A Beginner’s Guide to Barre

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // April 19, 2015

Like many women, when it came to gym time, I focused on cardio. I got my heart rate into the fat burning zone and made sure my calories in were not exceeding the calories I was burning. Once in a while, I would make a round on the weight machines, but strength training had never been my top priority . . . until I turned 40. Even though I had conquered cardio, I was thin and as my body began to soften, parts were traveling south. I scrambled to find a solution, and that’s when I discovered barre class.

I’ve been a cardio instructor for over a decade, but I knew it was time to add something new to my training. I was intrigued by the barre craze and even had the opportunity to take an introductory class, but my gym wasn’t currently offering the classes and there wasn’t a studio nearby. Luckily, the athletic club where I taught was remodeling and I decided to strike while the iron was hot and I asked if they could add barres and barre class to our new studio. Not only did they add them, they agreed to pay for my training to become a certified instructor.

As I researched the various methods of barre instruction, I realized there are many similarities between barre classes with variations here and there. Some add in a cardio element, others focus more on the ballet component, while others are very much Pilates-based. Ultimately, I went with Booty Barre. It’s got flare, it’s fun, and the Pilates-driven method focuses on proper form, making it safe, yet highly effective.

After attending training in spring I practiced and practiced awaiting the grand opening of our new barre studio that fall. I was so excited to begin, and I had been telling all of my regular students about it. We started with five classes a week and it was so popular, we quickly added more. With only two of us teaching, we scrambled to find and train more instructors. Members were on waitlists, requesting alternate class times. They were telling their friends and going from one class per week to two or three.

We now have five instructors with 20 classes on the schedule per week and enrollment hasn’t died down at all. Why? Maybe it has to do with all of these benefits:

  1.  All of The Benefits-None of the Impact:  Barre has a unique and amazing way to give you sculpted, lean muscles and a great cardio pump without stressing your joints like running or jumping exercises do. Remember: Low impact does NOT mean low intensity!
  2. Full Body Workout: Barre encompasses your muscles from head to toe. Plie’s shape your legs and booty. Balancing on your toes gives you lovely calves. Those tiny weights give you a power-packed punch in your arms, back and shoulders. And EVERYTHING about barre gives you a beautiful core.
  3. Tall, Beautiful Posture: Standing tall, pulling in your tummy, keeping your shoulders back…these all become second nature when you take Barre. And when something becomes second nature in class, it sticks with you in every other part of your life.
  4. Better Flexibility: Reaching, bending, lengthening, stretching…these are all heard throughout the course of a Barre class. The goal is to make your muscles longer, leaner and more flexible overall.
  5. Change Your Body By Changing Your Workout: Your body needs variety in order to improve. You cannot do the same workout day in and day out and expect change. In order to GET change, you NEED change.  Adding Barre to your weekly workout routine gives you a safe, low-impact, intense activity that is completely different from weight lifting or running.

So with these benefits in mind, let’s explore a little more about Barre and how it gets the job done.


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    Finding Bliss at the Barre

    Here’s why they (and I) love barre and what to expect at your first Barre class.


    Like yoga, barre classes are a specialty class and often come with a premium price with the average class being $20. There are often introductory offers, first time free and punch cards you can take advantage of to allow you to get started. Most studios also offer unlimited class prices where you pay a set amount for a month, and can go as often as you like. Of course, you can always look at videos online (there are lots) but getting into a classroom setting to learn proper form before going it alone is important. If you’re not doing the moves properly, you will not get the results you should, and worse, you could injure yourself. Make the investment for your body and safety.

    Not ready for a in-person class? Try our free 10-Minute Barre Core Workout.

    What to Wear

    It’s important to make sure the instructor can see your form in order to adjust you and ensure you’re doing the moves properly to get the most of your time in the studio. Make sure your clothes are fairly form fitting. No wide legged bottoms or baggy t-shirts. Also, most barre classes are done barefoot. Some are done with socks in carpeted studios. There are also special socks with grippy bottoms you can buy or of course a ballet type of shoe if you aren’t comfortable in your bare feet or have particularly sensitive feet. Doing the moves in bare feet brings a better base connection ensuring balance and flow. For the first time, prepare for bare feet and then ask the instructor what is best for her studio.

    Arrive Early

    It’s good to get to class 10 minutes early and meet your instructor. Let her know you are new and ask her if she has any special instructions for you. It’s also a good time to let her know if you have any injuries or issues with your body or if you are pregnant. She may show you some modifications ahead of time or be able to offer them during class. I like to know if someone has limited range in their hips or shoulders or issues with their feet or ankles before I walk over and make adjustments during class.

    I usually ask if anyone is new to class so I can place them at the barre where they can see me or an experienced student throughout the class. If that doesn’t happen, head to the middle of the barre. This way, no matter which way you turn, someone else is in front of you to watch if necessary.


    Most barre classes are total body. You get lots of lower body naturally from the ballet-like moves like plies and curtsies. With the right technique, your core is always engaged, and most classes include an upper body strength training element as well. Some of the moves may incorporate a small soft ball and you will likely use a mat too. Light hand weights are used with the upper body, and the focus is typically high reps with low weight, so start with three or five pound weights and listen to your body and instructor. You can always drop your weights and go without if the burn is too much, but it’s good to give it a try first.  Barre height varies. Although there are standard recommendations, I’ve seen studios with attached barres of various heights and also portable barres that are adjustable. I try to encourage my taller students, go to the taller barres and vice versa.

