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Barre Fitness - What It Is And Why You Need To Try It

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

inner ballerina.

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.


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