Should You Step Up to the Barre Workout?

Answers to questions about a fitness trend

Once in a while, a fitness trend takes off. It seems like new gyms spring up overnight. You hear about it from your friends, who say, “You have to try this class.”

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Barre workouts are one such trend.

Barre workouts — probably best known from the fitness franchise Pure Barre™ — have grown rapidly. They promise full-body strengthening, toning, improved posture and other benefits. Below, I answer a few questions about this fitness boom.

What does the name mean?

Barre workouts get their name from the ballet bar they use. You may have seen ballet dancers using such a bar for stretching, balancing or practicing.

In a barre class, students use the same bar for support while performing specific poses and movements. Think of barre as a mix of dance poses, yoga, Pilates and other techniques. It’s technically an “isometric” workout, meaning you contract a specific set of muscles during each movement while holding the rest of your body still.

“The ballet bar is really just a tool in this workout, so you don’t need to be an experienced dancer.”

Christopher Travers, MS

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Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Cleveland Clinic Executive Health

What parts of your body does it work?

Everything — which is part of the appeal. Workouts vary depending on the studio. But most will walk you through a planned sequence of exercises covering several major muscle groups.

The warm-up and upper-body portion, for example, will include a mix of light free-weight exercises and body-weight movements such as pushups and planks. This combination targets muscles in the arms, chest and back.

Then you’ll move on to the part that gives “barre” its name — a lower-body focused workout that uses the ballet bar. Some movements focus on the lower legs, quads and thighs, while others target the glutes and hamstrings.

Next, you’ll move on to work specifically on your abs — although it’s worth noting that many of the exercises above work your core, as well. You’ll finish with a cool-down series of stretches.

How much commitment does it take?

People who have taken a class will typically tell you barre can be intense.

Most classes last 55 minutes to an hour, and studios recommend three to four times a week for best results. The positive that comes with that: You get a full-body workout all in one setting, if you are willing to make the commitment. The negative: It is indeed a big time commitment if you go multiple times per week. You may also need to allow extra time in the week for cardio-specific workouts. You certainly get your heart rate up during a barre workout, but it tends to rise for short bursts as opposed to extended time periods.

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Are barre workouts just for women?

Many studios offer special classes for men, or promotions for women to bring the men in their lives. But it’s fair to say that barre classes draw mostly women.

I have no dance experience. Can I go?

Yes. The ballet bar is really just a tool in this workout, so you don’t need to be an experienced dancer.

However, I would not recommend a barre class to an exercise beginner. Although studios offer classes for different levels of experience, barre is a challenging workout. You should go in with a baseline of fitness.

Are barre workouts right for you?

There is no right answer to that question because no certain type of exercise is right for everyone. Some people thrive on the sense of community that comes with fitness classes, while others perform better in one-on-one training. Some people crave the drive that comes from working with an instructor, while others are more self-motivated.

If you are willing and able to give barre workouts a try, that is the best way to find out if they’re right for you. Many studios will offer free trials so you can do just that.

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PURE BARRE is a trademark of PB HOLDCO, LLC.

Christopher Travers, MS

Christopher Travers, MS

Christopher Travers, MS, is an exercise physiologist on staff for both Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Cleveland Clinic Executive Health.
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