Dancers have known the secret to a long, lean, flexible body for centuries, but only recently has much of their training regimen become mainstream. Barre fitness classes are the latest fitness trend sweeping the nation, and it’s no wonder. Regular participants are seeing fast results when it comes to toned arms and legs, a stronger core, flatter abs, smaller waistlines and more.
Why Barre Works
Barre classes blend cardio, strength and stretching to burn fat, build muscle and increase flexibility – all in one hour. Exercises focus on using one’s own bodyweight to build muscle, and greater muscle mass also results in more calorie burning during downtime.
What To Expect In Barre
Many “brands” of barre fitness exist, but most combine the best elements of ballet, Pilates and yoga. Classes emphasize interval overload, or working the muscles to fatigue, within timed intervals. The goal? To push muscles to the point where it feels like you can’t do one more lift, squeeze, squat, pulse or tuck. The isometric strength training involves high
repetitions, usually with a relatively small range of motion and concentration on posture and core engagement.
Between repetitions, students commonly pause to stretch the newly worked muscle group, because elongating the muscle immediately after it has been worked results in both toned and flexible muscles – just like the lean, long look of a dancer’s body.
Barre classes begin with a 5 to 10 minute warm up, which is sometimes followed by 10 to 15 minutes of work with light weights for upper body toning. The bulk of the class occurs at the barre, which focuses on strengthening the lower body, especially the glutes. Floor work, on mats, usually lasts for about 10 minutes and involves working the abdominals. Then, a cool-down helps stretch and lengthen already warmed-up muscle groups.
Though the classes are quite challenging, instructors provide various alternatives to advanced exercises, and the low-impact aspect of barre makes it appropriate for pregnant women to participate (with their doctor’s approval).
Classes build muscle through a series of squats, pliés (in various turned-out foot positions, to target specific muscles), toe and heel lifts, arm holds, planks and other specific repetitions, such as squeezing playground balls between the inner thighs.
Traditional ballet exercises, like rélevés (balancing on toes) engage both the target muscles as well as ancillary muscles, resulting in an increase of core stability and balance.
Music is usually upbeat and sometimes even hypnotic, in order to promote controlled, graceful leg lifts, pulses and other strengthening techniques.
Using the ballet barre and turned-out leg positioning helps students work their lower body in unique ways, especially when compared to ordinary squats, lunges and machine workouts.
Many instructors recommend attending barre classes three to four times a week for best results. Participants usually wear non-slip socks, go barefoot, or wear light shoes, which allow them to flex and point their toes. Tight-fitting clothing is encouraged, in order to view, and adjust, alignment and posture. Proper posture often involves a tucked pelvis, to better engage core muscles. It’s also important to keep the joints aligned in various positions, to avoid strain or injury.
How It Started
Ballet began in late 15th century Italy as an artistic interpretation of fencing. Men were the first to practice the dance, followed by women in 1681. This five-hundred-year-old tradition forms the basis of barre fitness, making it well-studied and structured.
A German ballet dancer, Lotte Bark, in conjunction with an orthopedist, developed a form of barre fitness to help rehabilitate himself from a severe spinal injury in the 1950s. It soon drew celebrities like Joan Collins and Barbara Streisand and gained popularity as students saw significant changes in their bodies.
By 1971, Lydia Bach bought the rights to Lotte Berk’s name and infused his method with more dance and yoga. In 2006, Tanya Becker updated the routine, adding more upper-body strengthening and removing downtime between repetitions.
Since then, various people have tweaked barre fitness and franchised it under names like Definitive Barre Fitness, The Barre Method, Xtend Barre, Core Fusion, Pure Barre, Booty Bar and The Ballet Physique. Still, the principles of repetition overload, isometric exercises, core strength, alignment, balance and building long, lean muscles through an emphasis on ballet and Pilates techniques, remain constant.
Barre is one of the most hip and fastest-growing fitness techniques today because dynamic, choreographed repetitions result in not only well-sculpted bodies, but also in a fun, addictive way to feel graceful while burning calories, challenging core strength and balance, and improving flexibility. Go ahead and give it a try; it may just become your new favourite workout.