If you haven’t been to a barre class, you’re in for a treat. Instructor Kim Watson describes it as a combination workout. You’ll get to experience the fun, upbeat music of Zumba, the balance and strength of Pilates and yoga, and the small, detailed movements of ballet.
“Barre is a toning, body-weight-lifting workout,” Kim says.
It engages muscles you wouldn’t normally target—ones deep inside your body that squats, lunges and sit-ups don’t reach. With high-reps and low-impact movements, barre challenges anyone looking to fine-tune their muscles—no ballet experience required.
“Some people might be intimidated in thinking we’ll put our leg up on the barre like ballerinas, but instructors give options, and we can always modify. Barre classes are for everyone,” Kim says.
About the barre
The barre gives you confidence as you’re learning to hold ballet poses, Kim says. Her students do use the barre for stability, but they also let go to work on balance.
The barre is only one of the tools that you may use in a barre group exercise class—not all Y locations have barres installed. Kim likes to use gliding disks, small and large exercise balls, and even hand weights in her classes.
“It’s a full-body workout,” she says. “We challenge your entire body. We work on your lower body with the barre, but we’ll also be toning our arms and strengthening our core. We do planks, push-ups, bicep curls and balance exercises. Your body will be working more efficiently to build core strength.”
Long, lean muscle
You’re not going for the cardio calorie burn in barre class, Kim says. “We’re building lean, long muscle. We’re strengthening and toning like ballerinas. Ballerinas aren’t bulky—but everyone knows that they’re strong.”
Barre comes in especially handy if you have a desk job that keeps you hunched over most of the day. Kim has a sedentary job, and has seen barre’s benefits on her posture.
“Sitting all day, driving, waiting in traffic and even talking on our cell phones can cause tight muscles, tension, pain and poor posture,” she says. “In class, we work on deep breathing and posture exercises to build those muscles back up.”
Participants improve their balance and strength in each class they attend, with success measured only against their own abilities.
“Some members think that they’re not strong enough to take barre class,” Kim says. “But we’re all here to get better and to get stronger. There are options for everyone.”
Plus, you’ll have a host of participants cheering you on, as Kim has found in her class. She notices members sticking around to talk to one another after she’s finished teaching.
“People who have never met are finding something in common. Then, the next class, they’re seeing a familiar face and chatting about their lives before we even get started. I love seeing those relationships form and building that family foundation in my classes; it’s something members probably wouldn’t find outside the Y.”
A major perk of barre, as participants will tell you, is the option to go barefoot in class.
“Barre can be done with or without shoes,” Kim says. “I wear socks. If your arch needs the support, go ahead and wear shoes. But, people love going barefoot in the class because it helps you focus on your balance.”
Barre for all ages
Kim has students of all ages in her barre class. But, she says, the practice is especially helpful for active older adults. “We decrease the chance of falling by establishing and strengthening our balance skills. Sitting at a computer all day messes with our balance—so we’re challenging and improving that ability on and off the barre.”
Barre’s benefits also can improve conditions like planter fasciitis and scoliosis—both issues that Kim herself deals with. “Tight calf muscles can contribute to pain in your feet, so I stress to my students the importance of strengthening your calves. With my scoliosis, I can see back pain contributing to other issues in my body. That’s why we focus on building these muscles and improving our posture—so that we can be healthier.”