Most people have probably at least heard of the increasingly popular exercise class style called “Barre”. But how much do you really know about it? YYoga instructor and former competitive ballroom dancer, Laurie Smith, walks us through the basics of this exciting new class style.
What is Barre
“Barre” is a French term referring to the horizontal waist or sternum-height bar that ballet dancers use during their classes to perform their warm-up and specific technical exercises.
The origin of Barre exercise outside of a ballet class context goes back several decades. Lotte Berk, a German ballerina who injured her back, used simple alignment exercises standing at a ballet barre to rehabilitate her injury. She invited colleagues and interested participants to try this ballet-inspired form of exercise, and the phenomenon was born. Barre exercise gained a (pointed) toehold in New York City and over the following two decades spawned various studios, chains, and variations on the style which spread all over the world.
This popular exercise trend emphasizes correct alignment and posture along with small, precise movements with a high repetition count to create length and stamina for muscles while eliciting a building sensation of “burn”.
No Rhythm? No problem
Despite its foundation in ballet style movements, no dance experience is required to perform the basic positions which emphasize anatomical self-awareness, isometric-type holds and small ranges of motion designed to target and isolate specific muscles such as the gluteus medius or the posterior deltoid. YYoga’s carefully conceived style of Floor Barre blends basic dance positions, Pilates and yoga. Doing the class without an actual “barre” frees up more space for participants and develops kinesthetic awareness in the standing exercises.
What to Expect
A typical Floor Barre class is comprised of:
- an energizing warm-up
- upper body conditioning using Therabands and/or small weighted balls where available
- lower body work done standing with the option of going to the wall for balance work (think Warrior 3 with small, pulsing upward movements of the lifted leg)
- mat work targeting hips, thighs and gluteals,
- a core segment
- a final cool-down and yoga-themed stretch
No special attire is required: yoga wear or athletic gear that does not restrict movement is best. Feet are usually bare, although some participants swear by form-fitting sticky toe socks that feature rubber grips on the bottom and individual toes, like gloves for the feet.
Floor Barre Benefits
The benefits of this style of exercise go beyond the fun, upbeat music and working up a sweat. Most participants who haven’t done Barre classes regularly will find it fatiguing in a way their muscles are not accustomed to. The movements emphasize muscular endurance and stimulate the slow twitch fibers rather than fast twitch fibers which are more typically recruited in compound and explosive movements requiring large, powerful contractions for a small number of repetitions.
Floor Barre is an excellent choice for people who are recovering from injuries, as only bodyweight and light, fully customizable resistance is used in small, controlled movements. This creates less strain for tendons and ligaments and has the bonus of educating the participant in greater self-awareness of his or her body.
The floor barre exercises are as tough and challenging as you want them to be: every participant chooses their own Theraband from three different resistance levels, and either a 2 or 3-pound weighted ball. This may not sound like a lot of weight, but after 32 pulses of holding a 2-pound ball in an outstretched arm (the end of a long lever), the movement gets surprisingly tiring.
Intrigued? Drop in for a class at Downtown Flow, Kitsilano, or Park Royal. You may even become an aficionado of this full body, alignment-focused workout – barre none!