A fitness trend for everyone
It's never too late to develop your inner ballerina! These simple barre exercises combine the grace and flexibility of ballet with roots in yoga and Pilates.
With roots in ballet, yoga and Pilates, barre exercises are exploding in popularity. Through controlled, precise movements using a ballet barre and other props, these workouts promise a strong core and long, lean muscles. So belly (and bums and thighs) up to the barre!
History of barre workouts
Fitness trends come and go like fashion: some are too ridiculous to last a season, while others become beloved classics. When it comes to barre-based fitness programs, however, what looks like an overnight success has been decades in the making.
It all started with Lotte Berk, a ballet dancer who developed a series of strengthening and rehabilitation exercises. Berk built a celebrity clientele at her studio in the 1960s, and her program gained an even greater following when it arrived in America in the ’70s.
Today, there are a number of studios around Australia offering instruction evolved from Berk’s teachings. While their approaches and philosophies may differ, what they all have in common are exercises drawn from the disciplines of ballet, Pilates, yoga and even physical therapy, and based on precise, controlled movements.
These workouts have long been popular in California and New York, where the rich and famous—and those who wish they were—road test the latest ways to build the body beautiful. But with the workout’s growing popularity, we mere mortals can now experience this low-impact exercise program.
What are the workouts like?
Classes for barre-based fitness are generally small: usually between 10 and 20 students work with one instructor, so each participant can expect some personal attention. If you’ve never taken a dance class, don’t worry—although there are exercises and postural cues from ballet, this is a conditioning workout, not a choreographed one.
The exercises include small, controlled movements called “pulses” that work into the supporting or stabilising muscles of the body, thereby challenging balance, elevating the heart rate and delivering increased muscular strength and flexibility. The resulting physique is what aficionados refer to as the coveted “dancer’s body.” The focus is on perfecting your form and those small holding and pulsing movements.
After a warm-up and some upper body work, a class usually heads to the barre for a series of standing exercises that includes squats with various foot positions, leg lifts and stretching. These can be deceptively challenging, so don’t be surprised if your legs feel a bit like overcooked spaghetti for the first few sessions.
Next, expect some seated abdominal work and mat work, all with the goal of achieving the holy grail of barre-based workouts: a higher, firmer backside.
Finally, a quick stretch soothes trembling limbs and ensures that students will leave feeling tall, lifted and centred.
Is a barre workout right for you?
A barre workout might be perfect for you if you
How to prepare for a barre workout class
Use a locker, if provided
Your space at the barre is relatively small, and you don’t want anything larger than a water bottle getting in the way.
Remember your ankle socks
Some studios are carpeted and socks are mandatory. Others have hardwood floors and socks are optional, but having them is never a bad idea.
Keep it tight
Form-fitting clothing enables instructors to see your body and help correct your positioning. A longer pant or legging means your skin won’t stick or slide on the barre.
Weights, straps and all other equipment is usually provided
To set something up for a new move, just follow the others and your instructor will assist you as needed.
Come to class early, especially your first time
You can meet your instructor, ask questions and let your trainer know about any injuries or concerns you might have.
Barre basics workout
Here is a basic barre workout you can do at home, courtesy of barre workout instructor Ella Jotie. You’ll need a sturdy chair or kitchen bench in place of a traditional ballet barre.
Remember to always keep your barre posture engaged (ears, shoulders and hips aligned with the spine long and the core engaged). Do this workout three times per week and work your way up to five times per week.
Works: upper body (chest, arms, back) and core
Reps: Do 8 push-ups and then hold halfway for 8 counts. Work your way up to 16 push-ups and then hold halfway for 16 counts.
Challenge: lift one leg off the floor
Standing Barre Butt Work
Works: the bum (glutes and hamstrings)
Reps: Repeat 3 times. Switch legs.
Challenge: release one or both hands overhead
Reps: Repeat 3 times.
Challenge: release one or both hands overhead
Reps: Repeat entire sequence to the left.
Challenge: as you twist, extend your opposite leg in front of you, slightly off the floor
What’s a pulse?
A pulse is a very small, controlled movement, usually only 2.5 cm, that’s repeated a specified number of times to really work the muscles. If you’re new to barre exercise, modify the number of pulses specified in these exercises, or do as many pulses as you can and increase as you become stronger.
With roots in ballet, yoga, and Pilates, barre exercises are exploding in popularity across North America. Through controlled, precise movements using a ballet barre and other props, these workouts promise a strong core and long, lean muscles. So belly (and buns and thighs) up to the barre!