Forget dancercise comparisons: appreciating barre for its isometric benefits

Barre exercise / Image source: Yoga journal
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.

With weight training, it’s not how much you lift, but how well you lift it

Weight training / image source: Isabella Mendez / pexels.com
Weight training / image source: Isabella Mendez / pexels.com

With weight training, it's not how much you lift, but how well you lift it

No matter if you are a beginner or a pro, the benefits of weight training are far reaching and long-lasting. We’ve debunked the myth that weight training makes you bulky  and have emphasized its importance as part of a balanced fitness regime.

You might learn weight training techniques by watching friends or others in the gym, but sometimes what you see isn’t safe. Incorrect weight training technique can lead to sprains, strains, fractures and other painful injuries that may hamper your weight-training efforts.

Proper form matters — and this starts from the moment you take your weight from the rack. The better your form, the better your results. If you find your neck kicking in when you should be using your arms, decrease the weight or the number of repetitions.

If you’re new to weight training, work with a personal trainer who can introduce you to the basics of proper technique. They will be able to instruct you on good form and even provide modifications to accommodate any injuries.

If you are using classes like Body Pump or another group barbell workout to introduce you to weight training, start with light weights. This way you can focus on the instructor’s (or virtual instructor’s) technique. Your instructor will demonstrate good form and give you many verbal cues throughout the workout. Once you’ve conquered the mechanics, you can move on to heavier, more challenging weights.

If you’ve been using weights for a while, consider scheduling time with a trainer to double-check your technique and identify any changes you may need to make. We all get into patterns and our bodies can compensate for weaknesses. This can result in incorrect technique and potential damage. Even trainers can use a check-in with another professional to correct bad habits and assess technique. There are always small adjustments that can be made to improve alignment and efficiency.

By prioritizing good form over heaviness of weight or amount of repetition, you will get more out of your weight training workout. You will protect yourself from injury and build a foundation for future success.

Improve flexibility, reduce stress, boost circulation: don’t forget stretching after working out

athlete exercise fitness stretching / image credit: pixabay.com

Improve flexibility, reduce stress, boost circulation: don't forget stretching after a workout

So you’ve finished a workout. You’ve taken an hour for yourself and pounded it out on the treadmill, kept up pace in spin class, or sweated it out lifting weights. It’s time to move on with your day. You take a moment before heading out the studio door. Should you spend time stretching? Do you really need to lie down and pull yourself into a deflated pretzel before removing your sweaty clothes? Is stretching that important?

The answer is yes. Stretching is essential. If you haven’t stretched, you haven’t completed your workout. It’s easy to ignore stretching — especially when you’re in a rush. However, if you aren’t stretching you’re missing the full benefits of your workout.

The most obvious benefit of stretching is improving flexibility and range of motion. This ultimately improves your physical performance and helps reduce risk of injury. In aiding your range of motion, your body requires less energy to make the same movements. This makes future workouts more efficient.

Flexibility isn’t the only benefit from stretching. A 2013 study evaluated how heart attack patients responded to stretching as part of their rehabilitation. Among the findings: regular stretching improves circulation. This increases blood flow to your muscles — which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness. If your muscles are already contracted because you haven’t stretched, they will be less effective during exercise. Regular stretching will relax all of your muscles and enable them to be more available during exercise.

The benefits of stretching aren’t purely physical. There are mental advantages as well. Stretching is a great way to alleviate stress. A buildup of stress causes your muscles to contract, making you feel tense and uneasy. It also encourages the release of endorphins, providing a sense of tranquility and euphoria.

Now that we’ve outlined just some of the benefits of stretching, you need to incorporate it into your routine. There are also a number of apps, like lolo fit’s Performance Stretching, that can guide you through a varied routine that you customize based on your workout. Whether it’s stretching with a foam roller or post-running, these apps target the muscle groups that need attention — relieving you of the guesswork associated with determining the best stretch for your activity.

So it’s time to stop thinking of stretching as a luxury and embrace it as a necessity. You’ll feel stronger, more flexible, and happier.

Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

Electronic muscle stimulation provides an intense and high-energy workout. Image source: Ebenezer Samuel / Men's Health

Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

If you love to learn about new exercise and fitness trends, The Future of Fitness explains it to you in a way you can understand and separate the hype cycle from actual results.

Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is muscle contraction using electric impulses. When you EMS train, the impulses are generated through electrodes placed near the muscles being stimulated. A number of studios have sprung up touting EMS Training as more efficient than traditional workouts. But what’s it like to be strapped into a bodysuit that makes you look like you should be fighting zombies instead of doing squats?

The first thing to know about EMS training is that your studio will provide you with the high-tech undergarments that you see on their site. These are meant to be worn without underwear (no sports bras!). They are tight. Really tight. Then, the studio trainer will spray you with water. The suit you wear will also be sprayed with water. This allows for increased conductivity. Each electrode will be adjusted to your specification, and you’ll feel a tingling sensation, a vibration, that focuses on a specific muscle group.

You’ll be led through a High Intensity Interval Training routine (6 seconds on, 4 seconds off) through a number of exercises like squats, mountain climber, side planks, and bicep curls. Working with a trainer who will adjust the pulses in the electrodes throughout the 20-minute workout, you will sweat your way through the circuit. You’ll also burn a number of calories.

The next day, you’ll feel sore but nothing unusual after a good workout. Also, depending on your shoulder strength, you might feel the pressure of the suit.

