Lately, it seems like a barre class is opening in every studio and gym across the city. With all the recent buzz about barre, we're often asked about it. What is it? What do we think of it? How do Fuse Pilates classes compare to barre classes? Here's the rundown.
Barre Beginnings: I should begin with a full disclosure. I was trained by Pure Barre’s founder and taught at B.Fit DC from 2006-2011. Those years equaled nearly 500 hours teaching barre classes. Two of my former students are now owners of barre studios. Others are teachers. Senior Fuse instructor, Addie Johnson and NYC Fuse instructor, Rachel Bell were also barre instructors. The early years I spent teaching at B.Fit were also the time when Fuse Pilates was developing into what it is today. So, in many ways, the two are linked.
Barre Basics: Although some companies don’t credit her and claim they “created” the barre class, these classes are all based on the Lotte Berk Method.
Lotte Berk was a former (injured) German dancer who created her exercise method by combining her ballet bar exercises with her rehab therapy. She opened a studio in London in 1959, and worked with students including Brooke Shields and Joan Collins. One of her lesser-known pupils, a woman named Lydia Bach, licensed the method from her and opened the first U.S. studio in New York in 1971. It only took a little over 30 years for it all to really take off. Today, there are countless brands of barre classes, many of them designed by original Lotte Berk Method students and others designed by those who trained with those teachers. Although most barre brand incorporate the use of a ballet barre, these classes have very little to do with ballet. Doing a plié does not a ballet dancer make (unfortunately, since I always did want to be a ballerina). Ask a ballet dancer, and I promise you s/he will be vocal about the differences between barre work and barre classes. Basically, all barre classes focus onisometric exercises, by moving in a tiny range of motion to work a muscle to exhaustion. They include sections of standing work at the ballet barre to work thighs, glutes, and hips, seated work for abs (including ab work seated under the barre), and usually arm work with small weights (2-5 pounds).
Why People Like Barre:
It’s can be effective for toning. Isometric exercises can help shape your muscles.
It works many parts of the body. In a barre class, you work a little bit of everything.
It hurts like hell. A lot of people are of the “no pain, no gain” opinion of fitness, and you feel the work when you’re doing isometric exercises. Why? Most exercise scientists agree that when you hold a muscle in a particular position for a length of time (or exhaust it through traditional training such as heavy weight with lower reps), the waste products produced by metabolic processes increase faster than the body can flush them away. Hence, the burn – especially when doing isometric exercise, since that lengthy muscle contraction doesn’t allow the metabolic waste products to disperse quickly.
I’ve seen plenty of people who are strong as barre students who struggle doing a teaser or other exercise where you have to properly engage muscles through a full range of motion. These students can hold a position for a long time, but they’re probably not strong at every position. Although you might be able to hold your leg straight out from your hip for minutes on end, when do you really need to do that in daily life?
There's also the issue of barre classes’ extensive focus on a posterior pelvic tilt. Posterior pelvic tilt is important in many exercises, including those you’ll find in barre, traditional Pilates, and Fuse Pilates. But Pilates focuses on the pelvis in neutral and anterior tilt as well – balancing the muscles around the spine. Think about your pelvis this way: it connects the upper and lower parts of your body. An exaggerated posterior tilt can cause changes to the structure of the spinal curves potentially causing pain as well as altered movement patterns in the upper and lower parts of the body. A posterior tilted pelvis is also akin to fatigue posture – which looks slouchy. Not pretty. If that becomes your “permanent setting,” you’ll need a physical therapist or Pilates instructor to set you straight. I’ve seen the best results from barre classes for people who are very petite and need to gain muscle tone. I’ve had some students complain that their thighs or bums got a little bit more built than they would like. The standing thigh work bothers some people's knees - regardless of how "low impact" it is. Ultimately, if you’re spending a lot of time at the barre, make sure you do some full range of motion workouts, too, and don’t take that posterior pelvic home with you.
How is Fuse Pilates Different? We’ve had several people ask us if we’re going to offer barre. We’ll pass. There are plenty of options out there if you want to try out a barre class. We like that there’s only one place for what we do – isometric and full range of motion exercises on the mat and a variety of apparatus designed to deliver a challenging full-body workout so that you (and your body) never get bored.
Because toning + functional fitness = the best of both worlds.
Stay hard core, Mariska
If you're dying of barre-dom, shake up your routine and try a class with us. We have new student specials and class packages available so that you can try every apparatus.See more Fuse Pilates workouts in action on our YouTube channel.