Raising the Barre

The word “barre” has been a hot topic as of late. Exercise-inclined folks love barre workouts, celebrities everywhere are swearing by it, and it is a term trending online everywhere.

Classes like cardio barre, HIIT barre and barre yoga or Pilates have been incorporated into workout studios everywhere; these classes put a lot of emphasis on stretching and relaxing rather than burning muscles. What exactly is “barre” and why has there been such a recent explosion of these workouts all over the country?

To start, barre workouts are named after the primary piece of equipment used in a form of exercise – the bar. When thinking of a bar, one’s mind might drift to ballet classes. Barre fitness does incorporate ballet exercises; the specific workouts target arms, legs, core and glutes, much like what ballet dancers focus on. The exercises themselves are set at a slow pace to build strength and flexibility, so there are no high impact moves (like jumping) incorporated into the workouts. This makes it a great option for those recovering from a recent injury.

But the recent resurgence of barre workouts is different this time around because they add other aspects of yoga and Pilates and include yoga mats, free weights, exercise bands and exercise balls. Think of barre fitness as essentially a hybrid workout class with elements of strength training, high reps and small range movements.

“We have found the Barre classes to be particularly popular because they are low impact, don’t require any previous dance experience, are incredibly fun with upbeat music and offer really fast results in toning the entire body,” said Sherri Krug-Summers, of Everglow Wellness in Keene. “Barre is excellent for the posture, leg strength, core strength and balance.”

The low impact workouts might seem like they won’t be too strenuous, but don’t be fooled — barre workouts certainly push the limits, and anyone can gain a lot from them. These tiny movements target muscles that aren’t typically targeted in other forms of workouts. Not only does it improve muscle definition, but helps with flexibility and posture, reducing overall stress and anxiety.

Barre is also known to be a good cross-training option, or to pair with other forms of exercise including running, weight lifting or cycling, simply because these workouts strengthen the muscles needed for these types of exercise without causing too much stress on the body.

There are a few things to think about before taking up barre fitness as a regular workout. With the recent pandemic, it is safe to say many people might not be comfortable heading back into a gym or studio any time soon, even with some places opening back up with proper safety protocols in place.

Everglow is among some that are now open for in-studio classes, with social distancing guidelines in place. This fitness boutique focuses on small group and individual fitness for women and men. They currently have three barre classes a week — Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Fridays at 4 p.m. In the fall, Krug-Summers said Everglow will also offer one class on weekends.

There are a few studios in the area offering online barre fitness classes. There is also an abundance of virtual classes available via YouTube or other apps such as FitOn. Those classes are free and can be watched at any time, making it a great option for those who have conflicting schedules with studio classes online.

If choosing to stay at home, it is important to have a space in the house for a mat or towel, as well as something similar to a bar. This could be the back of a chair, a table, countertops or a wall. Get creative! Socks with sticky bottoms are good for gripping the bar and staying firmly planted on the mat. In addition, tight-fitting clothing is also recommended when doing a barre fitness workout. Loose fitting clothes can impede the workout and make it difficult to do some of the moves.

Weights are typically incorporated into the workout, so anything between one and three pounds can be a great alternative to an actual weight if weights aren’t an option (e.g. soup cans, wine bottles, beer cans, etc). One to three pounds seems light, but the constant movement certainly has an impact, so that should be more than enough.

Prepare to feel exhausted! Although it seems like small movements and increments, muscles that aren’t typically used are getting quite the workout. Make sure to stay mentally engaged and don’t be afraid to shake. Feeling super sore by the end of the workout is a good sign that the class has done its job.

Post-class, take it easy! Incorporate traditional yoga and simple stretching into the daily routine to help provide the torn muscles some active recovery. Options including light yoga or aquatic exercises give the body a chance to rest and rebuild the torn muscle fibers caused by exercising.

Staying active every day can even make the actual barre fitness workouts more effective in the long run. Try and keep a schedule and do another barre fitness class within 48 hours of the first class. Happy barre-ing!