There’s no doubt that EMS training burns calories, but is it a good workout? I would recommend that if you want to try EMS, you should already be familiar with basic exercise moves and intensity. You should already know how to  perform a proper squat confidently, because the workout moves fast. While the trainers will adjust the activities, you need to be secure in your own abilities and understand your limits. Asking for alternatives to replace exercises you already know are not good for your body is essential. Like most training situations, you need to speak up and let people know when you are uncomfortable or in pain (and not a good pain).

I also wouldn’t recommend EMS to people with claustrophobia. The pressure of the suit combined with the increased intensity of the pulses may trigger feelings of being trapped. The workout moves quickly, so your heart rate will increase. Combine these factors with a new studio and a trainer you don’t necessarily know and it may make for an uncomfortable environment.

However, if you are curious — and feel physically and mentally prepared for a fast moving workout in a heavy suit — you should give EMS a try.


Have you done EMS? How was it? Awesome? Traumatic? Meh? Let us know in the comments!

Strong is beautiful: pumping iron is for women too

Laura Rantin strong woman

Strong is beautiful: pumping iron is for women too

One of the mottos we like to embrace at TrainingSpaces is “Strong is Beautiful.” This means we value mental and physical strength as our overall life goal. It’s about having that confidence to speak your mind and stand up for those around you. It means we aren’t interested in some fake, magazine, size 0 idea of beauty.

We’re invested in real people with real bodies. Being beautiful is carrying yourself in your body, pain-free, and creating a shape that helps you move through the world. We believe in functional fitness — and that can be achieved through weight training.

But so many women are afraid of weight training — a critical path to strength. Despite the benefits of resistance training, of the 12.7 million women who belonged to a commercial health club last year, only about half used weight machines, and only one-third lifted free weights, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)!

The reason? Some women are intimidated by the weight room. Others don’t know where to start and don’t want to hurt themselves. But so many women are convinced that after one session of weights, they are going to bulk up like She-Hulk before going into battle. So they try to avoid weights and the benefits of weight training — instead focusing exclusively on yoga and cardio.

The truth is, women will never bulk up like men, because our hormones are different. If you are training for a bodybuilding competition, that’s a very different routine from your twice-a-week weights workout. Achieving this physique requires a serious commitment to changing your hormones, diet, exercise, and — really your entire life.  

A benefit of weight training we rarely talk about is how it will make you feel. Watching yourself move up from smaller dumbbells to heavier weights is an amazing ego boost. For women who have been told that lifting weights is not good for us because it will make us aggressive or manly, picking up that big weight and holding it above our heads is a sense of pride and accomplishment. It’s about saying “no thanks” when the man next to you at spin class offers to swap your 8 lbs hand weights for his 2 lbs pink weights during the arms routine. And why are those little weights pink anyway? Because they are for girls. Haha … very cute.

Combining cardio, weights, and stretching will only help you to look leaner as you become stronger. Once you start lifting weights, you begin to build muscle, and the more muscles you have the more calories you burn. And the more you lift, the stronger you get.

And well, this goes back to Strong is Beautiful.

Strip away the scandals and focus on the benefits. There’s a lot to love about yoga

woman on pink yoga mat with hands extended

Strip away the scandals and focus
on the benefits. There's a lot
to love about yoga

How could anyone who embraces fitness, wellness, and balance dislike a centuries-old movement-based meditation practice? Yoga is linked to so many health benefits including calming your mind, toning your body, improving flexibility, and finding overall happiness. Why do you hate yoga?

And the fact is that I don’t hate yoga. I just hate how it’s perceived and what it’s a short-hand for in our society.

Unfortunate associations

Choudhury bikram yoga classI hate the corporatization of yoga and its connection to affluence. To be a real yogi, you need the right four-way stretch fabric and a special towel made from bamboo and unicorn tears. Yoga clothing carries astronomical price tags and is often made in unsafe work conditions. I think we can all remember when the CEO of Lululemon was caught out fat-shaming and insulting the very people who bought his clothes. It’s embarrassing, but it was part of a larger snobbery that separated appropriate yoga bodies from unsightly ones.

I hate the gurus. There are teachers who use adjustments as an opportunity to subtly touch their practitioners in a way that crosses the line. What about the power-hungry narcissists and sexual assaulters who gaslight their students to make excuses for bad behaviour? Or the enlightened individuals who preach humility and charity with one hand, while pushing unnecessary classes and workshops with the other? They abuse the trust of people who just want to be a little better than they were yesterday.

But I love yoga

With yoga comes the acceptance that we are all different. Just like we all struggle in life with different things, you can leave it all on the mat. You can sweat, flow, breathe, or just lie down. Every practice is different. The expectations you set for yourself differ every time until you learn not to set expectations. You learn to be present and take each pose as a mini-challenge.

TrainingSpaces owner Laura Rantin at the Grand Canyon.For many people, it’s hard to get back to the root of yoga because of all the bullshit. All the fake gurus and the cool clothes won’t take away the fact from the purity of breathing and focusing on the stretch. When you relax into a yoga pose, you’re treating yourself to some quiet time. You can tune out the world and all its violence, terror, and cruelty.

It’s easy to get caught up in the yoga lifestyle and the nastiness of it all. It’s easy to find ways to hate yoga. But it’s even better not to. Because yoga was here before the moisture-wicking fabric, and the predators, and the cool bags with extra pockets. And there’s something that endures about something that connects you to yourself — and challenges you to be a better person … one breath at a time.

Yoga meditation pose

Has yoga been good to you?

Tell us about your experiences with yoga! Any good stories? Any bad ones? An instructor you found especially helpful? A pose or position that was particularly difficult? Let us know in the comments!