By Sarah Hughes
Once the preserve of Hollywood A-listers and held in small, boutique studios; Barre classes
have now become a staple part of the fitness offer in gyms around the world. The method is
pioneered by industry leaders Barrecore, but other providers have sprung up quickly and you
can access classes in person and online at much more affordable prices than a few years
ago. I’ve been teaching Barre for three years now and not only is it my favourite class to
teach, it’s also the one where I see the quickest results for my clients.
Now if you’ve never tried Barre classes, I hate to break it to you but you’re late to the party!
Marilyn Monroe was a huge fan of ballet-inspired exercise and credited her curves to those
workouts. In recent years celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, supermodel Karlie
Kloss (and her whole Victoria’s Secrets show posse) have waxed lyrical about the benefits
of regularly heading to the barre. The fitness craze really kicked up a notch after Natalie
Portman’s hypnotic performance in the film Black Swan, when we all wanted to channel our
So what exactly is Barre fitness?
Look at any Barre company’s website and you’ll find claims that this is the training regime
that will give you long, lean, sculpted muscles, a dancers physique, super strength without
muscular bulk. It’s no wonder then that so many women have been keen to give it a go.
Developed by a prima ballerina, Lotte Berk in 1959 after she injured her back, the vast
majority of the method is based on traditional ballet exercises. The recent resurgence has
seen a developed version of the class which incorporates some Pilates and Yoga principles.
While Barre has its origins in dance; the less coordinated amongst us should not be put off
by that. There is very little choreography (if any), lots of plies and zero pirouetting. Promise.
You’ll typically start with a gentle, mobilising warm-up, progress to some standing work at
the barre which will be all about those legs and glutes and then head on down to the mat for
your core and flexibility work.
Barre is a low impact, high intensity class, which is one of the things that makes it so popular
with women of all ages. Rather than putting stress on the joints as you might in say, a HIIT
or Spinning class; Barre focuses all it’s effort on fatiguing the muscles. And fatigue them it
does! Prepare yourself to feel the burn and endure some serious leg shaking.
You’ll see a big difference between Barre and other strength classes due to the fact that
you’ll be working the muscles isometrically. So rather than large compound exercises such
as squats and press-ups, you’ll do higher repetitions of tiny little movements. These small,
pulsing movements allow the muscles to tense up without changing length and are therefore
the best thing you can do to maintain muscular strength.
Barre classes started out as equipment-free, save for the wooden barre itself. However as
the workout has grown in popularity and diversified, the addition of equipment, such as
handweights, ankle weights and soft exercise balls can be introduced to add a challenge.
Why should I try it?
Having been in the fitness industry for almost twenty years now, I find lots of the trends very
ageist. They cater for the young, the super-fit, the injury-free. Not fair eh!?
Barre is much more inclusive than that because of the low impact format. It’s suitable and
adaptable for people with joint problems as well as pre and post-natal clients. Being
overweight is also no barrier to giving Barre a go, in fact the gentle pace means you can
challenge yourself without leaving feeling like you’re very unfit!
There are of course the obvious benefits that come with most forms of regular exercise;
improved coordination, balance, cardiovascular endurance and agility.However one of the
things that is often overlooked when discussing the benefits of Barre workouts is the mind-
body connection it creates. It’s impossible to focus on your worries while perfecting your
arabesque! Barre has been shown to have huge benefits for cognitive and mental health.
Clients tell me all the time that immediately after a barre class they feel de-stressed and
energised and that their concentration and focus is vastly improved in the hours afterwards.
As a teacher, what I particularly love about Barre is that it offers clients a real insight into
how their body works. There is a real opportunity to educate, explain and help each and
every participant get the best out of every workout. It’s intelligent fitness, if you like!
How quickly does it work?
Ahhh… the 64 million dollar question! I’m always so cautious when discussing fitness trends
and techniques not to give into the hype and make too many bold claims.
Barre classes, however, are an exception to that rule. Believe the hype folks. There really is
no better way to see a difference in your shape, strength and balance quickly. I regularly
have clients come up to me gushing about how much better they feel in their clothes, how
they have arm definition ‘for the first time ever’ and how their balance (the part most people
struggle with when first starting out in Barre classes) has suddenly reached a whole new
A disclaimer to this would be that you have to be really dedicated to your Barre journey to
see the benefits in a short period of time. I ask clients to commit to at least three sessions
per week for the first four weeks to give them a nice solid foundation in the method. I won’t
lie to you; it does hurt, there is a lot of soreness (and possibly swearing)… but it does also
become addictive very quickly. Especially when those feel-good endorphins are racing
through the system and you’re starting to see and feel the results in the mirror.