Barre is more than just ballet or Pilates. A Barre class is ideal for any cross-training program, for women or men, explains Barre instructor Cat Woods.
01 Improved range of motion
Barre combines small, isolated movements with graceful, sweeping, rhythmic lifts and circles. Moving the arms and legs in a circular motion from the shoulder and hip joints increases the range of motion through these areas, which is often limited through everyday actions like sitting at a keyboard, hunching over a phone or repeating lateral movements common to most physical activities. One of my fellow instructors reminds her BodyPump class that you can’t build strength in a range of movement you don’t have.
02 Athletes gain an edge
The muscle contractions exercised in Barre target slow-twitch muscle fibres, which are essential for improving endurance and key to any effective cross-training routine. Runners, triathletes, tennis players and endurance athletes will benefit from Barre by developing strength in their hips, outer glutes and inner thighs to fire more muscles as they run, dodge and react to on-field play.
03 Awareness of your body
Proprioception is awareness of where your body is and how it’s moving. This awareness is at the core of motor control, postural alignment and reaction times.
In Barre, focusing on when your body must remain still and where to isolate and move increases your nervous system’s integrity. This is the difference between moving mindlessly with random gains and being able to hone in on muscles and areas of your body. This method of training is vital to athletes who must make split-second decisions and reactions.
For the everyday gym-goer, having enhanced postural awareness means less aches and pains, fewer injuries and, through improved posture, better breathing, energy and mood. Standing taller with a proud chest and elongated spine ensures a confidence boost too, whether you’re about to head into the Olympic arena or just the local supermarket.
04 A workout that suits you
No two Barre classes are alike. While my approach is low-impact and focuses on lower and upper body, there are many teachers offering HIIT style classes. These may include plyometric lunges, jumping plie squats and quick transitions from one move to the next without rest. Each Barre instructor has their own personality and approach to training, which allows you to get a spectrum of Barre experiences.
05 Includes mindfulness, flexibility and creativity
When everyone is hooked up to their phones, it’s vital for people to enter a space where they can focus on the present. Barre is mindfulness through movement. In Barre, as in yoga and Pilates, connecting mentally with the muscles being used and breathing rhythmically with the movement is key to executing the moves properly.
While some people are highly inflexible when they first start Barre, others are hyper-flexible and must build an awareness of where to limit their range of movement to avoid injury. That neuro-muscular connection is strengthened in Barre with isolated movements and cues to where in the body the desired tension and pressure ought to be felt.
“You can’t build strength in a range of motion you don’t have.”
06 Ideal for all women
Women in particular benefit from exercising their pelvic floor. A healthy pelvic floor means healthy sex organ function and bowel action, prevention and treatment of incontinence pre and post-pregnancy and support for ultimate core strength.
Barre’s low-impact focus on glute and leg strength is also ideal pregnancy prep, to ensure the body can withstand the physical demands and can return to strength.
07 Targets underused muscle groups
In a Barre class, much of the work requires one side of the body to stabilise and balance while the other side makes rhythmic and repeated movements under tension. This targets the muscles that run close to the bones. These muscles wither with prolonged sitting or forward-backward movements such as walking, cycling and running, making Barre an ideal functional class with real-life benefits — a full 360° workout.
08 Increases muscle endurance
While strength is a major focus of many classes, muscular endurance dictates how many times you can perform an action without taking a break. In Barre, the prolonged isometric holds and pulses while using core stabiliser muscles builds functional endurance for daily life and gives an edge to athletes who need to persevere through muscular fatigue.
09 Builds strength through low impact
Not everybody benefits from the plyometric activity of aerobics, BodyPump, BodyStep and other dynamic classes. Barre offers a low-impact, safe environment in which to do serious work. It works on strengthening your glutes, hips and legs, increasing your muscular endurance all over while remaining quite low impact.
10 A miracle for sore shoulders
Those with shoulder injuries can attend Barre for the glute, leg and core strength and mobility benefits without causing further pain and damage to their shoulders.
It’s important to develop a functional core to be aware of your shoulder blades lying flush against your back and remaining relaxed during all Barre moves. Often, stress and tension can cause the shoulders to rise up towards the earlobes, causing over-used trapezius muscles, neck tension and headaches, which can have repercussions for your energy levels, breathing and ability to withstand endurance training.