I tried my first barre class this week, after several years of hearing how beneficial it has been for many others. A new studio opened up across the street from my former workplace (Barrecor on Bainbridge Island, WA if you’re local!), and I peer pressured a coworker into going with me. Multiple people have told me that, more than any other exercise they have ever tried, consistently practicing barre (we are talking about three times per week for a month or two) has helped them lose more weight and tone up the fastest. Some people even say they see results after just four classes!
So why did it take me so long to try? Well, first, I’m not one to jump into a class where I don’t know what to expect without a buddy who has also never done a class, or who has done enough to help me know what to expect and won’t judge me for sucking at it the first time. I had some preconceived notions that barre was a ballerina workout, and I’m definitely not one of those. Also, sometimes the price tag for a class can be pretty high, and there’s the “what if I don’t like it, and I could have paid for a nice dinner instead of this class” factor. I’m here to tell you about the class, what to expect, and to find a studio that offers a free or discounted class for newbies (because it is definitely worth a try). Maybe this post can replace the buddy you have been waiting for to assist you in giving it a try!
What is Barre?
Designed to give you a lean, dancer-like physique, barre is ballet inspired but also adds components of Pilates and yoga. However, I would definitely say that barre is more high energy than the two. As a consistent yoga-goer, and someone who has done Pilates a time or two, I was pleasantly surprised that many of the poses and movements were similar to what I am used to. Definitely no dance experience required!
Studios look like they would be used for ballet, with the horizontal barre and mirrors against the wall(s). Basically the barre is used to help prop yourself up while doing poses that focus on isometric strength training (holding your body still while you contract a certain muscle group), combined with high sets of small range-of-motion movements (we are talking inches). Classes also sometimes incorporate mats for core work, light weights to add a little difficulty to arm movements, bands or straps to help with flexibility, and a partially deflated ball that is used for multiple poses, like thigh squeezes or even as a back support. It is really a one-stop shop that includes the essentials of a well-rounded exercise program, all within an hour (in a low-impact way!). It combines strength training and cardio, so you are burning fat and building muscle at the same time! And honestly, after the class it does not feel like you just ran an hour on a treadmill. Benefits include improved posture, weight loss, increased flexibility, and decreased stress.
What to Expect
Most barre classes are considered multi-level, and can be done by those of all fitness levels and body types. Instructors are able to provide modifications to beginners, as well as progressions for the more advanced.
Most people who attend barre classes wear yoga-type clothing (workout leggings, tank top, etc.). Classes either take place in your bare feet or in socks. Some studios have carpet, and some hardwood, so you may want grippy socks so you won’t slip. The studio may have mats for you to use, or you could opt to bring your own. Check the studio’s website to see what they recommend. Once you enter the studio, you will be directed in which props to take with you, usually including free weights. The free weight choices are either 2-3 pounds or 5 pounds. I would definitely recommend the lighter weights if you are attending your first class!
Once you are settled on your mat and the class begins, you will be taken through a warm up sequence of upper-body exercises (5-10 minutes), such as using the free weights, planks, push ups, and other moves to target the biceps, triceps, chest, and back muscles. After the warm up, you will be instructed to take a spot at the barre. You will then be led through exercises that will use the barre and your body weight to focus on the thighs and seat muscles (20-30 minutes). But what about my core, you ask? It is engaged the entire class, then targeted at the end (10 minutes). For a cool down, you will go through a series of stretches to help increase flexibility and allow those aching muscles to recover.
All the moves throughout the class are high rep, and basically just when you think you can’t possibly do any more repetitions, you move to another pose. After working a set of muscles, your instructor will lead you through a nice stretch to help relieve them (but don’t get too cozy, its a short break!). I found that it was a great combination of movements, stretching, and exercising. My heart rate never got too high, and I was never out of breath (but a key is to remember to breath!).
Expect to feel the blood flow and warmth in your body for the rest of the day or night… and then soreness the next day or two! But that’s how you know it works, right?Embed from Getty Images
Travers, Colleen. “The Beginner’s Guide to Barre.” Fitness. Retrieved Feb 19, 2015 from http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/pilates/exercises/barre-beginners-guide/?page=1.
Rogers, Andrea (Guest Blogger). “What to Expect in a Barre Workout Class.” (Sept 2, 2011.) The SparkPeople Blog. Retrieved Feb 19, 2015 from http://www.sparkpeople.com/blog/blog.asp?post=what_to_expect_in_a_barre_workout_class.