What is Barre?
By: Rachel Primé
This is not your grandmother’s Saturday morning aerobics class. Don’t be fooled by the light weights and low-impact isometric movements, this is a challenging full body workout. Your muscles will shake and you will most certainly see results if you practice barre on a regular basis. I have seen huge changes in my own body – my abs now come out to play (not so much when I eat pizza…but that’s to be expected). There is also much more definition in my quads and lift in my glutes than ever before.
The beauty of barre is that it uses elements of yoga, dance, and Pilates to target different muscle groups for stability and strengthening. The exercises consist of isometric movements designed to create long and lean muscles. Since the movements are small, they require a ton of precision and control (i.e. no momentum). Barre was developed in the late 1950s by a rather eccentric German dancer named Lotte Berk (she named her exercises things like “the peeing dog” and “the prostitute”). Although the method has certainly evolved over time, Berk’s foundation remains an integral part of barre training and certification programs.
A barre class can be broken down into the following segments: core stability, thigh work, seat work, upper body, and core strengthening, all sandwiched in between a warm-up and cool-down/stretch. Almost every exercise you’ll perform in a barre class incorporates a series of pulses and holds to really exhaust the muscles. The music is fun and upbeat, and contrary to what the name suggests, usually only about half of the class is done using the ballet barre. Depending on the studio and instructor, you will also use equipment such as a mat, stability balls, resistance bands, yoga blocks, and light hand weights.
If you’re wondering what the heck any of this looks like – look no further! Below are some examples to illustrate one exercise from each of the barre class segments.
1. Core Stability – Plank
Okay so let’s be honest here – planks are kind of the worst. BUT they are also kind of the best because they work all the muscles of your core, including your back. In addition, different variations (such as the side plank shown here) can help improve balance and work your upper body as well.
2. Thigh Work – Chair Plié
This one really targets your quads and burns those babies out. The movement starts from standing straight up and sitting back into that imaginary chair, and then evolves into tiny one inch pulses and holds. There is also a variation with heels lifted in relevé, which works your calves as well.
3. Seat Work – Leg Lift
The key here is to keep your abs engaged so that your lower back doesn’t arch. Use your seat to lift your leg up and bring it back down to tap your toe on the floor. The next challenge here is to leave your leg at hip height and pulse it up. If you’re looking for a booty lift, you’ve come to the right place.
4. Upper Body – Shoulder Press
In a V-sit position with a C-curve spine, start with your arms in goal post and then raise them straight up overhead. Next, you progress to pulses with your arms in goal post. For an extra challenge and more ab work, you can lift one or both legs away from the floor while you do the shoulder press and pulses.
5. Core Strength – Double Leg Lower
SLOWLY lower both legs toward the ground and raise them back up just as slowly and with control. Your range of movement here will be dictated by your lower back – if it starts arching off the floor, shorten the movement. This exercise will really target those pesky lower abs. You know what they say – abs are made in the kitchen and at barre class.
Barre is a wonderful hybrid workout that is challenging for anyone, from fitness gurus to beginners. There are so many exercises, variations, and modifications that the chances of two classes being exactly the same are slim to none. Barre has been around for almost 60 years and has been gaining popularity lately as group fitness has become very mainstream. I assure you, it’s not just another one of those fitness fads but actually a really deliberate workout that is very much worth 50 or 60 minutes of your time.
Rachel is a barre instructor at Studio U Boston.
* Photo Credit: Alexa Bleecker