Barre studios have been cropping up just about everywhere over the past few years. While barre might seem like a fashionable, trendy approach to getting your sweat on, these classes can deliver a serious workout.
When you look at any barre studio’s website, you’ll see them touting the benefits of the method: long, lean muscles, better posture, increased strength and the coveted physique of a trained ballet dancer. That said, there’s a lot more to it than honing your plies. When done correctly, barre is an effective workout that stacks up against many of the boot camps and other strength training routines popular today.
What is the barre workout?
Barre’s history starts with the ballet. Many of the workout’s moves are based on ballet positions, and exercisers rely on a ballet barre for many aspects of their workouts.
As you can probably guess, barre was developed by a ballerina, Lotte Berk. The German dancer developed the routine after injuring her back, combining her physical therapy with dance conditioning. Berk opened her first studio in 1959 in a London basement. In the 1970s, Lydia Bach, a longtime student of Berk’s, brought the method back to the U.S., opening the first barre studio in NYC.
These days, barre has expanded from being a niche workout designed for dancers to a solid workout option adopted by fitness enthusiasts and beginners alike. And contrary to perceptions, there’s no prerequisite of having the ballet dancer’s innate grace and rhythm, either. Just about anyone can do the barre workout.
The classes combine elements from dance, Pilates, yoga and more, using a ballet barre, plus equipment like hand weights and mini balls to slim, stretch and strengthen your entire body. Different studios use different pieces of equipment, so in some cases you can also expect to see resistance bands, mats and weights during a barre routine.
How does barre compare to other types of exercise?
Barre is unique, and effective, because it combines strength training and cardio. That means you’re getting a calorie burn combined with muscle building.
Unlike yoga or Pilates, barre incorporates equipment such as free weights and resistance bands to amp up the weight training aspect of your workout. And then there’s the actual barre, which is used to help you keep your balance while focusing on form in front of a mirror.
Another major difference between barre and other types of strength training is that barre focuses primarily on small, isometric movements. Rather than jumping and squatting and performing large movements, isometric motions focus on using strategic movement to targeting specific muscle areas. With barre you’ll often be moving just an inch, which is a lot harder than it sounds.
The benefits of barre
Barre believers will go on and on about how the class can transform your body into that of a trained professional ballerina. Realistically, the workout won’t change your body type, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see and feel some powerful results.
Proven barre benefits include increased flexibility, better posture and improved strength and muscle definition. Narre classes could also help people overcome stress and provide a low-impact exercise appropriate for pregnant women. While barre is challenging, just about anyone can participate, regardless of fitness level.
What do you wear to barre class?
Unlike Soul Cycle, you don’t need to buy any specialized shoes or other gear to get started with barre. Instead, look toward the yoga studio for sartorial inspiration; think, no shoes, plus form-fitting exercise wear. Skip the flowy tops and flared yoga pants. Tighter clothing is essential, as your barre instructor will need to look at pelvic placement and alignment as you work through the poses.
Although many barre studios encourage students to go barefoot, some ask that you wear sticky socks or footpads to prevent slipping. Others recommend wearing studio wraps, which keep ankles in line and simultaneously prevent slipping.
If you’re just starting out with barre, you could be a bit confused by the class. Between the tucking, the mat work and the small measured movements, there’s a lot to keep track of—and it all requires precision. On top of the specific actions you need to master, the classes move through poses quickly to provide the most effective workout.
We recommend giving the class a few tries before committing to an opinion. But regardless of whether barre becomes a fixture of your fitness routine, prepare to be sore for a few days after your first class. When performed with correct form alongside a knowledgeable instructor, barre will give your muscles a workout different than you’ll find in any other class.