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A Beginner's Guide to Barre Class

Barre is a full body workout that uses small movements with high reps to strengthen and tone your entire body. It often involves a ballet barre (though not always) but is not actually ballet, so you do not need dance experience to enjoy it and get all the benefits it provides.

The great thing about this workout is that it can be done either in a studio or at home with minimal to no equipment once you understand how to connect your mind and body. What that means in plain English is that you can feel each muscle engaging and focus on that to get the most out of each movement.

For example, during a plank set, you can focus on engaging your core, quads, and glutes rather than just going through the movements.

Let’s first discuss what barre is. It’s sort of a hybrid of ballet, Pilates, and yoga. There can be an actual ballet barre involved (or a chair or counter at home) for balance, plus floor work on a yoga mat for core. You will feel like you are working out like a dancer without any of the calluses and bloody toes. You will work your arms, core, booty, and legs in isolation - but much of the value of Barre is that you recruit your full body for most everything.

The benefits of barre are many, most notably because it is good for any fitness level. Unlike, say, Crossfit, barre moves can be easily modified. For this reason you can see a wide range of ages and fitness levels in the class. Everybody can benefit from this fitness method.

With that being said, here is why I fell in love with barre, and why I think you will too.

  1. You work muscles you didn’t even know you had. There are some calf, shoulder, booty, inner thigh and back muscles that are ignited by barre movements that you may have never truly activated before.

  2. You walk away feeling very graceful, with a sense that you moved your body with reverence. The focus on posture and form does make you feel a bit like you are taking a ballet class, and you leave feeling leaner and more graceful.

  3. You quickly see (after a month or so) muscles appearing, most notably in your shoulders. Your shoulders are usually the first place where you see muscle definition, but if you are one of those people with shoulder problems, the light weight load should allow you to do the exercises. That is a wonderful motivating factor to keep going.

  4. You don’t feel like you can’t make it through this class but instead feel energized. Then the next day you often feel like parts of your legs died (particularly early on). There’s nothing better than a good workout sore except having a workout that is enjoyable and hooks you then makes you feel that way.

  5. All of the Benefits, None of the Impact. Barre has a unique way of giving you sculpted, lean muscles and a great cardio pump without stressing your joints like running or jumping exercises do. Remember: Low impact does NOT mean low intensity!

  6. Full Body Workout. Barre encompasses your muscles from head to toe. Plies shape your legs and booty, balance and releves give your calves work, and lighter weights give a high rep burn to your arms, back, and shoulders. And everything about Barre works your core and posture.

  7. Tall, Beautiful Posture. Standing tall, tucking your pelvis and core, keeping shoulders back and neck long... these all become second nature when you become acclimated to Barre. What feels normal in class begins to feel normal in everyday life.

  8. Better Flexibility. Reaching, bending, lengthening, stretching... these are all common cues in a Barre class. The goal is to make your muscles longer, leaner, and more flexible overall.

What Do You Need and Know For a Barre Class?

Typically, all that is used in a basic Barre class is a yoga mat, light weights, and the barre. Other "tools" may include resistance bands, pilates balls, ankle and wrist weights, and pilates rings. If the floor is not a mat or is slippery, you will want to wear gripped socks or go barefoot.

Basic terminology:

  1. First Position: A posture in which toes are pointed outward with heels touching. (I call it a pizza slice.) First position can be performed with heels on or off the ground.

  2. Second Position: A posture in which the feet are hip width or wider apart with toes pointed outward. *NOTE: Everyone has different turnout based on individual anatomy.

  3. Parallel (Sixth) Position: A posture in which the feet are side by side, both pointing forward (can be close together or hip width).

  4. Turnout: In ballet, turnout is the rotation of the leg at the hip. This causes the foot and knee to turn outward, away from the front of the body. This rotation allows for greater extension of the leg, especially when raising it to the side and rear. *NOTE: Never force your feet to turn out further than your knees or hips.

  5. Plie: A movement in which you bend your knees and straighten them again, usually with the feet turned out and heels firmly on the ground. This is not a squat.

  6. Eleve: A posture in which heels are lifted off the ground.

  7. Tuck: A posture in which you tuck the pelvis and created a "C" with the torso.

  8. Neutral Spine: This is the natural position of the spine when all 3 curves of the spine (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar) are present and in good alignment. This is the strongest position for the spine when we are standing or sitting, and the one that we move most efficiently and safely from.

  9. Flex: A flexed foot is one where the heel is actively pushing away from the body as the top of the foot pulls up and into the body. This changes the dynamic and intensity of an exercise.

  10. Point: A pointed foot is an action where the heel is pulled towards the body while the toes push away with energy. This gives you extra energy in postures and helps to strengthen and lengthen the leg. (tendu)

  11. Isometric hold: Holding a posture for an extended period of time without movement.

  12. Pulse: Lifting and lowering (typically core, arm, or leg) an inch to maximize work in a specific posture.

  13. Engage Your Core: Think of pulling your belly button in and tightening the muscles around it without holding your breath or hunching your shoulders.

  14. Elongate: When you contract a muscle, you will then almost always lengthen it. The lengthening is just as important as the crunch.

  15. Follow With Your Eyes: Wherever you look, your body will tend to go. If you look down at the floor, you will lose your core control. When standing at the barre, look straight ahead with your chin up to maintain posture. Take your eyes in the direction your body needs to go.

Barre workouts require you to focus on the muscles you are working to truly engage them (which is why it can still be strength work even when you are only using 2 or 3 pounds).The mind-body connection is a powerful aspect of tuning in and strengthening your body.

If you are looking to switch up your fitness routine, try something new, challenge yourself, and take your strength to the next level, I encourage you to try barre.

Change your body by changing your workout!

Your body needs variety in order to look, feel, and move differently. You can't do the same workout, day in and day out, and expect change. Adding Barre to your weekly workout routine gives you a safe, low-impact, intense activity that is completely different from weight lifting or running.



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