Hit the bar for a new workout routine (no, not that kind of bar). Barre (pronounced “bär”) classes promise an added fitness challenge including a heavy focus on the legs, glutes, and core (hello six-pack abs). Read on to find out what every guy or girl needs to know before hopping on this latest fitness trend (bonus: no tights or rhythm necessary!).
Barre Basics — The Need-to-Know
Think a dance-based class is going to be easy? Think again. Infused with elements of ballet, barre classes were introduced by Lotte Berk in the 1970's as a new way to combine dance with traditional exercise. Most classes are performed holding onto a solid rod, or barre, attached to the wall (hence the name), but some classes bust a move on the floor — with mats, of course.
Regardless of the variation, barre workouts have a large focus on the core and the lower body, especially the hips and butt. Most rely on popular bodyweight moves like the arabesque and the "Tri-cep Can Can", but certain classes also incorporate weights to help participants feel the burn. Looking for a cardio boost? Many of the moves borrowed from classical ballet have been shown to mimick lower level aerobic exercise Cardiorespiratory responses to ballet exercise and the VO2max of elite ballet dancers. Cohen JL, Segal KR, Witriol I, et al. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1982;14(3):212-7. Physiological characteristics of classical ballet. Schantz PG, Astrand PO. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1984 Oct;16(5):472-6..
Raise the Barre — Your Action Plan
Ready to grab the barre and go? We enlisted the help of Taylor Gordon, “Barre Assets” instructor at Crunch Fitness in New York, and Alicia Weihl, Director of Training at Physique 57 in New York (where the Greatist crew got down), to outline the dos and don’ts of attending a barre class.
- Come one, come all. Barre classes can challenge a wide range of ability levels and backgrounds. Listen up for progressions and regressions to make the moves most appropriate for you. (To avoid potential injury, it’s always best to take things slow.)
- Work it in. Although barre classes are tough, Gordon stresses that they aren’t a substitute for regular strength training and cardio. Work them in to an established routine for an added challenge, or toss in a class between normal workouts. Just don’t use them as a rest day — barre work is far from a day off!
- Move those hips. When it comes to barre, it’s all in the hips. Classes challenge balance and stability by causing the body (especially the hips) to move in multiple planes of motion. This means increased flexibility, better movement, and potentially fewer injuries all around.
- Guys, don’t be shy. Although it may be ballet-based, barre classes can provide a challenging workout for even the manliest of men. It may not put hair on your chest, but Gordon encourages guys to come with an open mind. “It can kick your butt,” she says.
- Come prepared. Participants aren’t required to bring anything to barre classes, but socks with grips can help prevent slipping during this traditionally barefoot class, says Weihl. Some formats also incorporate floor exercises so bringing a mat may come in handy (it never hurts to ask). After all, no one wants to lie in a puddle of someone else’s sweat.
- Stand tall. Barre classes are a great way to improve flexibility and can help combat a typically slouched posture, Weihl says. Much of the class focus is on proper mechanics and body alignment.
- Drop the weights. Leave the lifting gloves at home. Most barre classes use bodyweight as the only means of resistance, however some studios, like Physique 57, incorporate weighted balls and lighter dumbbells to ramp up the intensity.
- Go for the long haul. Weihl says it’s not about going in and mastering the first class. Think of barre classes as more of a journey where skills progress over time. After a few classes you’ll start to get the form and technique down.
Barre classes can be a great way to build up core strength, sculpt the lower body, or just break up a training rut. Whatever the reason, prepare to work! Barre classes have a way of targeting muscles like never before. Ready to give it a try? Check local gyms like Crunch Fitness or private studios like Physique 57 for classes near you.
Have you tried your hands at a barre class? What did you think? Tell us in the comments below!