Barre Workout Benefits and How to Do at Home - Dr. Axe

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Barre Workout: Can It Give You a Dancer’s Physique?


Barre workout - Dr. Axe

A barre workout relies on ballet moves and isometric exercises, and many gyms and fitness centers these days offer barre classes.

Many proponents say results come quickly and that barre becomes perfect for anyone regardless of age, size or level of ability.

Is this too good to be true? Let’s take a closer look at what exactly a barre workout involves and what the science says on barre workout benefits.

What Is Barre?

Barre fitness classes are basically ballet-inspired fitness classes. Barre also incorporates moves from other disciplines, including yoga and Pilates.

While a barre class is usually lightly choreographed to upbeat music, there are poses held in an isometric contraction similar to yoga. Like Pilates, a barre workout also places a lot of emphasis on your core, with isolated moves that help you stabilize your spine and improve your posture.


Often, barre focuses on small, repetitive bodyweight moves, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a class using small hand weights to add a little more resistance.

What’s the rationale behind high repetitions and light weights? Proponents say that is the best way to get that lean, toned look so many people covet.

However, please be aware that not all barre workouts are created equal! One of my close fitness friends, Suzanne Bowen — founder of SBF (Suzanne Bowen Fitness) and creator of BarreAmped, which includes both classes and DVDs — mentions that many barre styles now exist, including some that have moved considerably away from its origins.

Barre originated with Lotte Berk, a German dancer who fled the Nazis in the 1930s to settle in London with her British husband. While rehabbing a back injury, Berk combined her therapeutic exercises with ballet barre routines.

In 1959, she opened the Lotte Berk Method in her basement. She worked out several famous celebrities and also entertained them with bawdy humor and relationship advice.

Don’t you wish your current trainer could be that much fun?

Eventually, one of her American students, Lydia Bach, bought the rights to Lotte’s name and opened the first studio in Manhattan in 1971. Over the next several years, it continued to grow and evolve into its present-day incarnation.

Suzanne was actually an apprentice barre teacher with Ms. Bach in Manhattan in the early 2000s and was featured in the first barre DVDs produced by Bach. Remembering those initial barre classes, Suzanne said she was “gym fit” but was “humbled” by these classes that demanded so much leg and core work. She became a convert of this style of barre, and she’s further developed her own style of barre training that contrasts pretty strongly with some other version on the market today.

“Women saw results [from Bach’s methods], but then somehow barre became synonymous with isometric movements,” recounts Suzanne. “That’s fine for beginners, but you eventually need to move more, get flexion of the joint and complement the natural curve of the spine.”

She mentions this last part because some current barre styles want you to have a tucked pelvis during the movements, but Suzanne finds that both unnatural and that it can even lead to injury.

Barre vs. Yoga and Pilates

While several similarities exist between Pilates, yoga and barre, a few subtle differences become worth mentioning.

  • While barre incorporates dance movements and principles, holding a lunge variation in barre also resembles a warrior pose in yoga.
  • Posture and proper breathing techniques inherent to Pilates also come into play with barre.
  • While traditional Pilates relies on larger, complex pieces that can often be space- and cost-prohibitive, barre workouts involve minimal equipment.
  • Unlike Pilates, barre incorporates more traditional strength exercises like push-ups and standing poses held for several minutes.
  • Pilates and barre also place significant importance on engaging and strengthening your core area.

Barre Workout Benefits

Whether you’re a beginner or looking to break out of your current routine, barre might be for you. While rooted in dance, the ability to pirouette or rock a tutu is definitely not a prerequisite.

If you’ve ever wanted to improve your posture and balance, a barre class could potentially help. If you’re just starting out, you can also benefit from gaining strength, flexibility and confidence.

While an overwhelming number of participants in barre are women, this is a gender-neutral workout. Banish any notions of being a lightweight workout: Barre moves become harder than they initially look!

“I find that they make a woman feel very feminine as well as better in their physique,” says Suzanne, who’s seen women make amazing changes in both body and mind after regular taking barre classes.


1. Improves mind and body concentration

Because of all the small, isometric moves (meaning the joint angle or the muscle length do not change during the contraction) associated with a barre class, increased muscle movement awareness becomes imperative. Establishing that neuromuscular (mind and body communicating together) connection helps activate underused muscles outside of class and complement strength-demanding daily tasks.

One set of muscles that tends to get underutilized are the glutes, less politely called your butt. We don’t use our glutes enough. Even people who work out and then sit at a desk all day don’t use them enough.

By activating your glutes you can significantly reduce your risk for injury and even alleviate back pain.

2. Strengthens your core

Typically when people think of their core, they immediately think about their abs. Your core is so much more than that: It’s complex group of muscles that act to keep you physically stable.

When you think of the core that way, sit-ups and crunches are probably not the best way to work your core.

No matter what specific group of muscles you focus on in a barre class, you constantly engage your core, which subsequently helps maintain good posture (essential for eliminating low back pain).

3. Develops a balanced physique and better posture

So many fitness activities and sports can develop certain muscular imbalances, leading to poor posture and either pain or injury. For example, many who lift weights or do certain fitness classes overtrain the front parts of their bodies, including the front deltoids, chest, upper abs and quadriceps.

“Meanwhile, they neglect their glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, lats and rhomboids,” explains Suzanne, who says a good barre class helps correct those imbalances by working the entire body, including operating as a great quad exercise, leg workout as well as an inner thigh workout.

4. Improves flexibility

Most of us don’t make enough time to work on flexibility. Increasing or maintaining flexibility as you age becomes crucial.

Without flexibility, seemingly innocuous things like picking up something off the floor or even turning over in bed can result in an injury. Stay younger by staying bendy with hamstring stretches and barre workout moves.

