Great Barre Workouts Start with Great Form

Three clients at an Intelligent Barre class

Fun, high-energy, full-body, cardio – Barre classes check a lot of boxes for fitness seekers looking for a challenging, low-impact workout. The original Lotti Burke system has been updated with modern knowledge of the body to form what we now consider Barre classes. Barre is a combination of ballet, Pilates and yoga poses which that strengthens, tones, aligns and keeps you moving. And, the best results start with proper form.

Form is everything.

Good form prevents injury, helps you avoid joint and back tightness and allows you to engage the right muscle groups at the right time. You should feel the burn, but never at the expense of your back, hips, knees or ankles.

Checklist for Success

What’s the difference between good form and not-so- good form? Your Barre instructor is there to help you and should base instruction on the following fundamentals:

  1. Proper Breathing
  2. Neutral Pelvis
  3. Core Muscle Activation
  4. Abdominal Strengthening
  5. Dynamic Hip and Pelvic Stability – Keeping control of your hips and pelvis in good alignment during leg movements and larger movements.
  6. Finding Safe Turnout – When your knees and toes point outward at a comfortable angle – usually about 45 degrees due to hip rotation.
  7. Safe Knees – Balanced muscle development and proper alignment where your : Knees are aligned over your toes in all leg orientations.
  8. Foot and Ankle Alignment: No rolling toward the arch or over your pinky toe side.. Think of a tripod supporting your feet: big toe, pinky toe, heel – equally weighted.
  9. Spinal Strengthening and Mobility
  10. Shoulder Stability and Mobility
  11. Head and Neck Integration: Your head and neck are aligned with your spine, not forward.
  12. Alignment and Posture: means your body is supported, aligned and elongated in all orientations: standing, sitting, all fours.

Attention to these elements allows a trainer to provide you with the safest, most effective Barre workout. Smaller class sizes also let him or her keep a close eye on your form, making adjustments or increasing the challenge based on your individual needs.

Creating the Right Balance Starts with Communication

Remember, the Barre method is flexible. Experienced instructors can modify movements and simplify or intensify positions to create the right balance of work, safety and fun – for any age group and any fitness level.

Before you get started, communicate! Talk to your Barre instructor about joint or back issues, or other limitations, and let him or her help you devise a Barre workout plan that keeps you on the right track.

Let good form serve as your foundation, and great results will follow

Barre - It's Not Just for Ballerinas

Clients at a Barre class

Can you explain the difference between first position and second position?

What about a plié versus a releve?

Speechless?  Confused?

Okay, so maybe you’re not an expert in ballet.  Maybe you’ve never set foot in a ballet studio.  For all you know, “rond de jambe” is something you order at a shi-shi French restaurant.  Whatever your experience (or lack thereof), don’t let it stop you from trying a Barre exercise class! 

While the Barre method originates from ballet, it has evolved over several decades to feature a combination of poses inspired by ballet, yoga and Pilates.  Using a ballet barre for balance, you work through a series of standing isometric exercises, focusing on small, controlled movements and high reps to strengthen and tone your glutes, hips, abs and legs.  Barre classes, which typically run 60 minutes, also can incorporate cardio movement, resistance training, core work and stretching segments to offer you a challenging, full-body workout – all set to fun, upbeat music. 

It’s not just for ballerinas, and it doesn’t just cater to athletes – it’s for everyone.

Barre is low impact and kind to your joints.  Through controlled squeezes and pulses, the movements work your muscles hard without straining tendons or ligaments. The strengthening and stretching poses help you sculpt long, lean muscles and improve your range of motion, balance and posture – benefits you can apply to everyday life, your favorite sport and other fitness activities. 

Also, it can be modified to suit every age group and fitness level.  An experienced, certified instructor can simplify movements to accommodate beginners, tone them down to address injuries or limitations, or rev them up to intensify the challenge.

No matter what your age or skill level, an experienced trainer should combine challenging muscle-strengthening exercises with spinal mobility and stretching movements to create the right balance of intensity, safety and fun.   

So don’t worry if you’ve never owned a tutu, pointe shoes or a leotard.  Barre gives you a low-impact, challenging workout – no ballet experience required.         

Pilates Mat or Equipment – Which is Right for Me?

Mat class or equipment class – which do I choose?  It’s a question I often get asked by clients who are new to Pilates.

Client performing an exercise on a Pilates reformer

Many experts believe mat work is the ONLY place to start.  They view mat exercises, where you use your own body weight to create resistance, as the rock-solid foundation for learning proper form and muscle control.

Others prefer to train newcomers on the reformer – equipment where pulleys and springs create resistance.  They feel it helps clients learn form and understand mind-body connections more quickly.

My response?  

It depends on you.  Maybe you’re a young athlete interested in cross training or a baby boomer looking to ease back pain.  Perhaps you fall somewhere in between.  Whichever the case, these scenarios call for very different training, so the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.    

It’s also up to you.  What is your budget?  What is your availability?  Are you motivated by the camaraderie of a group class or do you prefer individualized instruction?

An overview of the basic differences between mat and equipment workouts will help shed some light.

Classical Mat repertoire encompasses about 50 different exercises.  You use your own body weight for resistance, firing core muscles to hold positions.  In general, mat classes cost less than equipment classes, accommodate small- to medium-sized groups, and with proper form, can be done anywhere.

Equipment classes, on the other hand, make use of hundreds of exercises.  The reformer, which resembles a small bed frame, uses a system of pulleys and springs to create resistance and provide support.  Equipment classes are more expensive and accommodate a smaller class size than mat workouts.  With smaller classes you also tend to get more individualized instruction.  To start, they generally require a few private sessions to learn equipment use and safety.   

Ultimately, an introductory, one-on-one session with an experienced, certified instructor will help you find the answer.  This is vital to a mutual understanding of your fitness goals, strengths, postural issues and range of motion.  It also teaches the basic principles of good Pilates form and breathing.    

The beauty of Pilates is its flexibility.  An experienced instructor can modify exercises on either the mat or a piece of equipment to make your workout more low impact or more challenging and intense, depending on your needs.  

Mat class?  Equipment class?  You may end up choosing a combination of both.

Contact Intelligent Exercise and we can help get you started!