Barre studios have popped up on what seems like every corner in every major city. They’re the leader of the pack when it comes to the boutique studio craze that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, anytime soon. Still, as popular as barre has become in recent years, there’s a lot of confusion about what it is, what experience you need to attend and what to wear and bring to your first class.
First of all, don’t let the title scare you. There is a ballet barre in most barre studios but it is for balance more than anything and some instructors will reference foot positions from ballet but there’s no dance experience required. In fact, post-ballerinas might even be disappointed in the lack of ballet. Most barre studios describe their classes as a mix between ballet, yoga and Pilates but a more accurate description might be a mix between yoga, Pilates and lightweight strength-training, utilizing the ballet barre. Classes are accessible to beginners and fitness enthusiasts alike and, no, you don’t need to be flexible to start but you’ll likely gain flexibility with repeated attendance (along with strength and a slim, toned physique).
The Benefits of Barre
One of the strongest benefits of barre is that, similar to yoga, many barre participants report improvement in other areas of fitness. “Most participants in barre who run often report having a stronger more consistent running pace and a general sense of having more energy for long distance running,” says Tricia Murphy Madden, Education Director of Savvier Fitness and co-creator of Barre Above who, speaking of running, mentions that’s not the only place where barefoot workouts are popular. “Most barre classes are completed barefoot and the health benefits of working barefoot are endless,” she says, “From better hip and knee joint mobility to easier physical recovery from muscle overhaul or physical exhaustion like jet lag or lack of sleep.”
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
Barre is primarily a strength and flexibility exercise more than a cardiovascular workout but it can still aide in weight loss and fat-burning. “Because most people have never taken a barre workout and often don’t participate in this type of time over tension, their bodies will respond extraordinarily well,” says Murphy Madden. The effect is much like that soreness after moving or participating in a sport or activity that you haven’t done in a while. Mixing it up is a great way to confuse the muscles in a good way.
The dramatic results that students experience from barre comes from both confusing the muscles and legitimately working muscles throughout the entire body. “Barre workouts target some of the largest muscle groups in the body, like the thighs and glutes and the larger the muscle being worked, the more calories it burns during and after the workout,” says Lauren George, MS, creator of PulsePointe barre and owner of Clemson Fitness Company, “With consistency, you will build more lean muscle mass and increase your resting metabolic rate which will help you burn more calories at rest.”
In addition, some barre classes (including PulsePointe barre) incorporate cardio segments to increase heart rate and calorie burn but even if your class offers a few spurts of cardio, a healthy, balanced fitness routine will include time dedicated to more cardio in addition to the strength and flexibility you get in barre.
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
No matter how many article headlines announce that lifting weights will not lead to bulk, many women are still nervous about picking up the barbells. In barre class, you’ll use a variety of equipment but, usually, the heaviest weights you’ll see are five pounds. Instead of relying on heavy weights for strength, your instructor will lead you through holding positions and ‘pulsing’ moves to tire muscles without lifting heavy. “Time over tension is one of the most effective ways for building lean muscle mass and when accompanied with a healthy diet most participants will see a difference in how their clothes fit in a matter of weeks,” says Murphy Madden, “Women especially love the idea of barre because it utilizes lighter weights and the goal is to strengthen and tone the existing body mass in contrast to lifting heavy weights where the overall goal is gain muscle mass.”
Another unique aspect of barre is the combination of targeting large and small muscle groups. As mentioned above, large muscle group work will help with calorie burn but George says learning to recruit smaller, stabilizing muscles through isometric exercises in addition to those larger range of motion movements can help improve performance in other activities and sports and prevent injury and just like mixing it up can help with weight loss, “The variety of exercises performed from week to week keeps your body guessing and prevents a plateau in strength development,” says George, “ Joseph Pilates once said, “Developing minor muscles naturally helps to strengthen major muscles.”..
Any quality workout should offer the opportunity for weight loss and/or muscle-building but that alone does not create a craze. According to George, barre classes offer much more, including:
- Improved posture! Barre and Pilates exercises focus on working in proper posture and strengthening the core stabilizer muscles that promote good posture and a healthy back.
- Decreased back pain. Many people experience back pain due to a weak core, tight hip flexors, and or weak hamstrings. The focus on strength and flexibility in barre classes work to correct these imbalances.
- Increased self-confidence. Feeling strong, centered, graceful, and part of an empowering community can help increase self-confidence and unleash your happiest self! Endorphins are good for everyone!
- A stronger core. If done correctly, barre is an hour-long core workout! Dynamic stabilization of the core during standing exercises means you are working your core the entire class, not just during floor work.
