While HIIT regimens have skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years, so have barre workouts, which offer a different kind of challenge without the heart-pounding, high-impact intensity. That’s not to say that barre workouts are easy, as they offer a different, targeted way to tax the muscles. And you don’t have to be a dancer to participate.
Today, you can find specialized barre studios and classes at health clubs nationwide and local recreation centers, as well as DVDs and streaming videos online. So, what are barre workouts, and why should you try them?
Rooted in ballet, barre workouts are based on exercises using a ballet barre for support, and can incorporate yoga, Pilates, dance and functional movements. They often incorporate music and are performed in groups, led by an instructor.
Formats can vary, but typically include a warm-up on a mat, with upper-body work, such as push-ups and planks, followed by lower-body exercises at the barre, including plies, standing abductions, hip extensions and more. Additional core work and flexibility follow at the barre or on the mat. Some classes incorporate accessories, such as resistance bands, light hand weights or mini-balls.
Exercises that you can expect in barre classes include relevés, arabesque attitudes, rond de jambes, passes, plie port de bras, side planks, pretzel lifts and more. Don’t worry if you have no idea what these are – the instructor provides specific directions, cues and corrections along the way.
Barre workouts focus on small movements, isometric contractions, repeated pulses and squeezes to achieve muscle fatigue and failure. Movements are precise, controlled and intentional – and the high-repetition format challenges muscles. It’s a very different workout than a free-weight session in the gym, which usually incorporates compound movements with a broad range of motion, heavier resistance and fewer repetitions.
Benefits of Barre Exercise
While no workout is perfect for everyone, barre workouts definitely offer several advantages:
- Accessible – Most anyone can do a barre workout, unlike a killer boot camp. The moves are fairly simple, modifications and progressions are available and participants can take a break from exercise at any time. Beginners and advanced exercisers can both be suitably challenged.
- No impact – Jumping and bouncing are hard on the joints, and some people can’t tolerate repetitive impact, workout after workout. Barre sessions provide a welcome break from the pounding.
- Greater muscular endurance – All those small movements and repetitions add up, and the muscles increase in their ability to sustain repeated contractions over time.
- Improved body awareness and posture – With so much emphasis on the core and the posture in class, you’re bound to walk a bit taller and feel more graceful outside of barre workouts.
- Better flexibility – Countering the isometric contractions with deliberate stretching can help enhance range of motion, which can help reduce your risk of injury in other workouts and sports.
- Enhanced mind-body connection – Like yoga and Pilates, barre workouts require concentration and a focus on the movements and muscles being targeted. This can be a great way to de-stress or simply leave the burdens of the day at the door.
Tips for First-Timers
To get the most out of your barre workout, consider:
- Wear comfortable, form-fitting clothes, like you would for yoga.
- Workouts are done barefoot or with socks with a textured bottom to prevent slipping.
- Don’t worry if your muscles shake – that means they are fatiguing, which is what you want!
- Ask questions to make sure you’re performing moves correctly.
- Don’t give up after one class. It takes time to learn the moves and feel comfortable. Keep at it!