Almost all of us have busy lives, meaning that we don’t have an endless amount of time or energy to work out. Therefore, we have to pick and choose what types of exercise to do in our fitness routine.
While certain types of exercise are quite well known—like strength training, cardio, yoga, and Pilates—other workouts don’t have the same immediate recognition, though they still have merit and may be types of exercise you want to include in your workout routine.
A great example is barre fitness.
But, what is barre? What are barre workouts? Is barre a good workout? What are the benefits of barre classes? Is barre strength training?
In this guide, we will answer your question what is barre and discuss barre workout benefits, whether you need to do barre workouts in a barre studio, whether barre is strength training and tips to get started with barre for beginners.
We will look at:
- What Is Barre?
- What Is Barre Class Like?
- What Are the Benefits of Barre?
- Is Barre a Good Workout?
- Is Barre Strength Training?
Let’s get started!
What Is Barre?
Barre is a type of exercise that was created by a professional ballerina.
As such, barre classes and barre workouts pull from some of the movements of ballet while integrating elements of yoga, flexibility exercises, strength training, Pilates, and core exercises into one workout.
In many ways, barre exercise has a lot of overlap with Pilates in its attention to small, purposeful movements with your body, core muscle engagement, balance, flexibility, the mind-body connection, and isometric holds (exercises where your muscles contract but no movement occurs, such as a plank).Like Pilates and yoga, barre workouts are low impact, which means that barre is a joint-friendly form of exercise that can be scaled to your fitness level, degree of flexibility, core strength and muscular strength, and physical limitations.
However, what really distinguishes barre classes or barre workouts from Pilates is the integral element of ballet.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the barre method was created by a professional ballerina from London named Lotte Berk in the late 1950s.
Lotte Berk originally designed the barre method as a series of exercises that would help rehabilitate a low back injury.
In the early 1970s, one of Berk’s barre class students, Lydia Bach, introduced barre to the United States.
From there, barre exercise classes began to gain traction in boutique studios and larger gyms due to the unique nature and influence of ballet and other forms of dance.
It is thought that the influence of ballet in the barre method is ultimately what widened the appeal of barre workouts to a new subset of people who either shared a common dance background or were interested in trying a new form of exercise that seemed graceful and unique yet purposeful.
What Is Barre Class Like?
Barre classes are typically taught at a dedicated barre studio or in a facility that has a barre studio, as some of the foundational barre exercises make use of specific equipment along with floor space.
That said, you can also do at-home barre workouts if you prefer exercising independently or do not have the financial means or access to a good barre studio class near you.
There are even barre workout apps for barre workouts at home that cater to beginner barre workouts as well as more advanced and challenging barre workout classes.
Most barre studio classes range from 20 to 60 minutes in length, depending on the style of the barre class and the level.
Almost every barre workout class begins with a warm-up and ends with a cool down with a variety of total body toning exercises, ballet moves, and core work, forming the bulk of the barre class itself.
Every barre instructor will have somewhat of their own style of structuring a barre class.
Sometimes, the entire barre class will take place standing at the barre and/or stepping away from the barre but continuing to perform only standing exercises, whereas others include a series of barre mat exercises for the core and other muscles.
However, most barre studio classes involve some barre exercises that take place on the floor, like mat Pilates, but you will notice that most barre class descriptions emphasize standing barre exercises, some of which are performed using a physical ballet barre along the wall.
Standing barre exercises often aim to “tone“ the legs, glutes, and core using some traditional strength training exercises while layering in traditional ballet moves like pliés, arabesques, and relevés.
If you are doing at-home barre workouts and you don’t have an actual ballet barre to use, you can usually substitute the barre for a ledge, tabletop, railing, or sturdy chair back.
Some barre class descriptions will make note of additional exercise equipment used in barre classes for more advanced practitioners or when the barre workout is somewhat of a hybrid of barre and strength training or other forms of exercise like Pilates and yoga.
For example, you may use light dumbbells, resistance bands, a stability ball, and/or a Pilates ring in your barre workout class.
These types of barre classes will incorporate more strengthening movements for the upper body and back than some traditional barre workouts, where the emphasis tends to be on strengthening and toning the legs, glutes, and core.
What Are the Benefits of Barre?
As with any type of exercise, there are barre workout benefits.
Here are some of the top benefits of barre class:
- Barre is a low-impact exercise, so it reduces stress on your joints and may pose a lower injury risk than high-impact exercise.
- Barre exercise improves balance and coordination, yet if you struggle with balance, you can still participate in barre classes by using the support of the ballet barre.
- Barre strengthens your entire body, particularly focusing on all of the core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, low back extensors, deep transversus abdominis, and pelvic floor muscles.
- Barre workouts can improve posture and prevent low back pain by strengthening the core muscles and building better mind-body awareness, which improves movement mechanics and helps you hold your body properly.
- The barre method increases flexibility and range of motion while also improving dynamic mobility through some of the ballet moves.
- Barre exercises improve muscular endurance and isometric strength.
- Barre classes improve kinesthetic awareness and the mind-body connection.
- Barre studio group classes provide social support and community building and can improve motivation to work out.
- Barre workouts can provide a way to strengthen your muscles in a less intimidating or more fun alternative way if you do not like traditional strength training or lifting weights.
- Mental health benefits of barre workouts include boosting mood, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing energy, and boosting your confidence and comfort in your body.
Is Barre a Good Workout?
Barre can be a good workout, depending on your goals, fitness level, and the specific barre class you do.
The barre method improves muscular endurance, flexibility, and core strength.
However, barre does not do much to improve cardiovascular fitness.
Though your heart rate will increase during a barre class, barre is certainly not as much of an aerobic workout as forms of cardio exercise like running, cycling, elliptical machine, swimming, rowing, etc.
For this reason, barre workouts also do not tend to burn many calories and aren’t great for weight loss.
However, there are still excellent fitness benefits of barre.
Is Barre Strength Training?
As with yoga and Pilates, barre is generally not as effective at building muscle or increasing strength as lifting weights or regular strength training.
This is because external resistance is typically not used, and the barre method uses high reps and low weight, which is generally not as effective at building muscle.
For this reason, barre classes generally shouldn’t replace resistance training altogether unless you are specifically choosing barre class descriptions that emphasize strengthening above the other fitness elements of barre.
That said, adding barre to your workout routine will absolutely help strengthen your muscles, particularly the core.
If doing barre is far more appealing to you than lifting weights, you will find greater benefits from being consistent with your strengthening routine—be it barre or otherwise—than forcing yourself to try to do a little bit of weightlifting every so often but not with enough structure or frequency to really see gains.
To learn more about other types of exercise, check out our guide to the benefits of rollerblading here.