Barre and dancer-inspired workouts have become increasingly popular, attracting everyone from celebrities to moms-on-the-move. While professional dancers are some of the most conditioned athletes I can think of (have you seen their legs?), they didn't get that way by taking the barre classes offered at the studio in their nearby strip mall. Their flexibility, endurance and athleticism were achieved through an intense training program consisting of powerful and controlled, full-body movements coupled with a full-time investment in their craft.
So what’s the buzz about barre? Will pulsing a 2-pound weight in varying configurations really give you Swan Lake arms? Will squeezing a ball between your knees for the length of a pop song melt away the fat and leave you with long, lithe legs? Doing anything for countless repetitions is bound to result in some sort of body transformation. But for you, the savvy, time-pressed exerciser, let’s make sure you are using barre work to its best advantage. Read on for a makeover of four popular barre exercises that offer a more efficient and effective workout.
What you’ll need:
- Workout clothes, socks or bare feet
- Music that makes you want to move big!
- Weights, preferably at least 5 pounds
Instead of: Partial range-of-motion biceps curl
Try: Upper-body matrix
- Begin by holding hand weights by your thighs, palms facing up.
- Raise the weights to complete one biceps curl, ending at the shoulders.
- With weights at the shoulders, rotate the palms so they are now facing front.
- Perform an overhead press by extending the arms above your head.
- Bring our arms back to shoulder level, reverse the palms, and return to the starting position.
- With your hands by the thighs, turn your palms in toward the body.
- Lift and lower the arms out to the side of your body in a side raise.
- Repeat all three (biceps curl, over-head press, side raise) 10 times.
Why it’s better: While this is not a dance-related exercise, it is a great way to strengthen and add definition to multiple upper-body muscles at once. Contrary to a popular misconception, lifting heavy weights will not cause a woman to “bulk up.” Women don’t have the testosterone to build massive muscles, especially off of a few workouts a week. So go ahead and grab the 10 pounders.
Relevé: (reh-leh-vay) “to lift.” Picture a dancer gliding gracefully on her toes. In the workout, it means to rise up onto the ball of the foot.
Instead of: Pulsing plié and inner-thigh squeezes
Try: Plié squat jump
- Begin with your toes turned out and your heels apart in a wide-leg squat.
- Using an 8-count, squat on 1, relevé onto the toes quickly on 2, return to and hold the squat on 3 and 4, and then return slowly to standing on 5, 6, 7 and 8.
- Make sure that the knees always track in line with the second toe, just as in a proper squat. If your knees are rotating in, point the feet forward.
- Continue this pattern for 8 repetitions.
- To add intensity, change the relevé to a quick jump, landing softly, first on the toe, then the ball of the foot and then the heel.
- Graduate to wide-leg squat jumps, performing one right after the other in succession.
Why it’s better: Again, dancers move big! Have you ever seen a ballerina leap 5 feet in the air like it’s no big deal? Little pulses will only get you so far. Limited, concentrated movements will fatigue only a small portion of the available muscle. Big movements, on the other hand, train your body for power and control through a large joint range of motion. These types of movements are in line with how you move in an everyday active lifestyle and will serve you well, whether you’re dashing across the soccer field or wearing a little black dress. If every muscle in your leg doesn’t start screaming after a few of these, you should consider being a superhero.
Instead of: Pulsing crunches
Try: Pike crunch
- Begin on your back, one leg extended straight up and the other on the floor.
- Lift your upper body off the ground and reach for the leg above you with your hands.
- Lower the extended leg down and lower your hands back over your head.
- Repeat this lift with the opposite leg up and continue alternating sides
- Add intensity by lifting both legs up as you reach, and then hover them off the ground on the way down.
- Want even more intensity? Hold a small weight between your hands.
Why it’s better: Instead of isolating and murdering only your upper abdominals in a tiny pulse, a full-body crunch and extension works your entire midsection.
Instead of: Plank
Try: Side plank and pulse
- Begin lying on your side.
- Prop yourself up on one elbow and straighten out your legs under you.
- You should be completely side-facing with your shoulder stacked over your elbow and hips stacked over one another.
- Raise and lower your hips 10 times.
- Rotate your body toward the ground into a full elbow plank and hold for 10 seconds.
- Rotate your body into a side plank facing the other direction and raise your hips 10 times.
- Repeat until you have done both sides four times.
Why it’s better: While the standard plank is a great full-body move, in everyday life we use the core through several different planes of motion (side-bending, twisting, etc.). Many barre-class repertoires focus on this one static movement, but don’t address the sides of the body or strengthen the body in motion.