You probably already know that barre classes involve, well, a ballet barre and a ballet-like routine, but there’s much more to the workout than meets the eye. In fact, research has shown that long-term ballerinas are more skilled not only at their complex and composed craft but also at simple, everyday skills all humans use on a daily basis. Barre makes sense for those of us looking to strengthen and tone, but it also can seriously come in handy in all other areas of life.
What is barre?
While the fitness craze known as barre does hold its origins in the pliés, pirouettes and leg lifts involved in the classical dance, it’s much more than that. It’s a full-fledged energizing and invigorating exercise of its own. Barre fitness classes began back in the 1950s, when an injured ballet dancer, Lotte Berk, opened a studio in London that infused basic ballet training with rehabilitative therapy.
What started as The Lotte Berk Method soon found its way to the U.S. Barre’s ability to incorporate a mix of moves and exercise inspired not only by ballet but also Pilates, dance, yoga and functional training (i.e. movements that mimic activities you do in your daily life, like balance and posture), caught on quickly with the general population. Today there are countless barre studios all over the place.
Most are set to fun, motivating music and involve choreographed, isometric movements that target your core, arms, legs, and, of course, glutes. While barre’s not cardio-heavy, its precise, targeted movements strengthen hard-to-reach muscles that are often left unworked in many other fitness routines.
For those looking for a workout that involves a little less hustle, sweat and wear and tear on the muscles, barre might be for you. Bonus: You barely even sweat, so you can do it in the morning before work or during your lunch break without even needing to shower!
Who does barre work for?
Barre sets no boundaries when it comes to age, weight or fitness level. New to fitness? Or have fallen off the fitness wagon? Barre is great for exercisers of all experience levels. Even if you’ve never taken a dance class in your life, you’re still in the clear, as instructors are specially trained to guide newcomers through movements and cater to all strength and flexibility levels. Barre is also an individual workout so you can challenge yourself at your own pace without affecting anyone else’s workout in the class.
The physical benefits of barre
Strength and definition
The majority of strength-training workouts involve concentric and eccentric muscle contractions, which occur when a muscle stretches and shortens. This happens when you do a bicep curl, for instance—you’re building muscle. Barre workouts, on the other hand, consist of a series of isometric contractions, meaning they don’t involve any joint movement and the tension on the muscle is consistent instead of steadily built. This type of contraction involve higher-rep, lower-weight exercises that increase endurance, so you not only strengthen your muscle over time, you also define it in a more concise way.
You don’t need to be able to perform a full split to reap the benefits of barre—but you will slowly start to notice increased flexibility as you continually attend class. Repeated stretches, leg lifts, pliés and lunges take their course and before you know it, your muscles are looser, longer and leaner.
If you’re sick of grandma’s constant nagging to “sit up straight,” you’ll be pleased to know barre enhances your posture. Your core muscles are engaged throughout the class, and when muscles in your torso are strengthened, there’s less pressure on your back, thus less of an inclination to slouch over!
Not a fan of dripping-sweat cardio classes? Or simply looking to limit your chances of injury? Barre classes place less pressure on your joints and are less intense than many other fitness classes. You can even do barre when you’re pregnant or have minor injuries—just make sure to run them by your instructor before class begins.
The mental benefits of barre
The small movements done in a barre class are so specific and targeted that you’ll find yourself newly aware of certain areas of your body, such as your inner thighs. Who knew you could work out that area solely—and to the max? Barre exercises also strengthen the connection your brain has with your body, otherwise known as the neuromuscular connection.
Not every barre class is the same—nor does it call for the same level of energy, play the same music or use the same choreography. These ever-changing variables make for a fun and exciting experience each time you go.