If you try to keep up with the world of fitness, then you’ve likely heard of the barre workout. This “ballerina routine” promises to sculpt your body, improve your core strength, and enhance full body flexibility, all in just a few sessions. Best of all, it claims to be a low-impact form of exercise that’s light on your joints and suitable for almost all ages and skill levels.
But what is barre, and are the benefits impressive enough that you should add the workout into your exercise routine? Decide for yourself, once you learn the facts.
What is Barre?
Barre is a style of workout that relies on a horizontal bar for many of the moves. The name comes from classical ballet, where a barre is a handrail that dancers use to perfect their form and gain support for the more difficult steps.
Barre workouts take these traditional ballet warmup moves and turn them into a full-body workout that’s suitable for non-dancers. The exercises focus on small isometric movements and full body stretches to lengthen your muscles and increase your flexibility. While every studio is different, a standard barre workout will switch between dance moves, barre bar stretches, Pilates, and even yoga poses. Though the poses will work your entire body, they primarily focus on your lower half to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion in everything from your ankles through your glutes.
History of the Barre Workout
Though the workout has recently exploded in popularity, the history of barre actually dates back decades. The practice began with Lotte Berk, a German-Jewish dancer who designed the workout to aid her recovery process from a lingering back injury. In 1959, she opened the first barre studio in her London basement to teach other women her dance-influenced moves. Over the following decades, the workout slowly grew a following.
Barre made it to America in 1971 after international traveler Lydia Bach bought the rights to the franchise and opened her own studio in New York City. She quickly attracted a following of dozens of ultra-committed women to this distinctly feminine way to work out. Throughout the 80s and 90s, barre grew in popularity with women who wanted to develop a dancer physique.
Over the past ten years, barre has hit mainstream popularity, and new studios are opening across the world. If you haven’t seen a barre studio in your neighborhood yet, the odds are good you might soon.
What are the Benefits of Barre?
Besides being a form of exercise, what’s the real appeal of a barre workout? Does it offer you anything that a standard Pilates workout can’t deliver? Many people seem to think so. Below are some of the biggest benefits of a barre workout.
1. Can Improve Female Sexual Satisfaction
One of the purported benefits that first popularized barre workouts in the 70s and 80s is its ability to improve sexual satisfaction for women, primarily by strengthening the pelvis and abdominal muscles. Likewise, barre exercises improve muscle strength and endurance in ways that help women gain more stamina, in the bedroom and elsewhere.
2. Leaner, Well-Rounded Muscle Tone
A barre workout’s emphasis on stretching out your muscles means that you won’t bulk up but will instead develop lean muscles that are better for endurance. The exercises are designed to target “support and steady” muscles that are closely connected with your bones in your arms, legs and back vertebrae to improve your balance and core strength. This means that completing a barre routine helps you tone up muscles that other workouts (like running) tend to neglect. In other words, barre enables you to strengthen your muscles from every angle, not just moving forward and backward.
3. Improve Muscle Strength Without Risk of Injury
A traditional barre workout is filled with dozens of slight, one-inch movements that are called isometric contractions. These movements work your body in ways that are the opposite of standard strength training, as you temporarily hold the postures and get a mini-recovery between each pulse so that you can hold it for longer overall. This lets you do more reps with smaller movements, increasing your endurance while putting less strain on your tendons and ligaments- reducing your risk of injury in the process.
4. Low Impact Exercise
Thanks to the support bar, barre exercise routines tend to be low impact. This makes them a smart option for people who need extra stability and less tension put on their joints, like older adults or those dealing with injuries.
5. Good Complement to Cardio
Barre’s smooth, rhythmic movements make it an ideal complement to traditional cardio workouts. The routine will help you develop your stability and flexibility in ways that improve your performance. And, as barre workouts tend to burn fewer calories than traditional cardio exercises, they are an excellent option for improving your health on rest days.
6. Can Lead to Weight Loss
Though a barre workout doesn’t burn as many calories as other exercise methods, it helps you build up muscle tone that contributes to weight loss. Incorporating a barre bar into your workout routine will also enhance the benefits that you get from your traditional workout on non-barre days.
