The barre method touts a total body workout without the bulk.
As yoga classes fill to the brim and everyone from teenagers to grandparents try cross-fit, there’s another total body workout that has a long history of helping everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Victoria’s Secret models find their core—barre.
Barre was created in the 1950s by Lotte Berk, a German dancer who, after injuring her back, was inspired to combine her ballet bar routines with her rehabilitative therapy to create a series of exercises. Working with her osteopath, Berk created a fitness method that blended the use of a ballet bar and targeted, small movements, core muscle engagement and stretching.
With Pilates, dance, strength training and yoga influences, the fast results students often see over a relatively short period of time, has drawn many people to barre throughout the years. And, as Berk’s students went on to open their own studios through the 1970s and 1990s, barre evolved into various methods such as Physique 57, Barre 3, The Bar Method and Pure Barre.
“In a barre class, there’s focus on posture and alignment as you exercise muscle groups throughout your body with your core engaged. With barre, you strengthen muscles you normally wouldn’t use while you stretch and gain flexibility. It’s a total body workout,” says Melissa Rota of Sweat + Soul Studio (sweatandsoulstudio.com).
What makes barre unique is the way it works both larger and smaller muscle groups through targeted movements using yoga and Pilates inspired movements that increase both strength and flexibility. As Rota mentions, many people who are active don’t realize how important stretching is in addition to strengthening, and barre provides both.
With the benefit of being a low-impact exercise, which people of all ages can do, barre classes tend to attract a larger female than male clientele, though men who take barre report increased core strength and flexibility, both of which have helped professional runners, cyclists and other athletes positively supplement their normal workout routine.
“It’s really great for anyone because it’s low-impact, tones, can help with weight loss and is just a lot of fun! Our classes tend to be music-driven with fun playlists, high energy and a wonderful community and group who attend our classes,” says Lia Catanzaro, Lead Instructor of Pure Barre in Kahala (purebarre.com/hi-kahala).
Many barre classes last roughly one hour and target all areas of the body through use of the ballet bar and props such as yoga straps, exercise balls, hand weights and a mat for floor exercises. A mix of fitness and body shaping, it’s barre’s tiny, isometric movements that help to isolate particular muscles and bring them to a state of fatigue quickly, which enables them to grow stronger over time.
Oh and that shaking that happens in barre class when you’re doing something for an extended period of time like contracting your quads at the bar? It’s totally normal. Shaking is a typical sign of muscle fatigue and when taught well, it’s a good thing because it means that muscle is working! It’s those isometric contractions throughout class that produce muscle strength over time.
Having trained at the famous Physique 75 in New York City under one of Lotte Berk’s original students, Nami Oneda—a former New York City Ballet Dancer and Independent Barre Instructor—believes it’s barre’s perfect balance of isometric movement and strength exercises, followed by stretching movements after each set on each side of the body, that provide such a balanced workout. It’s barre’s seamless blend of strengthening and lengthening that sets this discipline apart from others.
“Barre challenges the body in ways even dancers and athletes don’t imagine until they do it,” says Oneda.
“Many people who do yoga or dance say it’s the small isometric moments and controlled, small pulses that you hold for periods of time that reveal muscles you didn’t even know you had.”
Specializing in barre classes that sometimes don’t use the actual ballet bar, Oneda believes you can get a great work-out with and without the use of the ballet bar itself. She will start her barre certifications for 2017 in Las Vegas and Hawai‘i.
When asked what advice she would give someone who is new to barre, Oneda recommends new students take an intro to barre class at their local studio to learn the foundational movements, posture and alignment. If a studio doesn’t offer an introductory class, new students will often find themselves in the same classes as more experienced student so the key is to watch the instructor for proper alignment and movement while remembering it’s all a process of building strength and having fun.
“Barre gives you a long, lean body and targets all areas of the body. People love that they can really feel their muscles working and using their own body for weight and resilience training. It’s the great energy they get from really pushing themselves and their muscles to the limit as well as the classroom setting—it really builds you up when you feel supported by those around you and realize the strength you have within you that’s just waiting to come out!”