Barre may have its roots in ballet, but it has since grown to be a popular workout beyond the dance studio, accessible to all fitness levels. And don’t be fooled by its seemingly simple, small-range movements; barre is a workout that targets certain muscles and can strengthen your whole body. Here’s what you need to know about barre workouts, their benefits, and how you can try a few moves yourself.
What is a Barre Workout?
“Barre is an elegant combination of Pilates and ballet that is designed to lengthen your whole body and help you find your center,” says Jacqui Kingswell, founder of The Pilates Class. “It also includes targeted bursts to the core, arms, and butt.”
In barre workouts, minimal to no equipment is needed—just a mat and a chair or something to hold onto that represents a barre, and light weights if you want to use them. “Most barre classes will start just like a traditional ballet class would with pliés,” says Kingswell. “The movements will then build and progressively get harder, and throughout a barre class all your Pilates principles apply to the movements. Barre classes have fluidity with every movement, so it’s almost as if you’re moving through water throughout the entire class.”
Even though it has elements inspired by ballet, you don’t have to be a trained (or even untrained) dancer to do a barre workout. And if you are coordination-challenged, Kingswell says, "Most of the time people with no coordination end up enjoying the class the most, because it’s something new and challenging. The only dancer aspect you want to have is to think like a ballet dancer.”
What Are the Benefits of a Barre Workout?
Barre is a low-impact, full body workout, and the movements in barre tend to focus on body weight (or low weight) and high repetition to help you tone and lengthen your muscles. While you aren’t lifting heavy weights like in traditional strength training, the small, targeted moves in barre add up to help make your muscles stronger.
Beyond the physical benefits, there are also mental ones. “The movements in a barre class teach you control, precision, and balance as well as increase strength, flexibility, posture and awareness of the mind and body,” says Kingswell.
And if you find your body shaking during a barre workout, that’s a good thing. Kingswell explains that shaking is a sign that your muscles are working hard to hold the moves. She always encourages her clients to find the shakes and deep burn, “because that’s where your body really benefits from the movement.”
6 Barre Moves to Try
Kingswell showed us a few barre moves that help connect you with your body and breath. The only equipment you need is a chair or a barre like structure to help support you. (Hint: The Pilates Class offers a free, seven-day trial and has a range of classes you can try, including barre, pilates, stretch, and calm classes).
- Stand with your feet parallel and hip distance apart, facing your chair/barre. Bend your knees slightly.
- Step away from your barre until your arms are straight.
- Slightly bend both knees and let your heart through the center of your body, allowing you to feel a stretch behind your hamstrings and down the front line of your body. Keep your back flat.
- With one hand on your chair/barre, extend the other hand out to the side and straighten the same leg (furthest away from the barre) out to the side while pointing your toes. Stand nice and tall.
- Take the extended leg behind you, keep the heel lifted and bend/plié both legs while taking the arm from the side to above your head, or in fifth position, keeping your shoulders down and back.
- Extend the working leg back to the side and take the arm with you.
- Repeat to the other side.
- Tip: Keep both hips facing forward for the entire movement.
Extended Leg Lift
- Face and put both hands on your chair/barre.
- Create a long and flat spine, scoop your belly button back towards your spine, and extend one leg back while slightly bending the supporting leg.
- Extend one leg behind you and point through your toes.
- Without arching your back, squeeze your glute and lift the leg up, then control as you lower down. Make sure you really focus on lengthening the leg out as long as you can, going for length over height.
- Repeat to the other side.
- Tip: Imagine someone holding onto your ankle pulling your leg to get longer. Then imagine you have a coffee on your lower back, and as you start the movement try not to spill the coffee by really engaging the core keeping your spine flat and long.
Balance Into Leg Extend
- Set Up: Start in your leg extended position with the leg lifted in the air and apply the Pilates principles, drawing your belly button back toward your spine.
- Bend the lifted leg in toward your chest and lift your arm above your head, and then reverse that movement going back into your extended leg lift position.
- Tip: The crown of your head should move from facing forwards a wall to then moving towards the ceiling.
- Start in a lunge position, with one leg back and your front leg bent. Straighten your back leg and hinge forward.
- Place your fingertips lightly onto your barre and be mindful not to grab too hard.
- Engage the core and bring the back leg in towards the front leg. Keep your front knee bent the entire time.
- Take the working leg back to your lunge position and repeat the movement.
- Really lean forward and keep your spine in a diagonal position.
- Tip: To get your heart rate up, increase the speed of this movement. You can also lift the working leg off the floor as you bring it in towards your core.
Side Leg Lift
- Place one hand on your barre, and extend the other hand over your head as if you are leaning over the barre, but keep your shoulders facing to the side.
- Extend the leg furthest away from the barre out to the side while pointing your toes. Slightly bend the supporting leg.
- Internally rotate the working leg to face down towards your mat.
- Lift the working leg and take your arm to the side; reverse that movement and control the leg down.
- Tip: Keep the supporting leg bent and don’t worry too much about height. Go for the length over height.
It’s so important to finish the workout with a stretch and some breath work to calm the nervous system and center yourself for the day ahead. An easy way is to take one of The Pilates Class’ five minute stretch classes to cool down.