With purported benefits for your flexibility, strength and mental sharpness, now might be the time to take the barre
Now, we don’t workout just to get Instagram fitness credo, right? (Right?). But, if we were working out with Instagram in mind, barre would be our go-to. Based around ballet, the fitness trend requires intense concentration, core strength and flexibility – in other words, a wellbeing home run. Oh, and it looks pretty cool, too.
But it isn’t just the uber-fit-if-scientifically-spurious-online-influencers who are taking up the call; recently, Star Trek and Don’t Worry, Darling actor Chris Pine praised barre workouts for keeping him in shape aged 41.
Interested? Here’s what barre can do for you.
“Barre was created by British ballerina and model, Lotte Berk, who developed it as a means of staying fit while recovering from injury,” explains Hillary Cannon, founder of Barrefly London. Berk came up with the idea in 1959 after putting out her back. By combining her ballet barre routines with her therapy exercises, she was able to design a programme to help her stay fit through her convalescence, going on to open a studio which Joan Collins and Barbra Streisand attended.
“Barre is a style of exercise that blends the best elements of ballet, pilates and yoga,” continues Cannon. “Using primarily body weight and occasionally small pilates balls, straps, and light hand weights, it builds core strength, improves posture, increases flexibility and mobility, and builds bone density through weight-bearing exercise. The focus is on exhausting a muscle group, and then stretching it, which allows the body to build lean muscle fibre and avoid the ‘bulk’ of other weight-bearing exercise.”
While the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science studies injuries and injury prevention in professional ballet dancers, and a University of Hertfordshire study found ballet dancers are fitter than international swimmers, reliable scientific studies into barre’s benefits are slim to none. However, Gen Greensted – also known as ‘The Barre Coach’ – believes its benefits are “endless”.
“If you want to feel stronger in mind and body, and to become more flexible and less achey in your back, knees, or hips, then it’s a great option,” she says. “With a focus on technique, barre workouts are an education in movement, form and alignment, helping you fully tap into your mind-body connection. It will get you standing taller with better posture while feeling more relaxed across your neck and shoulders and help alleviate tension in your back.”
When it comes to dancing in general, one study found older women who frequently danced had a 73 per cent lower chance of becoming disabled, while another found that engaging in regular exercise that demanded spacial awareness could help reduce cognitive decline in those aged 50+. Pilates, from which barre heavily borrows, has been proven to improve flexibility, core strength and posture while yoga has been proven to promote recovery, reduce stress and improve sleep. Combining elements of the two, barre could have significant potential for your health and wellbeing.
“It is a great choice for post-natal women, people with injuries, and individuals with postural issues in particular,” adds Cannon. “Simply by virtue of being low-to-no-impact, incorporating slow, controlled movements, barre can help address all kinds of physical issues safely and effectively.”
What’s more, a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that low-weight repetitions – like those found in a barre class – were great for improving upper body muscle endurance.
Looking for some online inspo? The accounts below offer an insightful, and useful, guide to getting started (don’t forget to like and subscribe).
@laurenleavellfitness Barre and HIIT instructor Lauren promotes positive and inclusive fitness, with beginner barre videos, and plenty of cat content.
@mistyonpointe a ballet prodigy and the first African-American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, Misty serves up dance inspiration all day long.
@barrebody This Australian based collective is the ideal place to pick up beginner tips.
@bbarreless For a solid guide to beginner and advanced movements without the wishy washy wellness captions, bbarreless is the definitive resource.
You don’t need access to a dance studio to get started in barre (although, it helps). A kitchen counter at waist height could serve as a make-shift barre if you’re just getting started. Use Greensted’s guide below to master the basics.
Wide second position pliés
“These are used in almost every barre class and are great for strengthening your glutes, quads, hamstrings and inner thighs,” she says. “Make sure your feet are turned out with toes pointing to 10am and 2pm. Then step the feet wider than shoulder width apart and bend the knees, drawing them out so your knees point towards your second and third toes.”
Single leg standing movement
“This exercise is great for improving stability, while working on glute strength,” Greensted explains. “Start off facing your supportive surface (which will ideally be around the height of your waist), have a soft bend through your knees, hinge forwards from the hips and slide one leg back. From here lift the back leg, moving through some full range movements and end range pulses to work on both strength and endurance. “
“This is a great exercise that you will often come across in barre classes. This movement is great for core stability and building glute strength. Lie down on a mat. Bring your feet under the line of your hips and then lift your back off the floor, starting from the tailbone and pushing the hips towards the ceiling. It’s really important to drive down through the heels and intentionally find the work in your glutes as you push the hips up.”
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