By Hayley Francis
My legs were burning halfway in to the first set of second position pliés; the term just as foreign to me as the inner quad muscles that had apparently been hibernating. I firmly told myself I could handle this as the sweat accumulated on my upper lip. Relevé, down, up, relevé. Pulse, pulse, pulse. Several rounds of various plié and squat series followed, one arm on the bar and the other firmly outstretched and curved in second position. I thought I was fit, having run competitively for the Division I KU track and cross country teams for over three years, but this was an entirely new type of workout experience. I could feel every muscle I was working; they were all screaming at me.
It was a Saturday morning and my roommate, a pregnant woman and I were the three sole victims of a barre workout at local RydeBarre. Not only was it my first stab at the trending exercise, my last ballet experience was when I was six years old. Needless to say, I didn’t know what to expect when I signed myself up for a class; but my body quickly learned barre’s burn. My internal dialogue as soon as we began: “Respect, ballerinas.”
Barre is an intensive full-body conditioning class that combines aspects of Pilates, ballet, and often yoga, incorporating the ballet barre. There are various variations, some that are more ballet-based and others that emphasize Pilates aspects or incorporate weight exercises. All are focused on toning and strengthening abdominal, glute, thigh and hip muscles through high-intensive, fast-rep exercises. Eliza Hale, co-owner and barre instructor at Lawrence’s only barre studio, RydeBarre, says she and her partner decided to offer barre classes as a complementing workout to their cycle classes because they work all different plains of motion.
“I think it’s an excellent workout because it fuses a lot of different disciplines into one,” Hale said. “You get strengthening and toning, you get increased flexibility with the stretches that are done, and there’s a great cardio element to it.”
RydeBarre opened two years ago, adding to the nation-wide, blossoming craze. Kansas City also has three barre studios, and Genesis Health Club is currently training staff to instruct classes in the near future, according to Genesis Lawrence Group Fitness Coordinator Cristal Barnes.
Other companies nation-wide are also capitalizing on the workouts’ benefits, evident of the nearly 700 corporate-owned studios now in the United States, with an estimated additional 100 opening within the next year, according to a wellness news article.
Much of this growth in popularity is due in part to celebrity endorsement, says Popsugar.com. Celebrities from Taylor Swift, Madonna, Natalie Portman and Drew Barrymore have all voiced positive feedback for barre, emphasizing its noticeable physical benefits.
The physical benefits are real, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. It found that participants who did two 60-minute Pilates workouts a week over a 12-week period had increased abdominal and upper-body muscular endurance and hamstring flexibility. The study said the Pilates benefits can help improve overall sport performance or athleticism.
Hale says anyone can reap the workout’s benefits as a complement to other cardio workouts. Although Hale says there haven’t been many students in her classes, she’s instructed both sexes of various ages, ranging from pre-teen to 70 years old. The workout is ideal for all ages because it’s physically and mentally challenging for all levels.
“You have to really think about the muscles you’re contracting. You can’t just make your grocery list while you’re doing pliés,” Hale said. “I have seen people who have been very, very physically fit be very humbled by the workout.” Check and mate.
After a testing fifty minutes in my first barre workout, I wanted to give myself a high-five. I had survived a class I never expected to be so challenging or rewarding. We had worked almost everything from head to toe. I was also addicted. While I was tired, I wanted to do it all over again.
My roommate and former KU rower, Abbey Lozenski, experienced barre for the first time with me, and was also pleasantly surprised by its intensity (and her soreness the next day). “I thought it was going to be a little too prissy for me at first, but I was definitely wrong. It’s definitely a different workout than rowing,” she said. Lozenski also said she liked the class because it worked muscles she didn’t regularly target in other workouts, and it was a hard, different challenge, even for someone in good shape. “I like that you can push yourself as much as you want. I would definitely do it again,” she said.
My friend, Kaitlin Rabe, a senior engineering student from Stilwell, KS, has taken barre classes for over two years now. She says she enjoys barre because it is a great total body workout and is also fun. “Barre is one of the few workouts where I’m not constantly looking at the time to see how much of the class is left. It helps me to de-stress and focus on myself for a little bit,” she said. While she takes most of her classes in KC, she thinks many KU students don’t know about barre due to the local studio’s location and lack of advertising on campus.
Photo by Maddy Rich
Edited by Katie Gilbaugh