“Barre classes are really popular” –Captain Obvious
I’m starting to see as many barre studios as I see Starbucks…..every, frickin’ corner. Barre training is about as popular as a woman drinking pumpkin spice lattes in the Fall, it’s all the rage! OK, enough with the analogies. You get my point. Before we dive into the effectiveness of barre training we need to understand where it came from and where it is now.
The birth of barre workouts came from German dancer, Lotte Berk. She was recovering from a back injury and combined her physical therapy with some of her barre ballet training. This was more than 50 years ago! Today, it’s used as a method of “lifting, toning, and burning” your body into shape. Do micro movements stimulate muscle change? Can you look like a ballet dancer with a long, lean physique? Let’s look at the positives to barre training:
- Isometric strength training: This helps develop underutilized muscles from traditional strength training. Specifically, isometric contractions help develop Type 1 muscle fibers using small movements repeated for many repetitions. The advantage to these small movements is that you are at little risk of injury to your muscle fibers, ligaments, and tendons.
- Improved balance and posture: A key aspect in barre training is elongating the spine and having the ability to perform unilateral movements (i.e. moving one limb at a time). This action forces your brain to build a stronger connection to your body leading to better body awareness. When we are imbalance we are more likely to sustain injury.
- Increased range of motion: Flexibility is key is prevent pain throughout our bodies, especially the spine. Those who have greater flexibility throughout their physique usually suffer less pain throughout their life. Personally, this is the greatest benefit of barre training.
- Mental Health: There’s little thinking involved in barre training. Similar to spinning many barrer goers enjoy zoning out and finding their “happy place” while training. Plus, many people enjoy barre training. Those who find their workouts enjoyable are more likely to continue training for the long term resulting in greater health benefits.
So far, it seems barre workouts are really good at improving our physical and mental health. There’s little risk of injury while giving you the feeling on an intense workout from the isometric exercises and correcting any imbalances which can reduce joint pain. Can this make you look like a dancer? Maybe not. Here’s why:
- Plateauing: If you’re new to training then you will see some results no matter the program. However, those gains will diminish rather quickly without continued progressive overload. Overload is the only way to see continued physical change, whether it is the weight you use (ex. Powerlifting) or angle of movement (ex. Gymnast). Most barre studios use a max of 5lb weights and the angle of change is very minimal. If you want a dancers physique you need to move more and make the leverage on each exercise more challenging.
- Lack of strength and cardio training: While isometric movements are needed for a well-balanced body you must perform full-range, compound movements (i.e. squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, presses) to make serious changes to your appearance. In addition, you need to get your heart rate high for short bursts of cardio to stimulate long-term fat loss. Barre training is extremely limited in both these respects (with very few exceptions).
- Lack of fat loss: If you want to tone up then you need to reduce your calorie intake and consume healthier foods. No amount of tucking and pulsing will change that. You can lose weight/fat while performing barre workouts but it’s your diet that should receive credit (but that goes with almost any training program).
- Misinformation: THIS IS THE BIGGEST CON OF ALL! I’m referring to the whole idea of elongating your muscle fibers to give you a “dancers physique”. One word: bullsh*t. Your muscles have an insertion point and a point of origin. This does NOT change no matter how long you tuck and pulse and stretch. Your muscles can, for the most part, do 4 things: improve their range of motion, get bigger, get smaller, get denser. That’s. About. It. Don’t confuse “improved range of motion” for “long and lean”. What your muscles can do and how they look are not always the same thing.
In summary, doing something is better than doing nothing. Just know what you’re signing up for and keep your expectations realistic. If really want a dancers body then spend 1-2 hrs a day, 5-6 days a week for the next 5 years performing ballet workouts, not barre workouts. If you’re already tall and lean then barre workouts can help you improve some muscle tone, if that’s your goal. If you’re not, then you can still use barre as a bridge into other areas of training.
As a reminder, barre training was designed by a German ballerina to help her heal from a back injury. She got a long, lean body from years of elite level ballet dancing. Don’t want to try ballet? Give hip-hop or breakdance classes a shot. They’re fun, get you moving, and burn calories.
STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!