Barre classes are hot, hot, hot right now. If you live in NYC or LA you can't walk outside without tripping over a new ballet-inspired/barre fusion/dance-ilates studio, and the trend is spreading into cities all across the country.
Not that we're complaining. Barre classes are a breath of fresh air for many fitness aficianados who are sick to death of traditional workouts, exercise newbies who prefer low-impact activity, yoga- or Pilates-lovers looking to mix it up, or ex-dancers who'd rather die than go for a run.
Barre and ballet-inspired classes take you through a series of exercise moves designed to target certain muscle groups with laser-like precision. Arms, abs (which in barre speak is called your core), glutes (read: butt) and thighs all get attention. The point is to increase your muscle control. You know how dancers can stretch one leg behind them in arabesque, and just freeze? Imagine you had butt muscles that could handle that.
Rather than big, sweeping movements, expect to do tiny maneuvers that you'll repeat so many times that you'll think body parts might actually fall off. For instance, during the grueling thigh section, a typical move is to hold onto the ballet bar and sit back as if you are in an invisible chair. Then you pulse an inch up, then down, then up, then down. Simple, but deadly.
The repetitive movements fatigue the muscles, which forces them to adapt — building new muscle fibers and getting stronger.
These targeted exercises plus strategic stretching deliver a full-body workout, and most classes move quickly enough to get your heart rate up, making these classes a decent substitute for cardio workouts. Barre classes won't give you the body of a professional ballerina (they have genetics and eight hours a day of dancing to thank for that), but for people who consistently go to class two to three times per week, the results are a toned, slimmer body, better posture and an increased feeling of grace.
Check out our picks for the best classes and at-home DVDs out there, and let us know if you've found fitness success with any ballet-inspired classes.
Location: Pure Yoga in New York City
Most barre classes follow the traditional sequence of arms, legs, glutes, core, but in Figure 4 classes the sequence is mixed up. You wouldn't think that was a big deal, but not having the legs and glutes sections back to back cuts down the fatigue factor, which means you have more energy to make it to the end of class without wanting to die.
Best yoga hybrid: Core Fusion Yoga
Exhale Core Fusion classes are the granddaddy of barre classes (and we highly recommend them), but the secret weapon at Exhale is the suberb yoga program. They've somehow managed to infuse barre class elements into flow sequences, without losing the mind-connection integrity of yoga. If you like your workouts to be challenging but appreciate a touch of zen, these are for you.
Location: Your living room!
Try live stream classes or at-home DVDs (including full body workouts. You'd think an arm-strenghtening workout that doesn't include weights would be easy, but dang is that not true. For 15 minutes you move your arms like a swan — up and down, up and down. Professional ballerina Mary Helen Bowers looks like a beautiful bird. You start to look like a limp scarecrow after about five minutes. But don't give up — keep doing the video until you too have the superior, graceful back muscles of a dancer.
Best cardio: Formula 57
Location: Physique 57 in New York City and Los Angeles
Oh man, if you want a challenge, this class is for you. Formula 57 is fast-paced, which makes it the best cardio version of a barre class, and the advanced poses (think high leg lifts) are not for the faint of heart. If it sounds scary, just think of it this way: doing this class three times a week would likely give you your best possible body.
If you're not ready for such craziness, try P57's regular barre classes first, or the at-home DVDs, and make it a goal to work your way up to Formula.
Location: New York City
Bari is taking barre classes to the next level. Yes, there's a barre, but there are also resistance bands, influences from martial arts and gymnastics, and unpredictable sequences that prompt the muscles to wake up. Your first visit to Bari involves a personal consultation—you discuss your fitness goals, get measured and talk about the best fitness plan for you. Bari also offers nutrition counseling so you can attack that fat from the inside out.
Best for beginners: Graceful Dancer
Location: Dancers Shape in Austin, Texas
Even though barre classes don't require you to have a dance background, if you have two left feet (or if you've been out of shape for awhile, or are coming off an injury), the classes can be intimidating. Graceful Dancer is a modified version of the studio's regular barre class, which allows students to safely build their strength and improve flexibility until they are ready for more advanced positions (see picture!).
Best for loosening up: Rockin Models Workout
Location: At home with the DVD
Overlook the funny name and focus only on the benefits you'll get from this fusion workout. The video starts with yoga flow to build strength and improve flexibility, and then moves into a challenging barre series that incorporates hip-swishing moves borrowed from burlesque. If you've been feeling a little blah lately, this workout is a good way to tone your muscles and get in touch with your sexy side.
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