Barre Workout Tips for Beginners
There are a lot of different fitness classes to choose from, but few have a backstory as intriguing as barre. Lotte Berk was a ballerina who danced with several esteemed companies in Germany, but she fled in the 1930s as the Nazi regime came into power. She found safe haven in London, where she later injured her back. She devised her own exercise regimen using her ballet barre for support and eventually developed a full-fledged fitness program. Barre was adapted by devotees and is now practiced at countless studios, including The Bar Method, which has 75 locations across the US and Canada.
Despite its popularity, barre can be intimidating to those without a background in dance. So we spoke to Lauren Ross, a Bar Method instructor in Chicago, about why that doesn’t matter, and what newcomers can expect from their first barre workout.
What exactly is barre?
It's a studio class that uses "strength exercises combined with stretching to build long and lean muscles, burn calories, and increase flexibility," Ross said. "There's a heavy focus on posture and form."
Barre-workout instructors vary in their style, but you’re probably more likely to find coaches like Ross, who describes herself as "even-keeled and down to earth,” than cardio-fitness-style instructors who abuse the “Woo!” or bark out directions.
"There's a difference between intensity and aggression," she said. " … My classes are challenging, but more in choreography and the exercises we do. I try not to get too drill sergeant-y."
But the only dancing I do is the Chicken Dance at weddings. Is barre fitness for me?
While a ballet barre is used for balance, you don't need to be a dancer to take a class. (Ross isn’t—she started barre to help recover from a running injury.) Ross said people of all fitness levels and physical abilities are welcome; moves can be modified for mobility limitations, injuries, and pregnant women.
Though students will get the most out of the exercise the longer they can hold positions, "it's totally fine to take a quick break. If something doesn't feel right or is uncomfortable, always flag down the instructor. They'll right your form or offer an appropriate modification."
What's the biggest mistake new students make?
"Not getting there early," Ross said. "Get there 15 minutes in advance. It's important to get acclimated to the studio. You get an introduction to what to expect and perhaps meet the instructor, so the client feels prepared going into class. If you're rushing in two minutes before, you already feel frazzled."
Ross makes it a priority to learn new students’ names so she can call them out in class. Don’t worry —she’s not trying to embarrass anyone. She does it to offer praise and to positively motivate people with suggestions for their poses.
What should I know before my first barre class?
"Have an open mind and be patient with yourself," Ross said. "There's a tendency to compare [yourself] to others in class; I try to dissuade clients from doing that." The instructor will make hands-on corrections, so don't worry if you don't get a position on the first try. She also encourages students to ask questions and to talk to their teacher about their goals.
Ross aims to gauge each student’s skill level and flexibility so she can provide personalized insight that helps them along the path toward achieving those goals. Knowing her clients’ limits “keeps [them] accountable. … We have a good sense of how far our students can push themselves and cater to them accordingly.”
What should I wear?
It doesn’t matter whether your activewear is loose or tight, but Ross recommends donning pants that go below the knee, a top that covers the midriff, and socks. The studio is carpeted to protect people's feet, and you don't want to get rug burn.
Is this a social activity? Will I have more fun if I bring a friend?
"The instructor always helps new clients get acclimated," Ross said. "If you're alone, never feel that you're lost." And while she calls barre a "tight-knit community where students chitchat before and after class," once the class starts, students are too focused to talk to each other.
OK, I went to one class, but now everything hurts. Why should I go back?
"'I was sore in muscles I didn't even know I had' is a common comment," Ross said. But "really try to stick with it after [the] first class. It can be a whole new world. … Once [you] get points of the form down, it comes more naturally."
Photos by Grant Walsh, Groupon