Firstly, let’s dispel the most common misconceptions about a barre class: no, it’s not just ballet moves and for the young and super-flexible and yes, it’s a challenging full-body strength and cardio workout.
That said, the barre method was originally created by German ballerina Lotte Berk in 1959 as a result of her combining dance conditioning moves with her rehabilitation therapy after injuring her back.
Traditionally classes use a barre, which is a handrail that provides support, and incorporates classic ballet-inspired movements with elements of yoga, Pilates and strength training.
It focuses on small, targeted pulsing movements that are low-impact. The idea is to work the muscle to the point of fatigue in order to build long, lean muscles.
According to ClassPass, one of the biggest trends it has spotted over the last three years is an increased interest in dance, with barre proving especially popular.
‘Barre is a hybrid workout that is high-intensity yet low-impact, meaning it works you hard but without putting unnecessary strain on the body,’ explains Maria Eleftheriou, who has trained the likes of Natalie Imbruglia, Jennifer Lawrence and supermodel Jordan Dunn and is the creator of Barre at Psycle.
‘The focus is mostly on tiny isometric contractions, in which there is no movement to the angle of the joint, creating a static contraction of the muscle. This can be achieved with small, controlled movements in order to strengthen specific muscles, such as performing tiny pulses in a lunge or taking small drops of your hips from side to side, whilst in a forearm plank position.
‘This type of contraction activates slow-twitch muscle fibres (involved in endurance exercises) and these fibres are far more effective when it comes to building muscle tone than fast-twitch muscles fibres, which are activated through more explosive movements such as sprinting or when performing HIIT exercises.
‘More traditional strength training often uses heavier weights to increase muscle mass, whereas in a barre class, you use light weights with high repetitions, allowing you to build long, lean muscle without bulk. It’s deceptively difficult and many clients are shocked by the intensity which comes from performing tiny pulses with a 1.5kg weight in as little as 30 seconds.’
While a lot of people are put off by a barre class due to its a ballet-style moves and ‘boring’ repetitions, they might be missing out on its multiple benefits – including calorie burn.
According to Maria, the burning sensation you feel in your muscles while performing the moves is the result of lactic acid being produced.
‘Our body isn’t able to process this quickly enough during class, so we require energy afterwards which results in the breakdown of fat stores for up to 48 hours post-workout, AKA the “after-burn” effect and means the body will be melting fat for days after your class,’ she adds.
Where you can try a barre class in the UK
Barre Pilates at Total Fitness
With 15 clubs scattered across the north of the UK, particularly north-west and Yorkshire, the 60-minute class incorporates ballet and dance movements with exercises from yoga and pilates to create a full-body workout.
Using your bodyweight and a barre you’ll do squats, pulses and plíes in both strength and cardio exercises.
Membership from £46 per month.
BarreSIGNATURE at Barrecore
Renowned for being the original barre studio, some of the world’s biggest celebrities have crossed its doors – including Pippa Middleton and Claudia Schiffer.
Available at 14 studios across the UK, Barrecore’s method combines high intensity but low impact training and focuses on movements designed to ’shake’ the muscles.
Classes range from a signature session to those that can help with form and relaxing.
Class, £28 (50min).
Barre Fitness at David Lloyd Leisure Clubs
This traditional class at 40 David Lloyd clubs gives a full body workout to help strengthen core muscles and improve flexibility.
Designed to be low-impact, the 45-minute session is suitable for all fitness levels, including pregnant women.
However, it is still challenging and will help to increase endurance thanks to a focus on small repetitive movement.
Membership from £46 per month.
Not only that, but a barre class might be the key to enhancing other areas of your training – including HIIT, team sports and running.
Vanessa Michielon is the founder of the Transformative Movement Method and says barre is the perfect complement to any discipline.
‘With its roots in ballet, Barre helps with posture, as in each position you are reminded to create length in your body and switch on your core; flexibility as you actively stretch your muscles; and balance as you need to maintain equilibrium,’ she says.
‘The frequent isometric holds – up one inch and down one inch – are also incredibly effective at building overall strength and cardiovascular endurance is cultivated by keeping your heart rate high for a sustained period of time through physical exertion.
‘Barre is a well-rounded practice that targets every single muscle with movement, including the smaller muscles. This includes the mid-glutes, adductors and internal obliques which might be neglected in strength training. It includes all three planes of motion and it teaches you to connect your core and focus on the specific movement which is key in injury prevention and effective for transmission of power in any activity.
‘In barre you often practice HIIT movements at a slower pace which allows you to really perfect your technique with correct abdominal engagement and shoulder placement.
‘With lot of mobility work and active stretches, barre helps you to increase your range of motion so you can also run, cycle and swim faster.’
So, if you’re reading this and currently looking to beat your PB, adding a barre class to your training schedule might be the way to go. Not only that but,
Vanessa says, the extreme attention paid to each move can help
decrease the risk of injury when playing sports.
‘The attention to the static and dynamic alignment of your knees and toes not only decreases your risk of injury when performing explosive movements like running and pivoting in basketball, but also reduce power leakage and maximises your efforts,’ she adds.
And it’s not all about the physical benefits. barre is also good for the brain – and we don’t just mean the hormones – with Vanessa adding us that it can help balance our state of mind.
‘The choreography and complex moves are great brain trainers, plus barre can improve mental focus,’ she explains.
‘As you breathe through the muscular burn, it teaches us we have enough resources to cope with whatever we are facing.
‘This can transcend into other challenging physical activities where you might need to maintain calm and concentration and push through your limits.’
To get started, try these simple barre moves…
How to: ‘Place your feet wide apart and turn your thighbones outwards, and point your toes in the same direction as your knees.
Bend your knees until you can comfortably maintain your tailbone pointing downwards and your spine in neutral. Gently wrap your knees backwards and maintain a static hold or repeat the tiny wraps to create even more space in your groin area.’
Great for: ‘Helping prevent injuries when performing explosive movements like tennis and boxing etc, while also aiding in transmitting force more effectively.’
How to: ‘Profile to the barre, place one forearm on top of it and step slightly away, aligning your shoulder with your elbow (imagine you are doing a side plank at the barre). Bend your knees and turn both feet 45 degrees towards the barre.
‘Lengthen the external leg sideways away from the barre and lift it maintaining your spine neutral and your hips one on top of the other. Then bend the lifted leg and press it behind you (ideally you can feel some stretch in the front of your hips) without arching your back.
‘Finally lift your foot a little higher than the knee, creating an internal rotation. Keep this shape and add tiny pulses of your knee upwards.’
Great for: ‘Improving form, balance and side body strength if you practice kickboxing or martial arts.’
How to: ‘Facing the barre, place your arms in cossack position (forearm over forearm), bend your knees and step away from the barre until your spine is inclined but still in neutral.
‘Plug your shoulder blades downwards, draw your abdominals in and up, and lift one of your legs behind you without losing the neutral placement of your pelvis.
‘Flex your lifted foot and squeeze it towards your sit bones. You can then add small repetitive squeezes or presses of your foot up towards the ceiling, always maintaining complete stillness in the rest of your body.’
Great for: ‘Helping to improve back bends in yoga.’
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