We're getting seriously reconnected with our inner ballet girl right now. And it's all thanks to barre classes. This fitness trend combines the best of ballet, yoga, pilates and general body conditioning to give you a strong, toned physique.
With A-list devotees including Natalie Portman, Miranda Kerr, Alexa Chung and Zooey Deschanel, barre workouts are certainly celebrity approved, but there's a lot more to them than Hollywood glamour. Barre classes offer a strenuous workout combining ballet moves with stretching, toning and lengthening exercises to give you a full body workout with multiple benefits.
We spoke to several instructors from London's TenBarre, a popular boutique workout studio in London. They gave us the scoop on why barre is such a great workout and what you need to know before your first class. Trust us, you'll soon be as obsessed as we are.
1. It's a combo of Pilates principles and ballet technique
Barre classes combine the strength exercises you'll get in a pilates class with the gracefulness you'll find in a ballet studio.
"Barre workouts are all about getting that long, lean, dancer body," TenBarre instructor Esme Benjamin says.
They'll allow you to work hard and stretch afterward, building muscle that isn't bulky while improving your flexibility.
2. You can adjust the class to suit your capabilities
It's always a good idea to get to any class early, check out the studio, and set up your space. This is also a great time to introduce yourself to the instructor and let them know if you're suffering from any injuries. This way, they can help you with any modifications you may need to make.
"Listen to your body," TenBarre instructor Josephine McGrail advises. "Does this feel right? Just because it LOOKS right doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you!"
Don't be a hero! If something doesn't feel right, don't push it.
3. The classes are varied
Barre class requires a ton of movement. At any given moment, you could be bent in half, lying on your back, or in a deep squat. Make sure you are wearing body conscious clothes that are easy to move around in.
Shoes are not allowed in most barre studios. Bring a pair of grippy socks for added support and be prepared to work on your balance.
4. It's a full body workout
Barre targets arms, shoulders, stomach, thighs, and glutes. You'll get to work each part in a fun and quick way.
"It’s the ultimate full body workout with added fun," Esme says.
TenBarre describe the classes as full of, "exercises [that] target the core, along with upper and lower body muscle groups to tone muscle, improve flexibility and balance, and align posture."
Get abs, build muscle, increase flexibility and improve posture? Sign us up!
5. Form is everything
Barre emphasizes small, exact movements, meaning there is very little room for error.
TenBarre instructor Marie Francis offers some basic tips for form. "Squeeze the glutes and hold your core throughout to get the most of your workout."
"Keep a long neck and relaxed shoulders and arms. Think of swans gliding above the surface… Graceful and relaxed but pedalling and working like mad beneath the water. Relax when it comes to coordinating arms and legs during the more technical sections ... After a few short weeks muscle memory will take over."
Listen to all verbal cues and pay attention if your instructor adjusts you. Great form is key to a beneficial workout.
6. Shaking is good!
One of the purposes of barre exercises is to burn out muscles to the point of fatigue. Shaking might seem awkward or feel uncomfortable, but it just means that the muscle is really working. Embrace the shake!
Oftentimes when you're at the barre, you'll be standing on one leg while working the other. "Think about your supporting leg throughout," Marie says. It's doing just as much work as your working leg, so don't get upset if you see a little shake!
7. You can snack guilt-free
Bare is a tough workout that requires proper fueling. As with any exercise, you need to make sure that you're taking care of yourself, drinking plenty of water before and after and eating nutrient-rich whole foods. Eating properly before your workout is paramount. Make sure you bring a bottle of water to sip during class.
Eating something in the hour following your workout to repair your muscles. If you're on the go after class, toss a banana in your bag for to snack on afterward.
8. It's challenging mentally AND physically
Barre class forces you to concentrate fully on your body. Executing each exercise requires exact form, which can be difficult to achieve if your mind is wandering.
It isn't easy, but it's a true escape that allows you to live in the moment and engage fully.
"Anything can happen, so keep an open mind bearing in mind that this class is specially designed to challenge you physically as well as mentally," Josephine says.
9. Persistence is key
If you are consistent with your barre workout, you will see results. "Set realistic goals," Josephine says, "whether it’s about how often you aim to attend class or how high you kick your leg, keeping your ambitions on a realistic level will make you feel fantastic knowing your achieving your goals!
"Persistence is what will make your practice (and therefore your body) change and improve over time." Keep going to class and bit by bit you will notice the changes.
Moral of the story? Stick with it!
10. It's tough
Though barre may look easy peasy from the outside, it's anything but! Graceful movements actually take a whole lot of hard work.
Listen to your body and honor it, always. Work hard and know your zone. "Remember: accepting your (physical) limits is the only way to improve in a safe, injury-free way," Josephine says.
And the next time someone challenges barre workouts, just flash 'em your biceps. They'll shut up quick!
11. It's fun!
If you liked taking ballet as a tot, you're going to love taking barre classes as a grown up. "It’s a nostalgic throwback to those childhood dance classes, but with an adult twist," Esme says.
Controlled, graceful and hard core? Barre class just about does it all!
Are you a barre babe? Tweet us @wewomenUSA!