One of the hottest trends in fitness right now is a fresh take on an old classic … barre workouts. Offered by boutique studios around the country, these workouts emphasize precision and the development of long, lean muscle by building on the techniques of yoga, pilates, and dance. Using a few simple props and the support of a ballet barre for balance, barre classes offer a full body workout while simultaneously providing aerobic level training. Many of the exercises can also be performed using a kitchen chair or a wall for balance, making them approachable as an add-on to your home fitness program allowing you to build flexibility, core strength, and lean muscle.
The history of Barre
While barre is a very trendy workout, it builds on the work of Lotte Berk over 50 years ago. The techniques developed by Berk included her background as a dancer, as well as rehabilitation from a back injury. These methods were introduced in the United States in the 1970’s and have increased in popularity with the growth of yoga and dance inspired workouts. Barre workouts incorporate the precision of dance, the postural focus of pilates, and the strength and flexibility of yoga in a format that is approachable for all levels. With the heavy focus on alignment and working muscles to exhaustion, classes will emphasize taking small breaks to reestablish form when needed in order to continue with the exercise.
The major benefits
Abbie Appel, international fitness instructor and developer of SCW Barre, describes some of the major benefits of barre workouts. “For athletes, the benefits of barre include postural alignment and muscular endurance…both of which are necessary to be more effective at whatever sport they play. The attention to posture and alignment is extremely important. Most people are not aware of their posture. Creating awareness, new alignment, stability around that alignment and then making that a habit is super important.”
Getting started with Barre workouts
If you’re interested in getting started, trying a barre class in your area is the best way to receive instruction on proper form and technique. You should expect to use a barre and a yoga mat (which you can bring or borrow from the studio) and light weights, resistance bands, and other simple props, such as yoga blocks and playground balls. To prepare for class, wear comfortable clothing and bare feet. While the exercises are simple, a barre class will emphasize working muscles to exhaustion, so you should expect to sweat and to burn some calories, typically around 400 to 500 for a one hour class. Once you feel comfortable maintaining good form and targeting muscles appropriately, you can start to incorporate barre exercises into your home workouts for improvements in posture, endurance, and muscular strength. Some of the greatest benefits to barre work are the targeting of muscles that can be hard to isolate through other approaches (including the glutes and hamstrings), as well as the increase in core strength. Barre workouts are really designed to be approachable for all levels of fitness.
Stay tuned for Part II where Joli provides a basic Barre workout you can start doing at home today (coming soon).
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.