Have you heard of the relatively new trend called "The Barre Method"? Is it dance? Is it a workout?
It may be both.
Barre classes have gained popularity as of late, and some people say they are the best way to work out and not break a huge sweat.
The Barre Method is a low-aerobic workout that targets your stomach, thighs, arms and backside. It has a base in ballet and dance and may just be the workout you are looking for.
Michele Olson, PhD, Professor of Exercise Physiology in the Department of Physical Education and Exercise Science at Auburn University Montgomery, joins Melanie Cole, MS, to go through the Barre basics and help you decide if it might be your perfect way to work out.
RadioMD Presents:Train Your Body | Original Air Date: February 17, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Michele Olson, PhD
Melanie: What is this toning trend, the Barre Method? Pure Barre, the Barre way. It’s got a lot of different names. Is it Pilates? Is it a ballet class? Is it a dance class like Zumba? Is it just a workout? Really, what is it? My guest is Dr. Michele Olson. She’s a fan favorite here on Train Your Body and a Professor of Exercise Physiology.
So, Dr. Olson, what is the Barre Method and who do you think would benefit most from it?
Dr. Olson: Wow. You know, isn’t this Barre Method really popular right now? You are right and there are different brands, there are different companies and exercise trainers who have developed their own style. You know, you can find a studio just about anywhere and it is a good question. You know, a ballet dancer, they do a lot of their exercises when they are practicing at a typical ballet barre. So, a ballet dancer would probably understand what a barre class is. But, I think your description in the intro is quite accurate. Typically, a barre participant will do pilates-style abdominal exercises, such as the hundred and the teaser and the roll up. The barre—the ballet aspect for it comes from, once again, from the fact that you do tend to use some kind of a prop—an actual ballet barre system, maybe in the studio or using body barres, holding them vertically to help you balance. So, there are these standing leg exercises that are based on what ballerinas do like standing and kicking your legs forward; then standing and kicking it out to the side; standing and kicking it backward. There are floor exercises that one can do.
A question that I get a lot is, okay, cardio is so important. You know, cardio exercise. “Does this count as cardio exercise? Because you know, I sweat and I feel like I’m breathing more.” It’s kind of a long continuum whereas jogging and brisk walking and spinning are archetypal cardio activities that do burn a lot of calories and really get your heart rate soaring, maybe traditional Hatha Yoga that’s done on the floor with a lot of breathing would not be cardio. Barre classes kind of fall into the middle. You certainly have to have your heart rate up in order to stand and do kicks. But, when you go to the floor and you’re lying on the floor, you’re working those abdominal muscles hard. You are just not bearing a lot of body weight, so you just don’t really stimulate the heart to have to send lot of blood around to keep a bunch of muscles going. So, it’s moderate. It’s modest in the amount of cardio it requires of you. It’s more like you were saying on this muscular toning kind of end of the spectrum.
So, what do you get out of that? Do you burn a lot of fat? Do you burn a lot of calories? You’re not going to burn a tremendous amount of calories. What you are going to do is to get the muscles that you are training to be able to contract more repeatedly for longer periods of time before they fatigue. You know, it would help you maybe with your walking, your posture during your walking, squatting and lifting moderate objects. Not real heavy objects. It could help you with some things in your daily life, strengthen your abs. So, it is in that muscular toning, muscular endurance part of the spectrum—not pure cardio, not pure strength--kind of along there in the middle.
Melanie: So now, what about like the ballet stuff you were talking about that ballerinas use in taking their legs out and such. Is barre done to music that’s similar to ballet music? So, are you following along to something like that? Are you taking that leg extension and making it go? Are we doing pliés? Is it really like that?
Dr. Olson: Right. We’re doing a lot of pliés. There are props that are used, some small physio balls that you can squeeze between your knees. The emphasis in these classes is very much from the belly down. There is some exercise that occurs, but it’s very lightweight and not as extensive as the volume of work that you are doing with your legs and with your abs, but, yes, think ballet type movement. Pliés, demi pliés, modified lunges, modified kicks.
But, let me tell you something, Melanie. Ballet dancers—and if you’ve ever been to a ballet with a nice company performing—we know that those individuals are athletes, the men and the women. They have extremely low body fat percentage and highly developed muscles that are not bulky because, again, they’re doing more muscular endurance training and not strength training with heavy weights.
But, how are they in the shape they’re in? They are in the shape they’re in from doing some of those exercises, certainly, and some of the stretches, but they are also performing leaps and jumps and flips and leaping across stages and sprinting across stages for hours and hours and hours every day, almost like gymnasts. They are burning tons and tons of calories. They are thin, a lot of times, just due to the amount of training they have to do.
Melanie: Oh, they’re some of the best athletes in the world, really, Dr. Olson.
Dr. Olson: Right.
Melanie: You see them and every muscle ripples.
Dr. Olson: They’re athletes.
Melanie: Absolutely, they are. Like a gymnast, they’re athletes. And they have to lift. People don’t realize a plié, which looks like maybe an easy thing, when you’re holding it down there or doing a grand plié--which people don’t like to do unless their knees are in really good shape--
Dr. Olson: Right.
Melanie: But, in second position or in fourth position, doing these things really works your quads, your hamstrings, your tush. I mean, you know, you can get a great workout in.
So, is there music? What keeps you motivated doing this?
Dr. Olson: Right. A lot of the classes, you have an instructor—again, similar to traditional ballet class where you have a director who’s not necessarily doing the exercises with you, but there can be music going. You know, sometimes in Pilates, there is some music going. The purists don’t use music. Usually in ballet workouts because the piano is used, there would be some music. But, you have an independent instructor who’s not necessarily leading the classes doing the moves, but walking around monitoring everybody, cuing them, helping them. So, it is very much like a lot of the barre work --part of a ballerina’s practice--that ballet dancers actually do. You can feel your quads working and your calves and your hamstrings and your glutes because, again, it’s very, very, very targeted.
You know, what if you really want to look like a ballerina? Well, you know…
Melanie: You better work out for 8 hours a day, man.
Dr. Olson: Right. They do a lot more than just one hour at the barre and doing some abdominals and that’s all good and fine and it can strengthen your core, but to really look like a ballerina, if we take in everything that they are doing, yes, they are athletes. They are high-end athletes working out doing all kinds of other things for 3, 4, 5 hours a day. So, I just want the public to be informed about why they might have low body fat. It’s not simply because of the barre part of the exercises that they do within the scope of their total training and practice.
Melanie: Okay. So, we only just have a minute left. Summarize it for us. Wrap up the Barre Method and, you know, can someone obese do this kind of class? Is it too intense? Is it not intense enough for those people that really like their classes? So, in just a minute, Dr. Olson, kind of wrap it up for us.
Dr. Olson: I think for people who are very fit, it is supplemental. It’s a way to target some muscles and increase the endurance of those specific muscles. If you’re more of a beginner, if you could be overweight, pretty much anybody could start out with a beginning barre-style class. A concern would be the knees and the pelvis. Some of these methods use traditional methods of tucking the pelvis really hard and we know that’s not good for your spine. So, you want to find a class that uses what the call “neutral spine”. Bad knees? Ask for modifications. Use it as a way to maybe get into fitness, as a supplement, and, you know, if you’re already walking and doing a lot of those kinds of things, keep that going. If you lift weights twice a week, keep that going.
Melanie: Absolutely great advice.
You’re listening to Train Your Body – Motivate and Perform, right here on RadioMD and with the American College of Sports Medicine.
This is Melanie Cole. Thanks for listening and stay well.