This past June, I was visiting my sister back on the East Coast when she invited me to take a Pure Barre class with her. I had never taken a barre class (and had no idea what to expect), but I'm usually up to try any workout once. I had heard that barre was a mix of ballet and yoga (the former, something I grew up practicing from around age 3 to 13; the latter being my current workout of choice), but about 10 minutes into my first session, I would say that barre is neither. Yes, there was a literal ballet bar incorporated into many of the movements, and yes, like yoga, stretching was fused in with strength building, but to call barre a hybrid of the two seemed an inaccurate reduction. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape, but I barely survived my first barre class. For a solid four or five days after, muscles that I didn't even know existed were sore and tight, and I was happy knowing that the hour-long workout was effective (but I also dreaded my next session). By the time my sister went for round two, I had to opt out because my muscles still felt out of commission.
So when Pure Barre invited me to try out its newest class, Empower, in L.A., I was equal parts curious and apprehensive. At the mere mention of barre, I could feel my muscles contracting in trepidation, but I figured I'd give it another shot. For starters, at 45 minutes, Empower is shorter than the classic Pure Barre offering. The class promises total-body strength-training through a more cardio-centric approach that sculpts the body via low-impact maneuvers while increasing the heart rate. With more dance-like movements, kicks, and squats (and fewer tucks and esoteric subtleties), the Empower class was much more aligned with my fitness leanings and proved to be an enjoyable and effective workout. To learn more about barre—its benefits, what to expect, and Pure Barre's newest class Empower—we had kinesiologist and Pure Barre team member Rachelle Reed, Ph.D., fill us in.
BYRDIE: Can you explain what barre is to someone who has never taken a class?
RACHELLE REED: Barre workouts are typically a blend of strength and flexibility training, incorporating isometric holds and high repetition of small range-of-motion movements. Typically free weights, resistance bands, and the ballet bar are used throughout class in an effort to work muscle groups to fatigue, followed by a series of stretches.
BYRDIE: How does barre have an advantage over other types of workouts? What muscle groups does it work to target? What are some other health benefits?
RR: Although barre workouts are fast-paced in nature, they are also low-impact, which means they're effective and safe for almost everyone. Pure Barre systematically targets all the main muscle groups that women typically have difficulty strengthening—the core, upper body, thighs, and seat. After working each muscle group to the point of fatigue, teachers lead the class through dynamic and static stretching sections of class to lengthen the muscles. Another big health benefit of Pure Barre Classic is the balance training that's incorporated throughout the class (like balancing on your tippy toes); balance training is important for both injury prevention and coordination.
BYRDIE: Why is barre particularly beneficial to women?
RR: Pure Barre is especially beneficial to women of all ages and fitness levels because it targets the areas of the physique that women of all ages are seeking—the core, upper body, thighs, and seat. Women tend to have lower levels of strength than their male counterparts, and the small isometric strength training method used in Pure Barre helps women build strength quickly and efficiently; and, the better you become at the technique, the more you can challenge yourself each class, never reaching a plateau. In addition, Pure Barre is safe and effective for women during both pregnancy and postpartum, with modifications available for all exercise positions. The community feel at the local studio level helps to hold women accountable for showing up to their workouts every day, and many women gain a social support network by joining a studio.
BYRDIE: How is Pure Barre different from other barre studios on the market?
RR: Pure Barre is an intelligently sequenced workout that efficiently targets each major muscle and joint group of the body using small, isometric strength training, flexibility training, and neuromotor training. We use light hand weights, a resistance band, and a small exercise ball to add variety to our classes and continually challenge clients. Our technique is scientifically based and constantly evolving based on new research to ensure that we remain at the forefront of the barre business industry. Additionally, all our teachers undergo rigorous training before certification, coupled with continuing education in new research on exercise science, modifications for injuries, and other important topics. And teachers are trained to provide hands-on adjustments throughout every class to provide the one-on-one feel, even while in a group exercise setting.
BYRDIE: What are some common misconceptions about barre?
RR: That you have to be a dancer or be flexible to take barre; or that you have to be in good shape.
BYRDIE: Is barre customizable to different strengths and levels of athleticism?
RR: Yes. The low-impact, high-intensity nature of the class makes it accessible to all fitness levels. Plus, our teachers offer modification options, so there’s always an option to level up or level down.
BYRDIE: What should newbies know before coming in for their first class?
RR: In addition to remembering to bring sticky socks to their first class, newbies to Pure Barre should allow themselves to have fun and be beginners in their first two to three classes, as they learn the flow of class and become familiar with the technique. After about the third class, newer clients tend to feel more comfortable with the flow of class and begin to notice the mental and physical benefits of the workout. Know that the teachers and studio teams are always there to help.
BYRDIE: What barre moves are most commonly done wrong?
RR: The Pure Barre "tuck" and "pulse" are the two most commonly misunderstood moves. The "tuck" is designed to help clients find a neutral spine (think of minimizing the lower spinal curve by pulling the navel back and down, engaging the core), which is a safe position for exercise training. Teachers are trained to help clients understand the "tuck" before their first class, and a "pulse" is a small range of motion that only occurs in the downward direction (think of getting lower and lower each time, rather than bouncing up and down), which is designed to help muscles (usually the thighs) fatigue quickly during a particular exercise position.
BYRDIE: Are there any moves one can do when they can't make it into a class or they're on the road?
RR: Pure Barre On Demand is perfect for this. Though there’s no experience quite like the in-studio experience, we know that not everyone lives near a studio or can make it to class when traveling. With Pure Barre On Demand, you can squeeze in a five-, 10-, 30-, or 45-minute class for those times where getting to the studio isn’t an option.