Barre is a combination of three tried-and-true workouts: ballet, Pilates, and yoga.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), barre was originally created in the 1950s by Lotte Berk, a London-based dancer who needed a new exercise regime to treat her injured back.
Countless barre studios and companies have sprung up over the years. Barre instructors are typically trained through individual studios, many of which — including barre fitness company Physique 57 — offer their own training programs and certifications. Certifications can also be obtained through education organizations, including the American Sports & Fitness Association (ASFA) and American Barre Technique.
Barre is a low-impact strength-building workout, but it’s different from traditional strength training in that it primarily utilizes isometric strength exercises, per the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). This means you hold your body in a certain position for a length of time, so your muscles contract without changing length (or without movement).
However, poses can also incorporate small range-of-motion movements called pulses. Many barre classes add light hand weights, resistance bands, or weighted exercise balls to increase the intensity of the exercises. Movements are performed either standing at the ballet bar, sitting, or lying on the yoga mat.
In addition, barre has cardio elements, so you might feel your heart rate rise slightly. Still, it’s not an overly aerobic workout and, therefore, doesn’t stress the heart much, says Elizabeth Matzkin, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and the chief of women’s sports medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. That can be a good thing if you’re new to exercise or battling heart issues.
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Because barre incorporates yoga and Pilates poses, you’ll improve flexibility — defined by the ISSA as the ability of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons to passively stretch. You’ll also improve balance, which Harvard Health Publishing describes as the ability to distribute your weight in a way that lets you move without falling over.
So how does barre fit into a well-rounded exercise routine?
For reference, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises getting a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two full-body strength sessions per week. You can probably rely on barre for your strength needs, provided you’re targeting all your major muscle groups, but Dr. Matzkin says it may not offer enough of a cardio challenge to meet the aerobic guidelines.
To check, use the talk test to gauge the intensity of your barre workouts. To qualify as moderate-intensity aerobic activity, you should be able to talk but not sing during barre, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If barre doesn’t get you slightly breathless, incorporate other aerobic activities into your routine.
Moreover, barre can help older adults get the weekly balance activities recommended by the CDC to prevent falls and fall-related injuries such as bone fractures.