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Fitness at the Barre

How to incorporate the popular fusion of ballet, yoga and Pilates into your workout routine By Taylor Shillam

Fitness at the barre

What is barre? If you’ve been curious about the popular workout class that so many credit for their toned muscles, strong core and impressive posture, here’s everything you need to know to feel confident incorporating barre into your fitness routine this summer.

Barre-based workouts have gained widespread popularity in studios and gyms across the nation in recent years. Barre has earned a reputation for helping participants achieve impressive results through low-impact (think less stress on the body and joints), targeted movements.

Although often performed in a studio (popular studio franchises include Pure Barre, Bar Method, and Barre3, while locally owned barre studios are just as prevalent), barre can even be adopted at home with the right setup and equipment. Combining elements of yoga, aerobics, Pilates, and yes, ballet, barre workouts are designed to serve all fitness levels and promote a long list of health benefits.

The format of a barre class will vary by studio but will typically incorporate a sequence designed to strengthen and sculpt the entire body while enhancing core strength, balance and flexibility. High-repetition exercises and isometric holds are used to work each muscle group to fatigue before moving on to the next group.

As more and more fitness studios become entirely dedicated to delivering barre-based workouts, it’s time to dive deeper into what makes these workouts so popular.

Barre classes are centered around the balance itself but utilize a selection of additional equipment, including mats, exercise balls, resistance bands and light hand weights. It is not a ballet or dance class—it is designed to accommodate a wide range of athletic backgrounds and all levels of experience.

Barre takes a unique approach to strength work that not many other fitness routines can achieve: Bursts of intense movement are alternated with small, muscle-targeting pulses and effective dynamic stretches.

Like most fitness classes, barre can help its participants maintain a healthy weight and rebuild or maintain strength. What sets barre apart are its small, targeted, repetitive movements designed to achieve noticeable results in less time.

Each barre workout requires the simultaneous use of multiple muscle groups and the engagement of the core. The ultra-targeted format of barre workouts often takes participants to the point of feeling a muscular “shake”—the sign that the muscles are working to fatigue.

Here are some of the top health benefits associated with incorporating barre into your fitness routine:

Enhanced strength - Barre workouts use a combination of light equipment and body weight exercises to bring the element of resistance training within each class. It’s not uncommon for classes to include push-ups, squats and lunges—bodyweight exercises known to enhance muscle definition and promote healthy muscle endurance.

Enhanced flexibility - The movements performed within a barre workout can help improve flexibility and range of motion, particularly around the joints.

Improved balance and focus - Balance, focus and posture are all enhanced by the small movements within the barre format that require paying close attention to form.

Sculpting and toning - Looking to sculpt lean muscle? Exercises performed at the barre

can effectively target specific muscle groups, including the muscles that are harder to target in other forms of fitness, within the core, glutes, triceps and shoulders. Ready to sign up for your first in-studio barre class? Many studios will offer an introductory Foundations class, specifically designed to support beginners in getting a feel for the class structure.

Check with your local studio to ask about their options for beginners. Pure Barre, for example, offers a free Foundations class to every first-timer. The Foundations class provides a clear breakdown of form and terminology in a smaller class setting, allowing the instructor to provide more personalized assistance.

For your first class in a studio, you’ll simply need comfortable workout attire and a pair of sticky socks (and a water bottle, of course). Sticky socks are grippy on the bottom, creating a necessary traction and anti-slip support throughout the class. Barre studios will typically sell sticky socks or offer a trial pair to use during class, if needed.

If you’re looking to try barre at home, apps and online programs like Pure Barre GO and Peloton offer easy-to-follow video content on demand, so you can barre whenever it best fits your schedule.

A balance bar itself isn’t required—just find something that offers a similar level of support within your home, like a sturdy chair, rail or ledge. Grab an exercise mat and a pair of light weights or resistance bands, and you'll be set!

In whatever setting you choose, keep in mind that barre is a unique workout that will take time to get used to. Barre’s small, precise movements, commonly cued as “pulses” and core-controlled “tucks,” may not come easily during the first class or two. Don’t get discouraged—the terminology and the form will become more familiar with every class!

If you're looking for a workout that can help build strength, improve your posture and flexibility, strengthen the core, or simply add variety to your fitness routine, it’s time to give barre a try. Its low-impact, adaptable structure makes it an excellent option for all ages and fitness levels. It has even been recommended for prenatal and postnatal women.

As an added bonus, barre doesn’t often leave its participants dripping in sweat, so you can easily squeeze it in before work, during a lunch break, or on your way to happy hour!

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