5. It’s low-impact

Because low-impact exercises, like walking to lose weight, tend to be easier on your body, they become ideal for beginners and people with arthritis, osteoporosis, or joint and connective tissue injuries.

6. It’s a great way to cross-train

Cross-training simply means incorporating other types of workouts into your existing routine. If you are a runner, it is important for you to cross-train so you strengthen other muscles that aren’t used while running. Cross-training is also a great way to give common running injuries a chance to recover.

Making a trip to a barre class can be a great way to focus on other muscle groups while reducing stress on your joints from constantly pounding the pavement.

Home Barre Workout Routine

Doing a barre workout at home typically involves using a fixed horizontal bar or a sturdy chair for support while performing a series of small, isometric movements. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do a barre workout:

  1. Warm up: Begin with a few minutes of light cardio activity, such as jogging in place or jumping jacks, to warm up your muscles and increase your heart rate.
  2. Set up the barre: Find a sturdy horizontal bar, or use the back of a sturdy chair positioned at waist height. Make sure it’s secure and stable.
  3. Alignment: Stand facing the barre with your feet hip-width apart. Engage your core, roll your shoulders back, and keep your spine tall and straight throughout the workout.
  4. Plie squats: Start with a basic plie squat. Lower yourself into a squat position, keeping your knees in line with your toes, and then rise back up. Repeat for a set of 10–15 reps.
  5. Leg lifts: Holding on to the barre for support, lift one leg to the side and then lower it back down. Repeat on the other leg. Aim for 10–15 reps on each leg.
  6. Glute work: Move to the barre, and place one hand on it for support. Lift one leg behind you, keeping it straight, and squeeze your glute muscles. Lower the leg back down, and repeat for 10–15 reps on each leg.
  7. Arm exercises: Stand facing the barre, and hold on to it with both hands. Perform small, controlled arm movements, such as bicep curls, tricep extensions or shoulder presses. Use light weights or resistance bands if desired. Do 10–15 reps of each exercise.
  8. Core work: Move to a mat, or clear space on the floor. Lie down on your back, engage your core, and perform exercises like crunches, bicycle kicks or planks to target your abdominal muscles. Aim for 10–15 reps of each exercise.
  9. Stretching: After completing the main exercises, take a few minutes to stretch your muscles. Focus on stretching your legs, hips, arms and back. Hold each stretch for 20–30 seconds.
  10. Cool down: Finish your workout with a few minutes of gentle walking or light stretching to gradually bring your heart rate down.

Remember, it’s important to listen to your body and modify any exercises as needed. If you’re new to barre workouts, consider taking a class or watching online tutorials to ensure you’re performing the exercises correctly and safely.


While I advocate anything that gets people moving and becoming more health-minded, these considerations will help you benefit from barre without injuries and other problems. Check out these caveats if barre will challenge or bore you, and then perhaps choose a more challenging barre class.

1. How Much of a Cardio Workout?

For heart health, standard barre probably won’t provide enough of a challenge. If losing weight and getting into “skinny jeans” is your primary objective, barre alone may not be the answer. While barre involves some cardio, you probably won’t burn enough calories to burn much fat.

At the same time, an hour of steady-state cardio isn’t your answer either. To get that lean, toned look, you’ll want to do burst training.

Burst training (aka interval training) combines short, high-intensity bursts of exercise with slow recovery phases, repeated during one exercise session. Burst training is done at 85 percent to 100 percent maximum heart rate rather than 50 percent to 70 percent in moderate endurance activity. You’re not going to meet that in a barre class.

That being said, Suzanne’s BarreAmped classes are a different story, with strong elements of cardio (such as on her BarreAmped Cardio Fat Burn DVD) and bigger range of motions.

“I believe in confusing the muscles all the time for maximum benefit,” she says.

2. Will I Develop Much Muscle?

With the exception of using five-pound weights, barre workouts incorporate no progressive overload, which means making your muscles do more work over time. Without continually challenging your muscles, you will stop making progress.

If you are just starting your fitness journey, any type of exercise will provide benefits, but eventually you will stop noticing changes. As you adapt, your body becomes very efficient with your workout. That’s why a marathon runner will have a lower heart rate than the average runner.

Becoming stronger and fitter demands challenging yourself. Once something becomes too easy, it’s time to increase the challenge.  

Again, certain barre classes may challenge your muscles more. In Suzanne’s classes, there are mostly bodyweight moves, but “we also try to get them out of the one-pound or two-pound habit and to four and five-pounders,” she comments.

3. Will I Get a Dancer’s Physique?

Some practitioners claim barre will lengthen and tone your muscles without adding bulk or that it will tone your problem areas and give you a dancer’s physique. That’s may be stretching it (pun intended) just a bit.  

Because your muscles have an origin and an insertion, which are fixed and attached to bone, you can’t “lengthen” your muscles. Short of surgery, changing those fixed points becomes impossible.

“It can provide a great look. Does that mean a more striated, cut look? No. Most women simply want to be more feminine,” explains Suzanne, who also mentions that you can stretch and feel a stretch, but that won’t make muscles longer.

“But I’ve seen amazing results among women who hate to exercise and lift. While barre is hard, it’s doable and addictive. They’re in a different place mentally when they leave,” says Suzanne. “It’s sure not a fad, for it’s been around for 45 years. And it’s been changing bodies for years.”

For Suzanne personally, she always loved the weight room but fell in love with barre.

“It improved my posture, I felt better and there’s special about camaraderie that develops in the classes.”


Determining whether barre fitness becomes the most appropriate workout depends on your goals. If that involves losing weight, developing a balanced physique and increasing lean muscle, a barre class once a week or more could complement your wellness program, especially if you enjoy it.

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