Belly Up to the Barre

By Organic Spa Magazine / September 24, 2013
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Photograph courtesy of Kimpton Hotels

Dancers have always been envied for their long, lean physiques. Granted, they rack up crazy amounts of time on their toes, but that’s not the only reason they’re so svelte. Enter the barre, a staple in every dance studio and now a popular tool in mainstream fitness classes—and for good reason. Simply put, barre classes work, pushing your muscles to new limits.

While there are numerous variations, barre classes share some similarities. All use small movements (for instance, you might lift your arms or legs an inch or two) and lots of repetitions to target top trouble zones, including the thighs, butt and belly. They often combine elements of ballet, Pilates and yoga, and some use additional equipment like straps.

But do they deliver? In a nutshell, yes, especially if you want to build a more balanced body and improve muscular endurance. “Whenever you’re bearing weight and doing squat-like moves, which many of these barre classes do, you use a multitude of larger muscles like the quads and glutes and smaller muscles like the calves and deep gluteal rotators, all of which are crucial for strength and balance,” says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama.

Because these classes use light weights with high repetitions, they’re also beneficial for building muscular endurance, muscles’ ability to perform repeated contractions before reaching fatigue. They even utilize Pilates-like abdominal exercises, which Olson’s research has shown develops the abdominals more than conventional crunches. Other benefits include improving posture and flexibility, says Jessica Matthews, M.S., exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise.

Yet don’t get duped into thinking these classes are the only workouts you need. You should still log at least three cardio workouts a week to keep your waistline in check and prevent health conditions like heart disease, Olson says. It is also important to work on building muscular strength (you need both muscular endurance and strength for optimal health), lifting heavier loads with fewer repetitions.

Whether you’re an advanced exerciser or just starting out, these classes could provide your body the variety it’s been seeking, keeping it on its toes, so to speak.

Barre at Home

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You don’t need a studio or health club to get in on the latest fitness trend. Just add the following barre-inspired DVDs to your collection at home:

Boston Body Barre: Sculpt Express
($20,  Reshape that body in this 60-minute workout (you can break it into shorter segments) which combines ballet moves with Pilates, stretching and cardio.

Element Barre Conditioning
($14.98,  You’ll get two workouts, one that will elevate your heart rate as it tones your muscles and another designed to tighten and tone targeted areas.

Exhale:  Core Fusion Barre Basic for Beginners
($16.99,  Do the seven 10-minute workouts in one session or break them up throughout the day or week.