I (Finally) Tried It: Barre Classes

Health's fitness-loving assistant editor investigates one of the most talked-about workouts to see what the fuss is all about
August 4, 2011

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From stand-alone boutiques to big-business gyms, it seems everyone and her sister has begun to belly up to the barre. The gazillion ballet-inspired classes out there are all designed for one purpose: to help you achieve a slim, strong, sculpted dancer’s body (or as close to that as your genetic makeup will allow). Now who wouldn’t want one of those?

So I decided to see for myself if the barre is worth the buzz—and I do mean buzz. The celeb fan base is huge: Sofia Vergara, Drew Barrymore, Madonna, Anna Paquin, Kelly Ripa…I could go on. But I had a more personal reason to get back to the barre, too: I adored dancing when I was a little kid. Then one fateful day I showed up for a ballet recital in my tap shoes and, mortified, promptly told Mommie I was done with it all. Could this be my chance to rekindle that early love? I hit a few of the most popular classes to find out.

The classes: Barre 3, Figure 4, Physique 57, The Bar Method, Pure Barre

What they all do: Just about any barre class will have you working at least part of the time at, well, the barre (no surprise there). You’ll do a lot of reps of small, pulsing movements (we’re talking lifting and lowering limbs a mere inch or two), targeting the muscles in your core and lower body (many classes also hit your top half), with big emphasis on form and alignment. They sometimes throw in a bevy of other props, too, like yoga straps, exercise balls, and hand weights. In any case, you will hurt after the first few classes, but you’ll also probably see some pretty major results in short order.

What sets em apart:

  • Barre 3: This class draws from yoga as well as dance, so there’s a real focus on breathing and the mind-body connection—making it the most holistic workout in the bunch. But you’re still going to sweat, thanks mostly to the plyometrics and killer core sequence.
  • Figure 4: The peppy tempo (married with some super-challenging thigh work) keeps your heart rate up, adding some calorie-burning to the mix. Developed by a former ballerina, this was the most ballet-like (and my fave!) of the classes I tried.
  • Physique 57: Following the goal of “strengthen, then lengthen,” each interval of till-you-drop muscle work is followed by a period of stretching to allow time for much-needed recovery. Thank goodness.
  • The Bar Method: Developed under the guidance of physical therapists, this class has you working muscles in ways that won’t tax your joints, with very hands-on instructors. I was surprised, though, given the name, at how little time we actually spent at the barre.
  • Pure Barre: Ballet meets Pilates in this fat-frying class. Those micro-movements I mentioned above? You do a lot of them here (enough to nearly bring a grown woman to tears—trust me). Almost every move is small and controlled, with few props beyond the barre.

The bottom line: They say dancers suffer for their art, and I now have absolutely zero doubt that that’s true! Have my abs, butt, and thighs ever been as sore as they were after my whirlwind barre tour? (And I’m a long-distance runner, so that’s saying something.) Whichever class you choose, you’re in for some serious body sculpting—no matter what kind of shoes you show up wearing.

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