Both barre and pilates offer an excellent workout and can help you get fitter, leaner, and improve your posture.
Inspired by Dance
Pilates draws inspiration from the world of dance and rehabilitation as it began in an internment camp during WWI, where its founder helped lead daily exercise classes for his fellow prisoners and helped wounded soldiers with their rehabilitation. It also incorporates movements from gymnastics and yoga.
Barre actually derived from pilates in the 1950s as its founder, a professional dancer named Lotte Bur, used elements from Pilates combined with moves from ballet, yoga, and strength training to create a program to rehab her back injury.
Muscular endurance is a key fitness component and essential for overall health, injury prevention, and postural control.
Pilates and Barre are workouts that help develop your muscular endurance as they use light weights or bodyweight resistance held for longer periods as opposed to other resistance training methods that use heavier weights moved quickly.
When most people think of their core, they envision their six-pack muscle called the rectus abdominis.
However, your core includes all of the muscles that comprise your trunk, including the transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, as well as your lats, traps, and even your glutes.
With so many muscles responsible for keeping you upright and preventing injuries and falls, you can see why developing your core strength is critical.
Pilates and Barre both focus extensively on developing core strength through different ranges of motion and often isometrically.
Any dancer knows that how you hold your body is crucial to the fluid, graceful motions dancers seek.
Pilates and Barre channel that dancer's mentality by utilizing flowing, low-impact motions that harken back to their dancing origins and leave you feeling graceful as a ballerina.
Unsurprisingly, two exercises that started in the dancing world also heavily emphasize developing flexibility. Both pilates and barre require stretching and intentional movements to aid in flexibility.
Both barre and pilates improve posture through better trunk stability and postural control. Poor posture is a modern scourge created by our sedentary lifestyles and constant screen time, often leaving us with a forward head posture and rounded shoulders.
Poor posture can contribute to stress incontinence, poor balance, digestion issues, headaches, and more.
Slow, Low-impact Movements
Both Barre and pilates use fluid, low-impact exercises that are great for any fitness level and easily adjustable.
Barre classes use a ballet bar for support, while Pilates uses various exercises on machines like the Reformer, or you can do a pilates circuit on an exercise mat.
Either way, the moves are slow and gentle on your joints, allowing you to build strength and endurance comfortably.
Neither workout offers a challenging cardio component, so you must train your heart and lungs elsewhere.
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Differences Between Pilates vs. Barre
While Pilates and barre share many similarities and target the same consumer base, there are a few key differences to note, including an emphasis on certain movements and muscles
Pilates Mind-Body Connection
Chiefly, pilates intensely focuses on concentration, breath work, and body control. You can find similar mind-body connection work featured in mindfulness practices such as yoga.
Because Pilates uses this practice more throughout its workouts, it has additional mental health benefits.
One of them is increased mindfulness, a sense of awareness and appreciation of the present moment, which has been shown to reduce stress, increase focus, and decrease emotional reactivity.
Core vs. Legs
While both pilates and barre offer a great core workout depending on that particular class's programming, pilates focuses more intently on developing core strength in the deep muscles of the trunk, while barre often includes more lower bodywork that is in line with its ballet roots.
Range of Motion
One of the most noticeable differences you'll note if you take a pilates and barre class is the range of motion used. While pilates utilizes long, slow moves through the joint's full range of motion, barre prefers tiny joint movements, light weights, and isometric muscle holds.
Pilates vs. Barre for Fitness & Toning
You can get a toned or lean physique in one of two ways:
- You can lose body fat
- You can gain muscle
Both pilates and barre offer a challenging and enjoyable workout using graceful moves that will build your endurance and strength.
Research has shown time and time again that heavy weights, lifted to the point of serious fatigue combined with enough protein and carbohydrates in particular, is the best way to a toned, tight body.
That said, pilates definitely has an edge over barre in terms of building your fitness, muscle, and developing your core strength. This is because it uses a full range of motion and larger muscle groups more consistently than barre.
But remember this: 1,000 people could do the exact same workouts and eat the exact same thing for a year and look completely different.
So while regular pilates and barre workouts are great for your health and fitness and are fun-simply doing them will not magically transform you into a petite dancer any more than a few heavy-weight sessions and a protein shake will turn you into a bodybuilder.
Much of our appearance is genetic, so you're far better off investing in exercise for the health benefits and how it makes you feel rather than chasing a particular body type.
Pros & Cons of Pilates
While pilates classes may be more challenging than they look, they are still one of the very best fitness options for exercisers of all fitness levels and abilities.
Because pilates has a well-rounded focus on core strength, stability, posture, and breath control, it is the perfect adjunct to almost any fitness routine.
