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Barre Isn't Just for Ballerinas

02/16/2016

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If you’re looking for a new way to improve your physical fitness, Barre is a fun, low-impact workout that almost anyone can do. Barre is great for people of all ages and physical abilities and it’s available as a group fitness class or in the comfort of your own home.

The History of Barre

In the last five years, Barre studios have dotted the state of Oklahoma, which means you can access these fun, full-body workouts wherever you may live. However, the idea that Barre is a new workout is actually not true — Barre workouts have been around since 1959.

The idea of Barre as a workout was created by a German dancer, Lotte Berk, who wanted to combine dance conditioning with rehabilitative therapy. Barre was brought to New York City in 1971, and grew exponentially from there into the popular workout we know today. Some Barre studios have expanded to over 300 U.S. locations, so finding a Barre class near you is extremely easy.

What is a Barre Class Like?

Do not fear! Barre classes actually don’t involve any dancing. Every Barre class is different because each instructor brings their own unique experience and training, but they all have one thing in common: exercises using a ballet barre. At any point during the class, you may use the Barre to help improve balance, core strengthening and other flexibility exercises. Essentially, the barre is used as a balance tool while using your own body weight to perform exercises.

In a typical Barre class, you’ll spend the first 15 to 20 minutes in guided stretching, sometimes on a yoga mat. Then, your instructor may incorporate workout equipment such as an exercise band, medicine ball, small hand weights or foam rollers to begin strengthening exercises. For the last half of class, the barre is used with exercises that increase balance.

Because Barre classes combine techniques from yoga, dance, and Pilates, you may hear terms such as “Pilates V,” “Warrior Pose,” or “Grand Pliè.” Luckily, you don't need any prior experience to take a Barre class. One of the great things about Barre is the ability to make the workout your own. Each exercise comes with a series of modifications, so people of any age, physical ability and fitness level can get the most out of every Barre class.

At first glance, Barre exercises may seem like they wouldn’t make a huge impact, because many exercises in a Barre class are considered isometric contractions, or small movements. However, studies show that these tiny muscle pulses have a huge payoff in maintaining muscle strength and endurance. These isometric movements also are less risky and help to avoid injury.

The Benefits of Barre

“What I love about Barre is that it is a head-to-toe workout. I also love that every Barre class is different. I try to mix it up so it doesn’t feel repetitive, and (no pun intended) to keep you on your toes,” said Kaylee Steffen, a Barre instructor who has taught it for the past two years. She is also trained in Pilates, which is one of the foundations of Barre exercise.

One of the best benefits of Barre is that it improves posture by focusing on lengthening the body and spine. Because many of the exercises are taken from ballet, a proper posture is encouraged as exercises are performed. You’ll also experience improved flexibility, balance and muscle toning. The muscles you build in a Barre class are lean, not bulky, which helps create a toned "dancer's body."

Though Barre has amazing benefits (and any physical movement is better than no movement) you shouldn’t consider it your “holy grail” workout. Many of the exercises don’t increase heart rate (cardio), which is needed for weight loss and heart health. So, if you choose Barre as one of your weekly workouts, try alternating between Barre and cardio workouts.

Two Barre Workouts to Try at Home

Barre Push-up

One benefit of a Barre push-up is that it isn’t on the floor, which decreases strain on your wrists and shoulders. Because you most likely don’t have a barre at home, you can use a couch, sturdy chair or counter top.

  1. Have your arms shoulder distance apart, and step back into a plank position so that your body is in a straight line.
  2. Engage your core and be sure to push your shoulders down out of your ears and lift your chin.
  3. As you lower yourself into the push-up, your elbows can bend outward for a biceps workout or straight down toward the floor for a triceps workout.
  4. Modification options:
    1. The closer your feet are together, the harder it will be, so increase the space between your feet to make the exercise a bit easier
    2. To make the workout harder, consider extending one leg back and off the ground.

Grand Pliè

Similar to a traditional squat, this exercise works out your thighs and glutes. This exercise can be performed with or without something to balance with.

  1. Place your feet shoulder length apart or more and tuck in your hips so that your back is straight; turn out your feet so that knees are pointing over your ankles.
  2. Your arms can be in front of your body as if you’re holding a beach ball, or simply have them straight out to the sides for balance.
  3. Bend the knees outward and think about sliding up and down a wall.
  4. Bend all the way until your knees are at least 90 degrees (you can go lower, but be sure to still tuck your hips) and slowly return to the standing position.
  5. Modifications
    1. If you need extra help with balance, you can do this exercise up against a wall.
    2. To make this exercise harder, go up on your toes (relevè) as you bend your knees.
    3. Try pulsing instead of the larger movements – it seems less difficult, but it actually increases strength.

 

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