For women, fitness trends have changed and shifted popularity over the years. But one thing remains: the coveted “dancer’s body.” Women have been striving for this long, lean body type for decades. Thin, fit, and strong, mixed with femininity and grace. There are celebrities who take ballet classes to keep trim and fit (with the help of their trainers!).
It’s no wonder that ballet-based fitness classes are popping up everywhere. Pure Barre and Barre3 are just a few of the nationwide barre studios that have women flocking to them. Any barre studio website and you’ll see the promise of a long, lean body or a stronger, firmer physique. Many classes and instructors say their program guarantees a tighter, firmer, stronger ballerina-esque body in just five classes. And the best part – anyone, regardless of their body type, fitness level, or age can participate in these classes.
Who wouldn’t want to plié their way to a better body and stronger self?!
Let’s see what started this trend and if it really can be used to sculpt the ultimate dancer’s body.
Due to the ballet positions and equipment (a ballet barre) used in barre studios, it’s no wonder that barre classes were founded by a German ballerina. After suffering a back injury, Lotte Berk combined ballet technique with her physical therapy. In 1959, Berk opened her first barre studio in London. And the popularity grew.
Barre studios were brought to the United States in 1971 when a student of Berk’s opened the first Lotte Berk Method studio on the Upper East Side in New York. Overtime, studios opened up in Beverly Hills and the Hamptons and began seeing famous faces like Farrah Fawcett, Ivana Trump, and Julia Roberts.
In the United States alone, there are hundreds of barre programs being developed and new studios opening each day. Of course, it’s no surprise that this trend has really taken off in the last 10 years. Pure Barre has over 300 studios, The Bar Method has over 80 studios, and there are online classes you can take. Basically, if your neighborhood doesn’t have a barre studio, it’s safe to assume it won’t be long before you do.
The Basic Barre Workout
While barre was birthed from the grace and technique of ballet, beginners shouldn’t worry – no fancy leotards, ballet slippers, or experience is needed to break a sweat. In fact, most classes follow the same basic structure: a warm up, arm focus, leg-thigh-glute focus, ending with mat work to strengthen the core and work on flexibility.
As for equipment, most things will be provided at the studio – light hand-weights, a ball, and tube, and of course the barre. All you need to bring is a pair of sticky socks, water, and a good attitude!
If you’re a person who is used to a HIIT or CrossFit workout, you might think you aren’t doing enough doing a barre class. But that’s not the case at all. In fact, you’re getting a killer workout because of the tiny, one-inch increments called isometric movements. These movements fire up the muscles and don’t threaten to hurt or tear muscle, but encourage elasticity and strength.
The Benefits of Barre
So are these classes really worth it, and do they deliver the toned dancer’s body? The experts seem to think so. The exercises are the opposite of strength training movements which is usually when a muscle shortens then stretches. Barre movements tenses the muscle without changing the length.
1. Strength and Definition
Due to the nature of these exercises, you work multiple muscles at once. By strengthening all the muscles in a group, you are creating amazing definition, as well as working muscles that may go underused and underdeveloped.
The sheer amount of stretching in each barre class can help improve your overall range of motion and reduce tension and your risk of injury. You’ll be able to move with ease. Muscle tightness can lead to back pain and make everyday tasks more difficult. However stretching your muscles to relieve stress is a great way to help your body.
The end of a barre workout focuses on building core strength and stability as you perform movements on a floor mat. As your core gets stronger, you may find that you stand a little taller, sit a little straighter, and your back won’t have as much tension. It is common to attend a barre class if you have recurring back pain from sitting at a desk for long hours or from a previous injury. Barre is designed to work as rehabilitative therapy as well as strengthening your muscles.
The isometric movements that are performed in barre classes cause your muscles to contract or tighten without the muscle changing its length. Think about plank positions or poses where you hold still. After a while, your legs or core may begin to shake. Isometric contractions utilize slow-twitch muscle fibers that help build endurance and stamina.
5. Mind & Body Connection
Barre classes are designed to not only challenge your body and muscles, but to focus your mind on every tiny movement that you body is making and muscle that is being worked. If you feel you mind start to wander, barre instructors are trained to give step-by-step instructions about how to position your body while offering corrections to adjust your alignment.
Barre classes may not provide the same amount of exhaustion as HIIT workouts or CrossFit. That’s because compound exercises that work the functional muscles for everyday life like walking up the stairs or carrying groceries aren’t being performed. And because the heart isn’t being heavily worked like in cardio or aerobic class, there’s a good chance that after you see results at first, you will plateau. Barre weights max out at five pounds, so once your body has built up a tolerance to that weight, you’ve tapped out any potential for further strength building. You will stay toned and remain in shape, but it won’t progress.
Barre is a great addition to any existing fitness routine because of it’s method. Maintaining existing muscle and increasing flexibility will help your other fitness routines. It’s just like a healthy diet – everything in moderation! If you are looking to build muscle and increase your strength, perhaps barre alone won’t get you there. But if you want to tone and help your overall mind, posture, and start working on muscles, barre is a great way to get started.