shop, blah, blah, blah, blah than being attractive in real life. Those are very, very, very different things.

Suzanne: Exactly.

Jonathan: It seems happiness is really about that pursuit of health which then derives real life beauty, in real life three dimensional. Not only three dimensional height, width, and depth but also emotional, psychological, and spiritual beauty as well.

Suzanne: Yes, and it’s so important to understand that we’re all shaped differently and it’s okay. We just want to be the best that we could be without feeling there’s one little point that and we’re going to be okay. It’s like a range. That’s my whole purpose in what I do. I really see women come to me who don’t feel good about themselves. It’s affecting their relationship. It’s affecting maybe their marriage or their mothering or their career, their friendships or whatever.

They come and they feel positive impact and they change. They kind of relax a little bit and they go “Hey.” Then, they end up physically improving but it’s so much deeper than that. It is a spiritual thing. It becomes emotional and spiritual and physical altogether and it is positive because there isn’t that perfection that is being sold.

Jonathan: Well, Suzanne, you mentioned something there which was a bit – it’s unique for the individual and I got to tell you the longer I’ve been on this earth, the truer and truer the following advise has become and that’s play the hand you’re dealt. What I mean by that, we are all handed different cards and some people might start with a better set of cards and another set of cards or whatever, but how you play your cards and the cards you have makes such a difference. This is a little story for me which is going to sound a little silly.

I wanted to be a big professional football player. That was my dream. I wanted to play professional football and Suzanne, I did everything except take steroids in the pursuit of becoming big and muscular. Then, one day I said to myself “Jonathan, the hand I’d been dealt is my body does not want to have a lot of muscle on it but it also doesn’t want to have a lot of fat on it.”

Suzanne: Right.

Jonathan: Maybe if I want to spend time focusing on my appearance, if I enjoy that, why not focus on that? Focus on maybe getting a little bit more cut rather than trying to be a little bit more muscular. Work with the hand you’re dealt rather than trying to throw your cards back in and get a new set because you aren’t going to get a new set.

Suzanne: I love that and I think it’s great.

Jonathan: Maybe you do, maybe you have a little bit more here or a little bit more there but use that to your advantage. It applies to any area of life. If you’re a small company that means you can move quickly. Use that to your advantage. If you’re a big company that means you have a lot of money so use that to your advantage. Even with us, play the hand you’re dealt as best as you can. Focus on that, not wishing you had other cards.

Suzanne: Exactly and relax.

Jonathan: Yes.

Suzanne: It’s not important. It’s very much important not to obsess but it’s just so important that you don’t miss out on the day that you have right now. Enjoy that. Do what you can to enjoy that now. I have to tell you my husband and I are such huge fans of your book.

Jonathan: Oh, thank you.

Suzanne: Completely changed the way my husband ate. I don’t think he’s had more than two grains since he read it to the point where I was like “Levi, you need to eat a little bread, man. You’re getting so lean.” He is so lean now and he only does for fitness is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He does that very, very dedicated but it’s just great and it’s really been impacting for us.

Jonathan: Oh, well, thank you, Suzanne. I really appreciate that.

Suzanne: You what I love about? I love that it’s carb-minded but it’s really about nutrients and lean protein. I love that.

Jonathan: Well, it was really interesting. I actually just recently recorded a podcast, which I’m certainly excited to share, with Dr. Joel Fuhrman.

Suzanne: Oh, wow.

Jonathan: Which was a lot of fun. The reason it was, I think, fun was, and I think the listeners will really enjoy, is because we talked about – it’s really not about saying animal food is bad and plant food is good or that plant food is good and animal food is bad or – it’s more about saying foods, not edible products, foods that provide the most of which you must eat and the least of which kills you are the best things to eat and those can be found from a diverse array of sources. Let’s focus on that.

I think that macro principle of actually focus on the ends not the means is – even for fitness, that’s what we are talking about here and loving yourself. Many people want to be “thin” because they because they believe it will make them feel a certain way. Why not just feel that way? Bypass that and just go straight to the feeling.

Suzanne: That’s true. I love it.

Jonathan: The goal is not to be thin. The goal is to take actions that will make you achieve the emotional state you believe you will have once you are thin, if that makes sense.

Suzanne: Right.

Jonathan: Well, Suzanne, I feel cleansed after this. I feel emotionally healed after this conversation.

Suzanne: That’s awesome, so do I.

Jonathan: Well, I love it. Well, Suzanne, this has been an absolute pleasure. Folks, if you want to learn more about Suzanne and in fact, work out with her, you can because she has a brand new streaming work out program on her site that works cross platform and she’s just out there in the internet world breaking down barriers. I love it. That website is SuzanneBowenFitness.com. That’s S-u-z-a-n-n-e-b-o-w-e-n-f-i-t-n-e-s-s.com.

Suzanne: Got it.

Jonathan: Streaming workouts, all kinds of inspiration. Suzanne, what’s next for you?

Suzanne: I am going on Home Shopping Network next weekend to launch the BarreAmped DVDs. I’m doing that with Body by Jake so Jake Steinfield and I will be there. He’s a legend in fitness. Such a great guy. I’m also going to be the guest fitness expert on 19 Kids and Counting and that will air in June but we’ll be filming that on Tuesday so it’s a big week.

Jonathan: Oh, very, very cool. Well, congratulations on all that.

Suzanne: Thank you.

Jonathan: I know it will be a lot of fun so wishing you all the best.

Suzanne: Thank you so much, Jonathan.

Jonathan: I hope we can have you back on the show. It’s certainly been a pleasure.

Suzanne: I love it. Yes, thank you so much. Take care.

Jonathan: Thank you, Suzanne.

Suzanne: Bye.

Jonathan: See you. Listeners, I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did and remember this week and every week after eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Talk with you soon.

This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Suzanne Bowen. Suzanne is the founder of Suzanne Bowen Fitness and is here to help us take a smarter and more sustainable approach to exercise and to our self-image.