Barre exercise / Image source: Yoga journal

Forget dancercise comparisons: appreciating barre for its isometric benefits

Barre studios are springing up as quickly as spin studios were a couple of years ago. With strange socks with jelly grips and unitards that send you into Flashdance flashbacks, is this new fitness-dance hybrid for you? Will you have to learn difficult combinations and wear a tutu? What exactly is a barre class?

Barre classes combine strength training and cardio by focusing on small, isometric exercises. Isometric exercises are contractions of a particular muscle or group of muscles. During isometric exercises, the muscle doesn’t noticeably change length and the affected joint doesn’t move. Isometric exercises help maintain strength.

The barre is the primary prop used to balance while performing these isometric exercises. Depending on the class and instructor, you will also use very light weights (1 to 4 lbs), a strap, weighted balls, and those squishy exercise balls that only seem to exist in fitness studios.

Each class begins in the centre of the room and moves through a specific set of poses. You start with core (planks, modified push-ups), then move on to arms (small biceps curls, tricep extensions). Following this, you will find a place at a ballet bar and perform exercises that target your legs and glutes. Each exercise focuses on small pulses movements — you will hear “up an inch, down an inch” so many times — and works to fatigue.

There are a number of benefits to barre classes. It’s a challenging workout that focuses on tiny movements. You can be a fitness novice or an expert and still find yourself tired by the end of the hour class. The class is also good for joints as there are no high-impact components. Each studio seems to follow its own flow so once you have taken one class, you will have some idea what to expect. Of course, different instructors will change and modify based on preference and experience.

While barre classes do boast benefits like improved posture, muscle definition, weight loss, increased flexibility, and reduced stress, they really are no different from any enjoyable group exercise, yoga, or pilates class. The techniques are ballet-like but they won’t give you a dancer’s body. You will feel taller and stronger, more aware of your core and posture, but you won’t be asked to dance lead by the National Ballet of Canada. There are also a lot of squats, or pliés to use the correct ballet term — so if you suffer from knee issues this class may not be for you.

Like many group exercise classes, barre studios can be expensive and may require a monthly or class number payment commitment. Fortunately, the first class is often free so you can try out the class and determine if it’s a right fit. ClassPass (link to Committing to a class blog) also includes a number of barre studios and classes options to make this group fitness class more affordable.

And barre isn’t just for women. Like many lower impact studio classes, barre classes seem to predominantly attract women. However, all of us can benefit from an hour of tiny, exhausting movements, and being reminded how our abs work.

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