     Go With the Flow

    My barre classes begin with a warm-up, and then we move on to upper body and then we go to the barre. After our barre portion, we grab a mat and hit the floor for a core workout. The barre portion is broken out into segments such as isometric, flexibility, side lying or front facing where you focus on various muscles and movement types. Here are a few things to remember about proper form and flow during the barre portion of the class.

    Related: The Beginner’s Guide to HIIT

    Core control Like Pilates, you should always be engaging your core. Think of pulling your belly button in and tightening the muscles around it without holding your breath or squeezing your shoulders up. When your hand is on your hip, let it serve as a reminder to lock in your core. If your arm is open to the side, let it guide you to hold in your frame and rise up tall.

    Elongate Barre classes work on many principles of dance, so when you contract a muscle, you will then almost always lengthen it. Remember that the lengthening is just as important as the crunch and engagement so really extend on the other end of your movements.

    Follow your eyes Wherever you look, your body will tend to go. If you look down at the floor, you will tend to lose your core control. When standing at the barre look straight ahead with your chin up to maintain posture. Take your eyes in the direction your body needs to go. This is a great way to find your proper posture and is often helpful to avoid putting undo pressure on your back or elsewhere.

    Plie vs. squat I won’t say that you’ll never encounter squats in a barre class, but most likely, there will be many more plies so it’s good to know the difference. In a squat, your feet are around shoulder width apart with parallel feet. The motion is to press your booty back like your sitting in a chair. Your upper body will bend at the hips slightly forward. In a plie, feet are a tad wider and in a turn out position. You tuck your tail to maintain a straight spine as you press your pelvic floor toward the ground. I often reference sliding down a wall to help students remember not to dip their chest forward. Plies are great for inner thighs, and will help with posture and core control.

    Straighten and Point Simply creating tension in your legs with straight knees and a pointed toe engages all the muscles running through your leg. Doing a kicking series without bending the knee or losing this form, will prove to be a great leg toner. So remember to lock it in.

    Pulse to burn After doing moves in a full range of motion, slow counts, single counts, etc. you will also find yourself finishing up with a series of pulses at the top of the movement. For instance, if you’ve been lifting and lowering your leg in that nice straight form, you may then be instructed to hold your leg at the top for an isometric hold or a series of pulsing motions. This is where the burn really happens and caps off the movement. Remember to hold that engaged position while pulsing and limit your range of motion to get the most of it. It will burn, but it’s usually short and so worth it!

    Follow Form This is the most important tip I can give you. Follow form, follow form and follow form! Whatever your instructor is telling you do, really watch and listen in and try your best to emulate the move. If you continue to do the move with poor form, your instructor will most likely make a physical adjustment. Do not feel embarrassed. This is what you’re paying for and everyone gets adjusted at some point. So when she approaches, don’t stop. Keep moving so she can lightly adjust you as you go. Often times, a physical adjustment is just what you need to really embody the move. Then, of course, do your best to maintain. The slightest change can mean the difference in a highly effective move and one that is just the opposite putting pressure where it shouldn’t be. If you feel you just aren’t getting a move, stick around after class and ask your instructor to look at your form and offer suggestions.

    Do it Again

    Like anything, you won’t get it on your first time. It takes practice for your body to adjust to the movements and form, especially if the moves are completely foreign to you. Some people enter with a dancer’s background making the moves a little more natural for them. If you’ve been used to squatting and crunching in other classes, the plies and lengthening may take a while to adopt but don’t give up! You’ll get it and a dancer’s background is absolutely not required.

    Try Them All

    You may step into a certain barre studio and fall in love. That’s awesome! But I often suggest, trying out the different types of barre that are out there to find one that fits you. You may gravitate toward a class that is more dance inspired, or you may find your prefer the intensity of a cardio kick butt barre class. There are a variety of “feels” and instructors to go along with each style. It’s important to note that the class should be ever-changing to keep you challenged. If you find you are doing the exact same routine over and over, it’s time to move on to a different instructor or studio.

    Stick With it

    Most importantly, once you’ve found the studio for you, really go for it. I tell my students that you really want to do a class at least two, preferably three times a week to see results. If you focus on your form and really push yourself, you will see considerable change within six weeks. This is what I love about teaching barre. The moves are highly targeted and students tend to see results quickly. They may not come in the form of pounds lost right away, but rather the ability to sustain movement. And before long, they definitely see body changes. Students who couldn’t hold their leg up during an entire series without lowering it for a break or stopping are so happy when they can. I hear reports of “I feel so tall and long,” or “I have a waist,” and my favorite, “I swear my butt is higher.”

    Have Fun!

    Smile and remember this is for your body, your mind and your spirit, so find the joy in each class.  I try to add in as much fun to my classes as possible encouraging my students to shake it when it’s called for and let the music move them. We moan and groan together, we make silly comments and we laugh as often as possible. If that’s not happening, find a class where it is.

    So get on out there! Shake your booty at the barre! Burn baby burn! Get your barre on and have a blast!

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