Barre fitness was the first workout class I ever tried at PSU, and to this day it remains one of my favorite workout classes for muscle toning (alas, there’s not much cardio in this workout). For those of you who may not be familiar, a barre is kind of like a handrail that is either attached to a wall or a little stand that you can use to help balance yourself while doing different exercises. The barre comes in especially handy for ballet type moves, where you’re on your toes lifting one leg up/down/sideways. Barre fitness in general is a workout that combines moves from ballet, pilates, and yoga into a workout routine. Similar to pilates and yoga, you do a lot of bodyweight exercises (although sometimes resistance bands and hand weights are added) that challenge your muscles. What I like about barre is that it also really challenges your core stability and balance while kind of making you feel like a graceful dancer (even if you’re not).
Ballet barre fitness classes have been becoming very popular recently, especially because much of the advertising surrounding it promotes barre as a way to get a toned, limber, and slender dancer-like physique. Although much of the current popularity may be due to the pressure of societal beauty standards, this workout was initially invented in 1959 by a professional ballerina named Lotte Berk who had suffered a back injury and wanted to find a way to mix her ballet training with physical rehabilitative therapy. Many of the exercises Berk created emphasize isometric contractions (makes sense since they strengthen and stabilize muscles without requiring lots of joint movement and flexibility), which basically means you don’t move your muscles a ton. Instead, a lot of the squats and leg lifts I did in this class were tiny pulses up and down which really got the muscles burning. If you want to read more about the history of the workout class or want more in depth information about the pros and cons of this workout, I’d encourage you to check out this link!
The actual workout is 45 minutes long and very leg-oriented. The vast majority of the workout is comprised of various squats and leg lifts. During the most recent class I attended, I did narrow squats, plié squats, regular squats, combinations of squats, squats with leg lifts, pulses, etc. We also did many variations of leg lifts. Check out the Youtube video below if you’d like to see demonstrations of the kinds of exercises I did (it’s also a great workout video in and of itself, and you don’t need a barre if you can balance without it). Whenever you’re doing these moves, you’ll basically hold repetitions of the move for a while and perhaps vary it slightly (e.g. might get faster, slower, or switch directions). The barre is there beside you if you need to grab onto it for support/balance. Because there are so many different moves for your legs and I did so many repetitions, my legs felt like Jello towards the end of the class. I guess that’s a sign that barre is really effective at strengthening every part of the leg, including calves, thighs, and butt. Usually there are a couple minutes of arm and core strength thrown into the workout as well, but I’ve found that which exercises you do and how intensely you work these other body parts really depends on the instructor. I’ve gone to a class where we did almost ten minutes of different arm exercises with hand weights, but in the most recent class I attended we just did a minute or two of exercises with resistance bands.
Overall, I’d recommend this class to anyone who wants to strengthen their legs and stabilize their core. It’s a great muscle toning/strengthening workout, and the ballet aspect of it makes it pretty unique and fun. It’s great for all skill types, and you do not need to have any dance experience (I have zero dance skill). It’s not really meant to be a cardio workout, but you will end up breaking a sweat! I know I will try and keep incorporating this into my weekly workouts. As always, let me know if you have any suggestions or questions! As a fun bonus, here is a funny Buzzfeed video about a group of friends trying out a barre class for a couple weeks.