You’ve probably heard about so-called barre workouts that incorporate elements of ballet, Pilates, and yoga. Named after the main piece of equipment used — a ballet bar — the workouts also often use light weights, exercise bands, a small ball or rubber hoop, and incorporate mat work.
Barre workouts are low-impact, complete body workouts. The routines typically last 55 minutes to an hour, and are choreographed to upbeat music that helps keep you motivated.
The workouts usually start with a warmup and some light upper body and core conditioning, then progress to moves that focus on your thighs and hamstrings, then your glutes, and finish with abdominal work.
Many routines follow each segment with stretching of the body parts that were just worked, which helps lengthen your muscles instead of causing them to bulk up. Some methods specifically work in a cardio component, but unless you’re already super fit, just keeping up with the moves is likely to get your heart rate up.
No matter which barre studio you pick, the routines primarily use isometric exercises to achieve their effect. Muscles can contract in three ways. Consider a bicep curl. When you raise the weight, your muscle tenses and gets shorter. This is called a concentric contraction. If you lower the weight while resisting, your muscle will tense while it’s lengthening. This is an eccentric contraction. An isometric contraction is one in which the muscle tenses without changing length. A good demonstration of this is leaning forward with your hands on a wall and pushing as hard as you can. Isometric contractions occur when you feel the muscles in your arms, shoulders, abdomen, and legs tense up as you push. These exercises don’t build muscles but help keep them strong.
In a barre class, you aren’t completely motionless, but the movements are ideally only about one or two inches, and done while supporting the entire weight of your leg, for example. The advantage of this type of contraction is that it tones and strengthens without building bulk. That fact appeals to many barre students, who are mostly women.
Because the routines are low impact and can be modified in a variety of ways, barre classes are appropriate for virtually any age or fitness level, and there are special modifications for women who are pregnant. Make sure you talk to your doctor before starting this, or any, exercise program.
If you’ve been inactive or haven’t incorporated much strength training into your exercise routine, you’ll likely find the classes quite challenging. You may find that you can’t hold the pose for the entire time and need to rest for a few beats, then pop back into the pose. This is common. If you stick with it, you’ll find you will be able to hold poses for longer. You’ll feel quite a sense of achievement when you complete your first class without coming out of any of the poses!
It may also take you a while to get the hang of the poses. You need to make many little adjustments to your body alignment to get the optimum effect. But classes are usually small, and instructors are very hands on and generally move around the room adjusting students into the right positions.
Another phenomenon common with this type of exercise is shaking. This indicates the muscle being worked is reaching total fatigue, which is the goal. “Embrace the shake,” is often heard in these classes, but it can feel strange and be a bit disconcerting. No need to feel self-conscious about it though — everyone in the room has been there. Also, be aware that you will likely be pretty sore after your first couple of classes because you’ll be using your muscles in new ways. That’s one way you’ll know it’s working.
Because it’s low impact, there’s very little risk of injury from a barre workout. In fact, isometric exercise has been shown to be an effective method of recovery for some injuries.
One of the criticisms of barre workouts is they aren’t complete in that they don’t have enough cardio. Some studios have tried to address that by adding a cardio element, but it’s always good to mix up your workout routine. In other words, even if you’re making it to the barre 3 to 4 times a week — the amount recommended for maximum effectiveness — you should consider adding a couple of days of cardio only by going for a run or brisk walk, riding your bike, or getting on the treadmill or elliptical at your gym.
How quickly you start to see results depends on your starting level of fitness and of course how often you go. Don’t wait too long in between your initial few classes, and if you hang in there you’ll likely see results in just a few weeks!
Here are some barre inspired exercises you can do anywhere:
July 27, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN