Last year 3.66 million people in the U.S. participated in a barre workout.1 It’s a workout that’s popular among celebrities and regular folks alike. In fact, Natalie Portman famously used barre workouts to get in shape for her role as a professional ballerina in Black Swan.2
So why the hype? What is a barre workout?
While the exact workout will vary from class to class and teacher to teacher, a barre workout draws from ballet, Pilates, yoga, and cardio to give you an intense workout. Originally some studios marketed barre as a way to help you build muscles like a professional dancer.
Today, the workout has gained traction with millions of people looking for a challenging, dance-inspired workout—and you could be next.
Grounded in Professional Dance
A barre exercise takes its name from the ballet barre used in many dance classes. In a traditional ballet class, a portion of the class takes place with dancers using a waist-high wooden bar for balance as they drill dance moves to increase their strength and perfect their technique.3
Created by German dancer Lotte Berk in her New York studio in the 1970s,2 barre uses ballet moves as a jumping off point for a full body workout class. Many of the current pure barre workouts use Berk’s techniques, and some barre studios were even founded by her studio’s former instructors.2
Today, most barre instructors have a professional dance background.2
Many barre classes use dance terms like:
Passé – Your working foot (i.e. the foot that’s moving) moves in front of or behind your standing foot (i.e. the foot supporting your weight).
Relevé – For this second position, you rise on your tiptoes, moving from a flat-footed position with softly bended knees to the balls of your feet. This move targets your calf muscles.
Rond de jambe – With turned out feet, you raise either the left foot or right foot in front of you and slowly move it behind you, keeping your raised leg at an equal height throughout. This move targets your glutes and inner thigh muscles.
Plié – With your feet turned out, you bend your knees and lower toward the floor, keeping your torso upright.
It may seem like legs are the emphasis for a barre exercise, but the truth is your entire body gets a workout. While the dance vocabulary can add a fun element, don’t worry if you find it unfamiliar. Barre enthusiasts come from all walks of life. Your instructor will demonstrate each move and you can follow along visually until you’re plié-ing like a pro.
A Famously Intense Workout
If you thrive on a challenge, a barre workout might be for you. Many of the moves feel so intense your muscles will start burning and shaking within minutes. Even professional ballet dancers say they find barre workouts difficult.2
A typical barre class takes about an hour and focuses on four areas of the body:
Most barre movements use small, precise, targeted movements to strengthen muscles without necessarily adding bulk.2 Instructors spend much of class telling students to hold one position and then move a limb up and down an inch for an extended period of time.
Intense workouts like barre can appeal to people starting or returning to fitness who want to see physical results from their sweat. Barre can also help experienced athletes. One physical therapist recommends barre to dancers looking to cross train.9
Your Typical Class
A typical barre workout incorporates classical ballet, Pilates and cardio, all set to music in a friendly environment. A barre instructor calls out and demonstrates the movements. Once class begins, one movement flows into another, propelling you through a non-stop workout.
Most barre classes feature:
Hand weights and mat work
Standing exercises utilizing the barre
While barre draws inspiration from ballet, it leaves out the complicated choreography. Movement sequences are easy to learn and simple to execute—at least until you start feeling that good burn.
What to Wear
You’ve read up on barre workouts and decided to try one. The next question is: what to wear?
Most barre instructors recommend students wear:
A fitted t-shirt or tank top
Fitted, comfortable clothes can let you move freely. They also allow your instructor to evaluate your form and give you specific feedback about ways to improve your exercise experience.
Socks imitate the smoothe glide of ballet slippers and give your feet some protection, without obscuring or restricting your foot movement like sneakers would. Some barre studios sell specially branded socks, but any ankle sock will serve your purposes.
Lastly, some barre classes do allow or prefer students to go barefoot or wear soft dance slippers. You can always come prepared with a pair of socks (or dance shoes, if you have them) and ask your instructor before class what they’d prefer you use.
Embrace the Shake: Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Bar Class
Like any new exercise style, barre can feel unusual the first time you try it. This can prove especially true If your fitness experience comes from sports, weightlifting, or a non-ballet dance class.
Try these tips to benefit as much as possible from your first few barre classes.
Eat beforehand – You may be wondering about what to eat before a workout. Health experts recommend eating a complete meal including carbs, protein, and fat between two to three hours before your class. Protein in particular can improve muscle strength, performance, recovery, and growth. Eating closer to class can help too, although the closer to class you eat the simpler and lighter your meal should be.4
Stretch and warmup – While most classes include warm-ups, you can further support your success by showing up early to warm-up and stretch on your own beforehand. This is especially beneficial if you’ve worked out the day prior and find yourself asking, “should I workout while sore?” You can warm your muscles up by jogging or moving in place for a few minutes. (Yes, speed walking to class counts.) Then stretch gently, moving deeper into a stretch until you feel tension. Hold that position, breathing deeply for 15 to 30 seconds, before moving on to your next stretch.5
Hydrate – Sweating while exercising can dehydrate you, causing headaches, fatigue, muscle cramps, and weakness. To help you perform at your best, drink water before, during, and after class. Avoid chugging water all at once. Instead, aim to slowly and steadily take sips over the course of a few hours to replace the liquid you’ll sweat out during your barre workout.
Focus on small movements – With barre, the power often comes from keeping your movements small. If your workout normally involves big movements like running or lunges, this can feel counterintuitive. But small, precise, repetitive movement can exercise your muscles in a unique and effective way.
Focus on your tuck – A pelvic tilt, known in barre as a tuck, comes up frequently in class. To execute the movement correctly, focus on shifting your pelvis forward while pulling your abs in. Following your instructor’s advice on exactly how to perform each movement can help you reduce the risk of injury.
Embrace the shakes – If your muscles start shaking fifteen minutes into an hour long class, it might feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. But in barre, shaking muscles are a good sign. Shaking means you’ve pushed yourself so that your muscles work their hardest.
Long-Term Benefits of Barre Workouts
After researching barre, you showed up to your first bar class and loved it. The music, the challenge, and the class camaraderie gave the exact workout vibes you hoped it would. You’re hooked. But your best friend is currently a puddle of sweat who needs some more convincing to come back next week.
Here’s some long-term barre benefits that can keep every student motivated:6
Increased muscle strength – Regular bar workouts can boost arm, thigh, glute, pelvic floor muscles, and core strength. Strengthened muscles can help improve your balance, help you maintain a healthy weight, help keep your joints flexible, and help maintain your muscle mass as you age.
Improved muscular endurance – Regular bar method workouts can improve your muscle endurance, which in turn can increase your stamina in everyday life and lower your risk of developing health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
More flexibility – The stretching incorporated into barre workouts can improve your flexibility and the range of motion in your joints, making day-to-day movements more comfortable and reducing stiffness.
Denser bones – Over time, regular barre workouts can help maintain or increase your bone density, lowering your risk for osteoporosis (and the broken bones that can come with it).
Once you’ve attended enough barre classes to learn how to execute each movement correctly, you can supplement your in-class workouts with the occasional at home workout as well. You only need a mat, and a sturdy waist-high object like a counter that you can use for balance.
Try a Chuze Barre Fitness Class Near You
Chuze Barre uses elements from ballet, yoga, and Pilates to create a low impact, high-intensity workout. Our expert instructors lead you through a precisely crafted program that strengthens and conditions your body by focusing on isometric training, posture, and alignment. To motivate you even more, you can even listen to our Spotify workout playlist.
So come try our dance-inspired workout by searching for one of the “gyms near me” online. We can’t wait to help you discover exactly why millions of people love barre.
Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.
Statista. Participants in barre workouts in the U.S. 2013-2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/756717/barre-workout-participants-us/
New York Times. Lining Up to the Barre. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/12/fashion/at-ballet-workouts-getting-that-dancer-physique.html
Dance Magazine. The Best Boutique Fitness Classes for Dancers. https://www.dancemagazine.com/boutique-fitness-classes-for-dancers/
Healthline. Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eat-before-workout#TOC_TITLE_HDR_3
Healthline. Stretching. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise-stretching#common-beliefs
Healthline. The Many Benefits of Barre. https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-barre
Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. What Happens in a Typical Ballet Class? https://cpyb.org/what-happens-in-a-typical-ballet-class/
Better Health Channel. Exercise – the low-down on hydration. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Exercise-the-low-down-on-water-and-drinks#what-to-drink-when-exercising