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It’s the ballet-inspired workout that burns so good.

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It would be hard not to have heard the buzz about barre workouts, given that barre studios can be found almost anywhere. Maybe you’ve heard friends gushing about the intense “burn” they feel during their favorite barre class. Intrigued, but intimidated? Here’s guide to barre, straight from seasoned instructors, including the ins and outs of barre, what to expect in a barre class, the many physical and mental benefits, and how to add it to your fitness program.

What Exactly Is Barre?

“It’s a form of exercise that combines elements of strength training, dance, Pilates, and yoga to create a unique, graceful, and energetic workout,” explains Tanya Becker, fitness expert and co-founder and creator of the Physique 57 Method. “Fueled by upbeat music, the workout typically incorporates small, isometric movements that sculpt and [strengthen] the entire body.”

Barre classes typically use a wall-mounted barre for support and balance. And while some classes use additional props like hand weights, a playground ball, or resistance bands, “barre classes rely less on resistance equipment and instead use your own body weight as the machinery,” Becker says.

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Where Does Barre Come From?

The exercise method known today as barre comes from the Lotte Berk Method, which was created by a German dancer in the 1950s. Berk created a series of exercises that combined physical movements and principles from ballet barre work, rehabilitative therapy, and her own unique movements, Becker says. The workouts gained popularity not only among dancers, but also non-dancers, and when a student of Berk’s opened a studio in New York City in the 1970s, barre was born in the United States.

Once again, fitness fans flocked to this workout. “It became wildly popular with sophisticated, elegant, fit female New Yorkers of all ages looking for an injury-free toning workout,” Becker says. “Women were addicted to the simplicity and rigor of barre and its unique way of transforming the female body.”

Since then, various fitness professionals have adapted barre workouts, leading to the creation of many different barre fitness programs. Today, barre is a widely practiced workout format around the world, with its foundation still rooted in ballet-inspired movements.

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The Benefits of Barre

Although barre isn’t necessarily an aerobic or full cardio workout, you will still benefit your heart health and endurance, depending on the intensity of the class. In many classes, you’ll still work up a sweat and raise your heartrate, even if you’re not doing moves like jumping jacks or burpees. “Classes like Physique 57 that combine high-intensity interval training paired with smaller isometric movements can provide a low-impact cardiovascular benefit,” Becker says.

Because barre workouts incorporate stretching exercises, you’re likely to increase your flexibility and range of motion. It also helps you improve balance, coordination, and bone density, and gain mental edge, reducing stress, improving mindfulness, and building community, Becker says.

What’s more, “almost every move emphasizes core stability,” says Emily Sferra, DACM, LAc, a California-based Alo Moves barre instructor. That means you’ll strengthen your core, which supports everything from spine stability and injury prevention to good posture.

Probably the most distinctive characteristic of barre is the famous barre “burn.” “Because you’re targeting your muscles through small, controlled movements, as well as larger, more dynamic exercises, you’ll feel momentary muscle fatigue,” Becker says, adding that you’ll feel muscles you never knew you had. “That burn is a sign your body is changing.”

As a result, you’ll build defined, sculpted muscles as well as muscular strength. “Isometric contractions and resistance exercises in barre contribute to building muscular strength without causing excessive muscle bulk,” Becker says.

Can Anyone Do It?

Barre is by nature a low-impact activity, meaning there’s pretty much zero jumping or joint-impacting moves, which is one reason it can accommodate almost anybody, Becker says. Of course, if you have specific cardiovascular or other medical conditions, check with your healthcare provider before starting this workout (it might be low-impact, but it’s still physically challenging!). And if you have pre-existing injuries, are recovering from an injury or are pregnant, let your instructor know, as you may need to modify some of the moves.

What to Expect in Barre Class

A typical barre class begins with a warm-up of dynamic exercises, upper body strengthening exercises (sometimes with weights), and push-ups and planks to loosen up your body and raise your heart rate, Becker says. You’ll then move to the ballet barre along the wall for thigh and glute-focused exercises. Most classes finish with abdominal work, a cool-down series, and then a final stretch.

Tips for Getting Started with Barre

If you want to try barre, you can find both in-person and online classes, and whichever you choose comes down to your preferences and lifestyle, and there are pros and cons to each. With in-person classes, you’ll receive real-time instruction and social interaction, while online classes will give you more flexibility in timing and a little privacy (if you prefer that), and allow you to practice at home.

Here are four strategies to take to your first class:

  1. Expect to be challenged: No matter your fitness level, barre works you in ways that may be entirely new to you. That’s why you shouldn’t be discouraged if the moves feel challenging, Becker says. The more barre you do, though, the more you’ll improve your strength, flexibility, and overall fitness.

  2. Dress appropriately in exercise clothes: You’ll be most comfortable if you wear form-fitting workout clothes that let your body move through full ranges of motion, Becker says. Remember, too, that you’ll be standing, sitting, and going on the floor, so think about what athletic attire would allow you to move best in all of those positions. Consider, for instance, wearing leggings or capris, a tank top or moisture-wicking shirt, sports bra, and socks with rubberized grips on the soles, which will give you more traction on the floor and enhance your stability during exercises.

  3. Embrace the burn: As you’ve heard, your muscles will burn and even shake a little. That’s good! “This means you’ve hit that fatigue point where your muscles change,” Becker says. That said, listen to your own body—if working a muscle hard turns into true discomfort or pain, modify the movement or take a break.

  4. Leave your inhibitions at the door: Feeling self-conscious about taking an in-person class? Don’t be. “Barre form takes focus and concentration so you can trust that everyone is very much focused on themselves and their own experience,” Sferra says.

Whether at home or in a studio, adding a barre class to your fitness program can be an effective way to challenge your mind and body in a new way. You’ll get stronger and more nimble as you discover small and lesser-known muscles you’ve never worked before, especially when you experience the barre burn.

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