What Is Barre Class, and Are Barre Workouts Effective?

It's Time to Take Your Workout to the Barre

barre workout plie squat
Getty Images/Christopher Futcher

Hollywood and television are rife with ballet-inspired entertainment. From Bunheads and Breaking Pointe to Black Swan and So You Think You Can Dance?, it's no wonder everyone wants the long, lean lines of a "dancer's body." But are booming workouts like Bar Method, Barre3, Xtend Barre and Pure Barre just pure hype, or are barre workouts effective? 

These types of routines promise "long muscles," "dancers' legs," and tight derrieres, but from an outsider's point of view, the workouts look pretty easy.

You just stand at a ballet bar, hold a position, do some small movements, change position and repeat, right? It looks like the dream workout for someone who's not a fan of heavy sweating.

But oh, looks can be deceiving. These workouts are much more difficult than they appear. And while I wouldn't go as far as to say they're the answer to all of your workout woes, they're certainly worth considering seriously.

What Is Barre Class? 

First, I'll tell you what barre workouts aren't. They aren't cardiovascular workouts unless you find a specialized class that's designed to include cardiovascular work. They also aren't heavy-lifting workouts. They can improve muscular endurance, and they can improve muscular strength to a point, but they aren't going to help you lift heavy weights or develop greater muscle mass. Depending on your goals, this could be a good or bad thing.

Barre workouts are intensely focused on improving core strength through your abdomen and low back, developing the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder and hip girdles, and improving flexibility, all while focusing on isometric exercises and small movements to "burn out" muscles at a specific joint angle within a given range of motion.

The result is the "shaping" of common female trouble zones - tightening up the hips, glutes, thighs and core - combined with improved posture, which can result in greater confidence.

Barre workouts are hard. I can't stress this point enough. While, like most forms of exercise, there are beginner, intermediate, and advanced options, any level will be challenging for a newbie.

Barre routines are tough specifically because they work muscles differently than your standard workout. You aren't moving steadily through a whole range of motion, as you would when performing a standard squat or lunge. Instead, you might squat down to a specific level, and hold the position, then begin moving just one inch up and down to further stress the muscles at that specific joint angle, then you might change your position very slightly and do it again. This is incredibly difficult. Your legs will shake, you'll have a hard time steadying your breath, and internally you'll pray for the whole thing to be over.

And when class ends, you'll feel amazing.

Are Barre Workouts Effective?

My concern with barre workouts isn't that they're "bad." My concern is that someone might rely too heavily on barre workouts that aren't designed to improve all areas of fitness.

As I mentioned, barre workouts (in most cases) aren't designed to deliver a cardiovascular fitness component. They're also not designed to drastically improve muscular strength. It's these two components of fitness - muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness - that contribute most effectively to weight loss and body composition change.

So, if someone who wants to lose weight starts attending barre classes exclusively, they may not see the "dancers body" results they're looking for because they're not training effectively for that specific goal. 

That's not to say results won't be seen. If you're already fit and healthy, adding a barre workout to your routine can certainly help you tone up and improve your posture. Likewise, someone who's relatively sedentary and starts attending barre classes consistently is also likely to see initial changes in weight and tone largely because the new level of exercise and strength training is considerably more difficult than his or her previous sedentary behavior.

That said, there may be an upper limit to these initial changes unless the participant actively seeks out more strenuous classes that incorporate cardio and strength training into the routine.

Incorporating Barre Workouts for Maximum Results

Personally, I enjoy barre workouts and I see the value in them. They force me to work in ways that are unusual for me, which means I see results in areas I don't see from my other routines - namely, balance, flexibility, posture and core strength.

The trick is not to rely solely on barre routines. Instead, I suggest seeking out a barre studio, like Dancers Shape in Austin, TX, that offers a variety of classes, including multiple levels of barre, athletic conditioning, yoga, and cardio-based groove classes. This way you can mix up your routine and balance out your workouts to effectively train for all areas of fitness, including cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. 

If you don't have a barre studio near you or your studio doesn't offer multiple class options, consider picking up a barre DVD or trying an online workout platform that offers barre classes. Do the barre routine once or twice a week, and spend the rest of your week focusing on other forms of exercise, like running, boxing, swimming, strength training, or cycling. This way, you'll enjoy the benefits of a barre workout without neglecting other areas of fitness.

Barre DVD Options

While there are lots of DVD options on the market, a few of the ones I've tried include:

  • Element Barre Conditioning. This video is led by the founder of barre3, Sadie Lincoln. This workout is fast and effective and does a pretty good job of elevating the heart rate, making it a more effective cardio workout than some of the other routines I've tried. 
  • PopPhysique Insta Pop: Perfect for the barre-enthusiast who wants a home workout option to supplement her studio routine. The instruction is high-quality and fast moving, and many of the moves require what I would deem a higher level of flexibility and familiarity with barre exercises. This video might also be appropriate for someone who's looking to deepen her routine and needs new exercises to keep her interested.
  • Xtend Barre Lean and Chiseled: This workout is broken down into three sections - an upper body section, a barre routine, and a core component. It's great for the individual who needs a quick workout to fit in here-and-there but still wants a challenging program.

Shop Barre DVDs on Amazon>>

Most barre routines use small pieces of equipment, so it's a good idea to have lightweight dumbbells (between 1 to 3 pounds), a mat, and a sturdy chair on hand.

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