Health & Wellness

What is a barre workout?

If you think "ballet" when you hear "barre" workout, think again. While there may be a barre in most studios, the workout itself has nothing to do with pliés and relevés.

Trust me — I have never been a ballerina but I founded barre3 in 2008 because it offered exactly the workout I needed. At the time, I was fed up with the fitness options out there. Workouts felt like a chore because they led to pain in my joints and I had to do something about it.

Rafael Astorga
Sadie Lincoln, founder of barre3, leads one of her signature workouts.

Before you even walk into a studio, drop any preconceived notions you have of the barre. For these workouts, the barre is there simply as a prop — which we use in conjunction with handheld weights, a core ball and resistance bands — to help balance and strengthen the body.

These workouts give you everything you need, all in one: a centered mind, a deep-muscle burn and a heart-thumping endorphin high — all without negative impact on your joints. You will sweat, and you'll definitely feel the burn during and after class.

Here are the three principles that make these workouts so effective:

1. Hold

We begin workouts with an isometric hold, which works the muscle to the point of fatigue. We give ourselves space during the hold to breathe and become mindful and align our body in a way that sets us up for optimal results.

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Plank is a perfect example. You’ll hold this for a full minute, engaging your muscles. You aren’t moving at all, and yet you’re working your entire body and focusing on your breathing to foster a mind-body connection. Every posture has a moment of hold. This can be a squat, lunge, plank and more. This hold works the muscles continuously and is great for joint discomfort.

2. Move small

Once your muscles are firing correctly in a hold, we layer on one-inch movements. These tiny but powerful movements help you get an incredible deep-muscle burn, and they bring you to your edge, with no impact or negative pain in your joints. This is often when the body starts to tremble and shake — a positive sign that you’re getting stronger. Moving small strengthens muscles and builds endurance.

You will use weights in these workouts, but they're usually small weights, combined with lots of repetitions. This method allows you to stay in correct alignment while strengthening your muscles.

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3 yoga poses to wake up your body

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3 yoga poses to wake up your body

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3. Move big

During the hold and move small, you'll learn the incredible and often humbling power of being still and mindful in your movement. Next up is taking that mindfulness into how we move every day. Here you move in a way that’s athletic and energetic, getting your heart pumping as you bring fresh oxygen and nutrients to your muscles (think going from sitting to standing, putting a box on a shelf, picking up something heavy off the floor). This is cardiovascular conditioning without the impact that hurts joints.

With every move, it's important to adapt to meet your body’s needs. If, for example, doing plank on the floor causes tension in your lower back or pain in your wrists, then you’ll lose engagement in your core and the posture will become ineffective. But if you adapt the posture, coming down to your knees or doing plank at the barre instead, you’ll allow your entire core to engage — all without any pain. In short, adapting allows you to get the intended benefits of the posture without hurting your body.

Sadie Lincoln is the founder of barre3. You can try a barre3 class in 100+ studios across the country and Canada, or join barre3 Online with fresh weekly workouts and a master trainer guiding you every step of the way.

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