Barre (sometimes known as barre fitness or barre workouts) is a unique form of exercise built around movements typically seen in traditional ballet classes.
Don’t panic! You don’t have to be a ballerina to benefit from this type of training.
Who Invented Barre Fitness?
Lotte Berk, a professional ballerina who injured her back in the late 1950s, has been credited with creating the original barre workout structure.
During her recovery, Berk came up with the idea to combine her classical ballet barre routines with the rehabilitative therapy exercises recommended for her back.
The result was an exercise system that is beloved to this day and taught in group classes (and virtually) all over the world.
What Happens During a Barre Class?
A standard barre class features a combination of ballet-inspired postures, as well as exercises derived from low-impact workouts like yoga and pilates.
During the workout, you’ll perform a mix of isometric exercises (holding completely still while contracting specific muscles) and pulsing exercises (moving the limbs through a small range of motion).
The barre provides support and stability for balancing exercises. You may also use other props like a small ball, light hand weights (usually around 1-2 pounds), ankle weights, and a yoga mat during your barre workouts.
The Barre Tuck
During almost any barre class, an instructor will likely ask you to perform a “barre tuck.”
A barre tuck is essentially a posterior pelvic tilt, which involves tucking the tailbone under, tightening the abdominals, and squeezing the glutes to create a flat back. The opposite is an anterior pelvic tilt (creating an exaggerated arch in the lower back).
In barre classes, instructors often encourage participants to use the barre tuck as a way to engage their core and maintain a straight line from the hips to the shoulders.
What Should I Wear?
Good news: You don’t have to wear a leotard and tights during your barre classes. Just wear comfortable, form-fitting clothes that you can easily move around in (such as leggings and a tank top).
Most instructors also recommend a pair of socks with special grips on the soles to keep you from slipping. You can usually purchase these from the studio or order them online before your first class.
Physical Benefits of Barre
Barre classes are so popular, even among people who have never taken ballet or any other dance class, because they offer a variety of physical health benefits, including those listed below.
Build Muscular Strength and Endurance
Even though barre exercises primarily use body weight or very light hand weights, they can still help you gain strength and build muscle. One reason for this is that barre workouts incorporate exercises most people don’t do very often (if at all).
For example, isometric exercises are very popular in barre fitness. These exercises challenge your muscles without requiring you to move them through a full range of motion.
Because many barre exercises require a high number of reps with low weight, they can increase your muscular endurance, too (meaning you’ll be able to perform more repetitions of an exercise before you get tired and your form breaks down).
Increase Cardiovascular Endurance
It’s rare that someone doesn’t break a sweat in a barre class. Between the isometric and high-repetition exercises, plus the continuous motion in a typical class, your heart and breathing rates will increase and stay elevated throughout the class.
In the long-term, challenging yourself during barre classes will enhance your heart health and lung capacity, increasing your cardiovascular endurance. As a bonus, you’ll also improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels (these improvements can reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes).
Target Hard-to-Reach Muscles
The small, isometric movements that are staples in barre classes can be particularly effective at helping you target hard-to-reach muscles.
For example, many exercises performed during barre classes address the inner thigh muscles (adductors) and glutes, which you might neglect during a typical workout.
Many people also notice that barre classes challenge their core muscles in ways that exercises like sit ups and planks don’t.
Enjoy a Low-Impact Workout
The low-impact nature of barre makes it a great option for people with joint health issues (such as arthritis or lingering injuries), as well as those who are looking for a more gentle form of exercise.
Not everyone wants to lift heavy weights or sprint on a treadmill to get their workout in. If you want to challenge yourself but aren’t interested in a traditional gym setting, attending barre classes might be a better fit for you.
Barre could also be an excellent alternative for those who want to work on their flexibility but find yoga classes to be a bit too slow.
In general, barre classes put a greater emphasis on stretching and mobility training than many other workouts. Stretching exercises are built into the class, meaning you won’t have to worry about making time to stretch on your own later.
It’s not too late for you to have ballerina-like posture.Barre classes give you a chance to work on your posture and counteract the effects of sitting at a desk all day (or sitting behind the wheel of a car, sitting on the couch, etc.).Correct posture is emphasized throughout the class, no matter what kind of exercise you’re doing.
It might feel difficult at first to maintain core engagement and keep an erect spine while doing other movements, but it’ll soon become second nature. Eventually, you’ll catch yourself standing up straighter without even realizing it.
Boost Overall Performance
Regularly attending barre classes may improve your skills in other areas. The combination of stretching, cardiovascular exercise, and strength training will likely transfer to your favorite sport, workout, etc.
For example, by improving your mobility and flexibility, you may find that you can move through a full range of motion more easily when squatting or deadlifting at the gym. You might also find that you have better balance and are less prone to twisted ankles while playing soccer.
Increase Bone Density
Many types of exercise, including weight-bearing exercises like barre, increase your bone mineral density (BMD).
Exercise places beneficial stress on the bones, stimulating additional calcium deposits and encouraging bone-forming cells (osteoblasts) to function. When you exercise consistently, you increase your chances of developing stronger, more fracture-resistant bones (which is especially important as you age).
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Mental Health Benefits of Barre
Along with the various physical health benefits, barre workouts can also support your mental health.
