I should begin this blog post 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.
Lately, it seems like a barre class is opening in every studio and gym across the city. Although B.Fit and its founder, Linda Bachrack first brought barre to Washington, D.C., several local instructors have jumped on the bandwagon and brands from out of town have moved in. It seems everyone everywhere is talking about the barre. What is it? And, since this is the Fuse Pilates blog, what do we think (and what does it have to do with Fuse)?
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, working 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 each usually incorporates 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 she/he will be vocal about the differences between barre work and barre classes.
Basically, all barre classes focus on isometric 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 it:
- It’s effective for toning. Isometric exercises are great for toning and shaping muscles.
- It’s a total body workout. 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. (I’ll address why they’re mistaken in an upcoming blog post). But suffice it to say, 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.
What I think about it:
In terms of barre work, there are exercises I find more effective than others. And it’s important to note, an exercise program based on isometric exercises alone is an incomplete exercise program.
When you build strength at one point of the muscle (the very nature of isometric training) and fail to work the other part of the muscle, you have not developed functional strength.
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. Sure, 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. I’ll discuss what parts of barre Fuse incorporates, and what we left out and why, in another post.
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.
We’ve had several people ask us if we’re going to offer barre at the Playground. 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 – toning + functional fitness = the best of both worlds.
Stay hard core,