7. Targets Multiple Muscle Groups at Once
Throughout a barre workout, you repeatedly perform multiple movements at once, like holding, pulsing, and stretching. This helps you target numerous muscle groups at once to maximize the improvements for your fitness level.
8. Fatigues Individual Muscles
Holding barre poses is more difficult than it looks, which is why it’s common for beginners and experts alike to start shaking in the middle of the workout. Muscle fatigue causes this, and it’s a sign that you’re working those target muscles to their limit.
9. Fosters a Mind-Body Connection
A barre workout’s focus on small movements means that you need to remain aware of your body throughout the workout. Staying in control of how your muscles are moving at any given moment works to boost your neuro-muscular (mind-body) connection.
10. Great for Pregnant Women
Thanks to its low impact exercise structure and readily available support bar, barre workouts are considered safe for pregnant women. In fact, the routine is considered especially helpful with imbalance and stability issues for women during the second and third trimester.
What To Expect Before Your Barre Class
If you’re a beginner at barre, it’s best to learn the basics of the workout strategy by taking classes with a certified instructor. This map helps you locate your closest Pure Barre studio, and this one shows you options for The Bar Method.
It’s natural to feel nervous, but wearing the right clothing will help you feel more comfortable. As a rule, wear clothing that you can easily move in, like leggings, a good quality sports bra, and a tank top. Shoes aren’t necessary, as classes are indoors and most are on carpet. Some people find it useful to wear grippy socks to improve their traction with the ground.
While every studio and instructor will lead their barre class differently, most follow the same basic structure. You’ll start with the group doing mat-based warmups like planks and pushups before moving on to arm exercises. From there, you’ll move to the bar to focus on your glutes and thighs. Most sessions finish with abdominal exercises at the bar or on a mat.
Tips for Getting Started with Barre
As you prep for your class, it’s smart to keep these tips in mind.
It’s okay to be confused: Barre classes follow a unique pattern of moves that beginners won’t understand. It might take three sessions or more before you feel like you know what your instructor is telling you, and that’s okay! The learning process can take place at your own pace – and you’ll probably feel sore in the process.
Don’t fear shaking: It’s common to feel your legs start shaking in the middle of a barre workout, and that’s a sign that you’re doing something right. Take shaking as a sign that you’ve targeted the muscles in your leg and are working them hard in ways that will deliver results.
Small movements are best: A successful barre workout relies on minor shifts in your physical position for significant results, so you’ll often hear your instructor telling you to move an inch or less at a time. For those used to the explosive movements of an intense cardio session, this can take some time to get used to. Think small with your actions, and your progress will be anything but.
Master the Tuck: The “tuck” is a critical move in barre, and it’s the practice of tilting your pelvis forward while drawing in your abdominals and shortening the distance between your hip bones and rib cage. Proper form is critical for keeping your lower back protected during your movements, so practice with an instructor until you have mastered the technique.
Practice at home: Visiting a barre studio a few times a month is a great start, but to see results from your training you should practice at home as well. Consider using a higher countertop as a barre bar, or buy your own for your home gym.
One thing to remember about beginning a barre workout is that it doesn’t need to be intimidating. You don’t need dance experience or fancy equipment to get started – just a willingness to learn and stretch your body in new directions.
Are There Concerns with a Barre Workout?
Like all forms of exercise, there are some risks involved with barre. For instance, improper form during a tuck can lead to back pain and injuries, and some studios emphasize deep plié bends that can strain knees. In some cases, barre class participants have injured themselves while exercising later because of the amount of pressure that the workout put on their knees and joints.
Beyond the potential for injuries, some people find that a barre routine doesn’t provide a well-balanced workout. Because barre classes rarely focus on compound movements like lunges and squats that target multiple muscle groups at once, you might not build much functional strength or get your heart rate where you want it. An easy solution to this concern is to use barre as a complement to a cardio workout to ensure that your fitness routine is well-rounded for better health results.
Should You Try Barre?
If you’re looking for a new way to challenge your body and build strength and flexibility, then consider adding barre classes to your workout routine. It’s best to view this trendy routine as a way to fine-tune your body for better results in other aspects of your training. Try adding barre classes to your schedule once or twice a week to complement cardio and strength training, and you’ll start to see results fast. This proven workout is the perfect way to develop well-rounded fitness, so try it today to see what it can provide for your body.