Improve Your Mood
Exercising regularly (particularly if you’re doing workouts that you generally enjoy) has been shown to improve mental health by combatting depression, reducing anxiety, and enhancing mood.
Along with stimulating the production of chemical messengers like endorphins (which increase happiness and act as natural painkillers), physical exercise like barre classes can boost your mood by helping you sleep more soundly, feel more energized throughout the day, and increase your ability to focus.
Exercise lowers stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline (this also explains why regular workouts can help you sleep better at night). It also gives you a chance to take a break from the grind of everyday life and do something just for you.
Strengthen the Mind-Body Connection
Barre exercises might look simple at first. When you actually start executing them, though, you’ll find that they’re much more complicated and challenge your mind-body connection.
These intricate exercises require you to stay focused on your body to ensure you’re maintaining good posture, engaging the right muscles, etc. As a result, you may feel more grounded and present during a barre class.
Even when the class is over, you can carry that sense of groundedness and body awareness with you throughout the rest of your day.
Socialize with Like-Minded People
These days, it’s easier than ever to isolate ourselves from friends and family. That’s probably why 79% of adults report feeling lonely.
Barre classes at gyms and fitness studios allow you to socialize with other fitness enthusiasts, which combats loneliness and contributes to a more positive mood.
Barre workouts can also increase your self-confidence. After all, it’s empowering to try something new, especially an activity you’ve been hesitant about trying in the past.
When you challenge yourself, you prove that you can do difficult things and learn new skills, regardless of your age or fitness level.
Barre Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation
Like Lotte Berk, who developed barre fitness as a way to recover from a back injury, many people turn to barre classes for help healing or avoiding future injuries.
The following are some specific injury prevention and rehabilitation benefits of barre.
Increased Strength and Stability
The exercises performed in barre classes can build strength and stability in your joints. Increased strength and joint stability reduce your risk of getting hurt while running, walking, or doing other activities.
For athletes who want to continue building strength and endurance but also want to prevent overuse injuries, barre is a good option for cross-training. It also allows them to use muscles they don’t use often during typical workouts.
Barre exercises are easy to modify to accommodate people with different fitness levels, mobility levels, etc. These simple adjustments make it a good choice for those recovering from injuries or suffering from chronic pain.
Common Misconceptions About Barre
It’s easy to misjudge barre fitness when you’ve never taken a class before. Below are some of the most common misconceptions people have about barre (with corrections).
Barre Is Only for Dancers
Barre fitness may have been developed by a ballerina, but it’s not exclusive to dancers. Anyone can benefit from barre workouts, whether they have a ballet background or have never set foot on a dance floor.
If you’re interested in building strength, increasing endurance, and improving your physical and mental health, barre can help you achieve those goals.
Serious Athletes Won’t Waste Time on Barre Classes
Don’t let the small weights and tiny movements fool you. Barre classes can get pretty intense.
No matter what your sport or workout of choice is, from running to powerlifting, incorporating barre into your training can strengthen your muscles and joints, improve mobility and flexibility, and enhance your overall performance.
I Can’t Do Barre as a Fitness Newbie
One of the many great things about barre classes is that they can be adapted to any level. If you’re brand new to working out, you can modify exercises and reduce the intensity while you get comfortable and learn the basics.
Remember that your barre instructor has worked with people of all levels and backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to ask them for guidance or tips on modifications.
If I Don’t Like One Barre Class, I Won’t Like Any Others
Back in 1959 when Lotte Berk created barre fitness, her classes were your only option. If you didn’t like her offerings, you probably wouldn’t like barre at all.
These days, you can choose from a wide range of barre classes. The following are some of the most popular ones to consider:
- Pure Barre: A face-paced, total body workout featuring four different class formats (Foundations, Align, Classic, and Empower)
- The Dailey Method: A multidisciplinary option that includes basic barre, interval training, and even a barre-cycling hybrid.
- The Bar Method: A series of barre classes designed with input from physical therapists; Instructors are very hands-on in these classes, offering corrections, modifications, and more.
- Barre3: A more yoga-centric barre class that provides a greater emphasis on mind-body connections.
- Pop Physique: A modern twist on the original Lotte Berk barre method.
Barre Safety Tips
Many people use barre classes to avoid and recover from injuries. However, it’s also important to understand the potential safety risks these classes present, as well as how to avoid them.
- Start with light weights (or no weights at all)
- Wear socks with grips on the bottom to prevent slipping and falling
- Prioritize proper form above doing a certain number of reps, keeping up with your neighbor, etc.
- Let the instructor know you’re new so they can pay closer attention to you and offer corrections
- Talk to your doctor before starting a new workout routine, especially if you’re recovering from an injury
If you’re concerned about your ability to do barre safely (for any reason), don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or a certified personal trainer. They can give you their professional opinion and help you make an informed decision.
Barre fitness offers a variety of physical and mental health benefits, from increased strength and endurance to reduced stress. It can also help you recover from and prevent future injuries and make progress toward your long-term health and fitness goals.
As long as you’re consistent with your training (after all, consistency is the key to seeing results from any fitness routine), you’ll be sure to see significant improvements from your barre workouts.
You can also find videos from the founder of barre fitness herself, Lotte Berk, on her website.
Best for all around barre experience
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.