So whether your main focus is strength or an endurance sport, pilates can help you improve your muscular endurance, flexibility, and mind-body connection.
And if you're new to exercise completely, Pilates is truly the best place to start.
Many folks go through life with a weak core, which can lead to poor posture, balance issues, and injuries. So starting your fitness journey with a proven program that will help you develop equal strength and body control is a great choice.
Before starting any exercise program check with your doctor and discuss any concerns you may have with them. If you're cleared for exercise, try to find an in-person class if you can.
Because unlike some other forms of exercise, pilates classes that use tools like the Reformer, the trapeze, the Wandu chair, the barrel, or the spine corrector require instruction.
One of the many benefits of starting your pilates journey in a qualified studio is letting your instructor know you are new or if you have any injuries requiring movement modification.
The only con of pilates–if you can even call it that– is the cost of classes and quality instruction.
Pilates as a practice definitely requires dedication to proper form and movement execution, and if you're new, you should work with an experienced instructor to learn all the moves.
Once you've mastered all the Pilates movements, there are loads of affordable apps that offer classes you can do from home or on the go.
- Increases core strength
- Low impact
- Improves mind-body connection
- Better range of motion & flexibility
- Improves balance & coordination
- Experienced instruction is required
- Studio equipment is expensive
- Classes can be expensive
- Could be boring for some
- Provides minimal cardio benefits
Sample Pilates Mat Workout
Spinal roll-down 15 reps
Double Leg Stretch 30 sec
Single Leg Stretch 30 sec each
Thigh Stretch 30 sec
Windmill Stretch 30 sec each
Workout, Repeat circuit 3-4x
Jack Knife 30 sec
Shoulder Bridge 30 sec
Shoulder bridge one leg lift 15 each
Kneeling sidekick 15 each
Seal 10 reps
Teaser 15 reps
Pros & Cons of Barre Workouts
Like pilates, barre offers a different exercise class experience incorporating graceful movements inspired by ballet.
Barre also utilizes small, pulsing movements and isometric holds throughout the workout, including light weights and some bodyweight exercises.
While barre has been studied far less than pilates, research does show similar health benefits between pilates, barre, and traditional ballet workouts.
Jump into your Barre journey if you’re looking for a unique, fun class workout inspired by dance and not necessarily for a body transformation, you will have a great experience.
- Increases core strength
- Great for beginners
- Improves posture & alignment
- Better flexibility
- Requires something to balance on
- Provides minimal cardio benefits
- Could be boring for some
- Ineffective at building muscle
Sample Barre Workout
Parallel position shoulders roll 30 sec each direction
Arm scoops 10 reps
1st position leg lifts 15 reps each
Oblique twist leg lifts 15 reps each
Squat pulses 30 reps
Workout with Dumbbells, Repeat circuit 3-4x
Parallel Squat with Lateral Front Deltoid Raises 10 reps
Grand Plie in 2nd Position with Biceps Curls 10 reps
Front Leg Extensions with Scapular Retractions 10 reps
Side Leg Extensions with Lat Pulldown 10 reps
Boat Pose 30-sec hold
Pilates vs Barre Equipment
Pilates and barre studio classes utilize equipment you aren't likely to have in your living room, like a Reformer, ballet bar, Cadillac, Trapeze, Ladder Barrel, Spine Corrector, or Pilates Chair.
While I recommend starting either class in person so you get personal form correction and coaching from a pro, both classes also have home workout variations that require little to no equipment.
So don't be intimidated if you don't want to devote a whole room in your house to home gym equipment or hit the studio every week.
If you plan on doing pilates or barre at home, invest in a good yoga mat and ensure you have something sturdy to lean on to mimic the ballet bar.
There are no significant contraindications for pilates or barre once you've been cleared for exercise by a medical professional, and they are so similar you can't go wrong trying either.
Pilates and barre are fun, challenging, dance-inspired fitness classes that strengthen your core, build your balance, and improve your mind-body connection.
Pilates focuses on the intersection of strength, flexibility, and breath control. Barre was inspired by ballet and uses tiny movements and isometric holds to produce a big burn and build muscular endurance.
Both classes can be done in the studio for access to professional instruction and bonus equipment or can be easily done at home.
Best for Group Barre Classes
Pure Barre is a fitness studio that offers a low-impact, high-intensity workout that focuses on sculpting the body through a series of isometric movements, emphasizing a specialized and low-impact workout.
- Pilates Anytime Barre Fusion
- Find a Certified STOTT Pilates Instructor
- National Pilates Certification Program – Find a Nationally Certified Pilates Teacher
- Club Pilates – Find a Studio Near You
- Pure Barre
- Glo Barre