Hear your friends chatting up a new bar in town? No, they’re not talking about that kind of bar! Here’s what to expect from the barre workout and why it will become your favorite new spot to spend your happiest hour.
This workout is for the runner, for the dancer, for the athlete, for everyone really who’s looking to tighten and strengthen his or her total body. So unlace those sneakers, slip on some grippy socks and get ready to feel the burn — literally. It hurts so good.
Most barre-based classes use a combination of postures and movements inspired by ballet and other disciplines like yoga and Pilates. The barre is used as a prop for balance but should never be used as a crutch to cheat the inevitable spazzing of your muscles. Don’t be alarmed, this is completely normal and encouraged by all instructors, who say, “hold on to the shake, it means your muscles are getting stronger!”
And they’re right, I’ve taken almost 50 classes and every class I can hold poses longer, contract my abdominals with sharper precision and lift my heels higher off the carpet in my plié stance. It’s important to note that the leg and buns definition I’ve acquired since beginning my barre journey is well — defined.
Pretty sure the founder of Buns of Steel would be proud. For the majority of this low-impact, high-intensity class, your core is engaged while working your buns, quads and hamstrings (and even more abs). While doing these exercises it’s imperative to focus on isometric strength, meaning hold your body still while contracting a specific set of muscles. The isometric movements are partnered with high reps at a small range-of-motion. We’re talkin’ less than an inch of movement. For me, mastering these minute movements has been the most challenging part of the barre technique. Once I figured out this skill, it’s like someone opened the sweat gates.
“This is what I call the a-ha moment,” said Nicole Casten, instructor at Pure Barre in Alexandria, Va. “I remember my mom coming to the Mother’s Day event and after class saying that she couldn’t believe that such small movements could be so intense.”
Another piece of the barre puzzle is practicing the mind-body connection that is often required in a yoga or dance class.
“Throughout class you’re not just physically working, but you have to maintain a certain level of focus to make those sharp and isolated movements happen,” Casten said.
Here’s what to expect from a basic barre class:
The typical class ranges from 50-60 minutes and will take you through a full body workout that combines cardio and strength training. The stronger you get, the more calories you’ll burn, because — biology. The class starts with a warm up and a sequence of upper-body exercises that include small free weights (not more than 5-pound dumbbells), push-ups, planks and other exercises targeting the biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest and back muscles.
Next, you’ll use a ballet barre — there are several mounted to the walls of the room — and your own body weight for resistance to focus on thigh and seat muscles. Some studios use a small rubber ball to place in the upper thighs to work on strengthening the inner thighs by squeezing the ball while simultaneously exhausting the quads.
For the cool down, you’ll go through a series of stretches to lengthen those muscles you just burned out, allowing them to recover.
“My suggestion for all first-timers is to have fun and go at your own pace,” said Casten. “There are no levels and whether it’s your first or fifty-first class, you can always challenge yourself by sinking your seat lower or raising up higher on your tippy toes.”
Still trying to justify if this workout is really for you? If you’re hunched over in your chair reading this, this workout is for you. If you’re looking to tone and strengthen those muscles you’ve been neglecting, this workout is for you. If you’re looking to increase flexibility and reduce stress, this workout is for you.
“You’re in the driver seat of your workout and you have to take it day-by-day in order to achieve your own personal goals,” said Casten. “I’ve witnessed a client, who was a former runner and dancer, accomplish a huge goal of being able to do the splits again. It was such a proud moment for her on her barre journey.”
So, next time your friend or colleague suggests heading to the bar after work suggest this barre instead!
Post by Karlyn Williams. By day, Karlyn works in the communications industry and by night you can find her tearing up the dance floor at a Northern Virginia dance studio teaching tap, jazz and hip hop. You can also find her smashing girl stereotypes into tiny smithereens over at The Shattered Glass Slipper.