Instructional Mixed Martial Arts Videos and Training Tips
Both Murphy Madden and George agree that there are some quality at-home online and DVD options out there and Murphy Madden suggests this might be a great option for a shy participant. This might also be the only option for someone with young children, a frequent traveler or someone with a schedule that doesn’t permit in-studio classes on a regular basis but both also agree that the experience is so much better live and in-person. An in-studio class and a live instructor will offer variety in exercises, technique cues, form adjustments and motivation that you won’t get at home but something is certainly better than nothing so, if you do need an option outside of the studio, check out the following:
Your online class or DVD will mention the equipment you’ll need but, most likely, you’ll want the following:
- A steady chair or counter top (to act as your ‘barre’)
- A set of light hand weights, around 2-3 pounds
- A resistance band (the flat variety, not tubing with handles)
- A small fitness/Pilates ball
- A yoga mat
Classes: What to Expect; Should I Take Them?
If you’re interested in barre and there are local classes at a studio or gym in your neighborhood that work with your schedule, there is no better way to try it out. Most studios provide all of the equipment you’ll need, including a yoga mat so just show up with a water bottle and expect to have fun, work hard and, as with all new classes and activities, Murphy Madden recommends resting when needed. “Barre is about muscular endurance so the first time a student participates, it will feel a bit overwhelming so give yourself permission to take a break,” she says, “Taking breaks will provide an opportunity to regroup and get back into the series.” She also recommends introducing yourself to your instructor to let him/her know you’re new to class and notify them of any injuries or physical limitations and adds “A great instructor will respond and provide the best opportunities for you to succeed.”
- Show up early. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get situated before your first class. There may be paperwork for you to sign, equipment to set up, and a restroom stop never hurts either. You don’t want to start class flustered because you arrived right as the instructor pushed play on the stereo.
- Don’t be shy. If your instructor isn’t standing by the door when you walk in, make it a point to say hi to him/her before class starts. We love meeting new students and want to make sure we have time to answer any questions you may have before class. This will also let the instructor know to keep an eye out for you so they can give you extra technique tips along the way!
- Don’t hide in the back of the room. Most barre classes have barres on multiple walls, so make sure you set up at the barre with a good view of the instructor. Not sure where the instructor stands? Ask them or ask the friendly regular next to you. I’m sure they would be happy to help!
- Fuel up ahead of time. Don’t forget to have a light easily digestible snack about 30 minutes to an hour prior to class if it’s been awhile since your last meal. When you exert as much energy as you do during a tough barre class, it is essential to have something in your stomach, especially for early morning classes.
- Start with light weights. Although you may be able to bust out 12 bicep curls or tricep kickbacks with 15lb dumbbells in the weight room, barre upper body exercises are quite different. We can make even the strongest athlete feel the burn with light weights. Start out with a fairly light set (say 2-3lbs) and work your way up from there.
- Bigger isn’t always better. Barre is a combination of small isometric moves that target individual muscles and larger compound exercises that target multiple muscles groups at once and elevate the heart rate. Make sure you listen to the instructor as to how big your range of motion should be. Sometimes an exercise will be so concentrated, you may not be able to tell you are moving at all, but I promise your muscles will be feeling the burn!
- Focus on posture. Great posture is the foundation of any barre class. Focus on keeping your core engaged and shoulders down throughout every exercise. This will not only help you get the most out of your workout, but help you maintain great posture when you leave the class.
- Stick with it. The day after your first barre class, don’t be surprised if you wake up so sore you curse your instructor under your breath (or maybe out loud) as you get out of bed. After you’ve imagined tossing your pillow right at his/her face, get your spandex on and head back to class. Yep, back into the lion’s den. It will actually help you to loosen up your muscles and stay committed to your fitness goals! After a week, you’ll be so hooked you’d rather skip happy hour than your favorite barre class. If you commit to taking barre classes regularly (3-5 times per week), you will most definitely see the results you are after!
Clothes and Proper Attire
Pull out your cutest, favorite fitness gear for barre class…or grab an old t-shirt and gym shorts. Because it’s such a popular class right now, you’ll likely see a lot of trendy, matching outfits but, as far as function, anything goes in barre. “I know you were hoping to have a reason to bust out your tutu from 4th grade,” says George who adds, “There are no barre-specific clothes you have to wear to class but it definitely helps to wear clothes that you will feel comfortable in.” You’ll usually only sweat a little so your clothing doesn’t need to be the breathable, wicking fabric you’d need for spin class and and there’s not a lot of upside down moves like there are in yoga, so even loose-fit tops can fit the part. You’ll find a lot of fitted leggings (to show off those sexy thighs) in any barre class – again, they’re not really functionally necessary but they do accentuate the lengthening movements practiced throughout class.