My childhood memories of ballet are borderline terrifying. I remember my mother dragging her reluctant, tomboyish six year old to a ballet studio, the other girls laughing at me and the uptight teacher wagging her finger because I could never remember those darn ballet positions! Those three months of ballet were enough to etch some kind of very negative impression upon my brain for 25 years. So even though I love to try new forms of exercise, my gut instinct was to turn down my friend’s request when she wanted a companion for a Pure Barre class at our local Barre studio. After slight deliberation, I called myself on my warped thinking and agreed.
All I knew about the barre technique before class was that this newest fitness trend was “like Ballet", Barreistas claim it makes the body longer and leaner, while toning and streamlining muscles. Like a ballerina! And plenty of waif celebs like Kelly Rippa and Madonna have gone public with their love for barre.
I entered the studio and was relieved to find a less pretentious environment than I was expecting. I was imagining the place would be run by elderly, wiry-limbed women -- greying hair pulled tight into a clean bun. The long, rectangle-shaped studio had elegant windows with velvety curtains (on the far end). A sturdy ballet barre was traced across a long wall that had floor to ceiling mirrors. Soft, plush carpet and comfy sofas and armchairs surrounded a fireplace on the other side of the room. It was a very relaxing atmosphere. All of my preconceived notions were destroyed.
The class started with music and warms ups (much higher-tempo than expected). Right away, I could see the connection to Pilates with resistance training techniques and isometric exercises. We worked on the upper body by standing up with 2-5 lb. hand weights then into push-ups and plank-style isometrics (I was happy to see quite a few yoga-inspired exercises!). Long, plyometric, intense exercises were broken up with simple and relaxing stretches. Next, we bellied up to the barre a little to work on the thighs and legs in traditional, ballet-style exercises blended with stretching (we used yoga straps!). We moved to the floor and where we focused on the glutes and finished with the abs and a quick cool down. The class was clearly a fusion of many types of exercises: ballet, yoga, Pilates, strength training and resistance training.
The next day I was so sore! Surprisingly sore, because, as an avid yogi I thought my muscles would be nice and loose. Here I found the fusion of fitness aspect of barre beneficial: clearly, many unused tiny muscles were accessed that my regular hatha and vinyasa practice was missing.
There are several varieties of barre classes popping up, and this helpful guide from Huffington Post defines the differences between each. The class was hard … challenging, which was exactly was I was hoping for! To truly tone and firm all of the muscles, it’s important to switch up your fitness routine. Try a new machine at the gym, a new fusion class, or a new gym partner...Trying something new will not only stave off workout ennui, it is the key for full-body toning.
By: Amber Jennings (G+)