- This is a guest post by Erica Chapman -
Barre fitness is an oldie but goodie.
Lately it seems like everyone and their mother has tried a barre fitness class and raved about it in a tabloid. But the barre method has actually been around for ages. What's with the sudden surge in popularity? And with all these new studios and DVD's popping up, how is a girl to choose which barre to do her plies at?
Differentiating between barre workouts.
For answers, I tested out 3 different barre workouts--two classes and one DVD--to get a sense of the differences between the brands. First, though, the common ground: a barre workout is simply a series of strengthening exercises using very small, repeated movements and the body's own weight resistance, mostly performed at a ballet barre for balance, and alternating with periods of stretching to keep you long and lean. It is NOT dancing (girls with 2 left feet, rest easy--I was joking about the plies back there). And it's not cardio per se, but you'll sweat with the pure effort of maintaining those graceful (or not) extensions!
The original barre workout was developed decades ago by the ballerina Lotte Berk. The Lotte Berk Method has inspired most of today's iterations, though everyone has put their own unique twist on the regimen, giving you plenty of room to get picky! The main players in the barre studio arena are: The Bar Method, Physique57 and barre3. They're all great, fire-in-the-muscle workouts but one might be better for you than another based on your preferred intensity level. Find out the differences between them below.
STUDIO 1: The Bar Method
Relatively new to New York, The Bar Method has one studio in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan. But as a workout, it's been around since 2000 and is franchised all over the country, meaning you could attend these classes from Miami to Boulder and get a familiar workout. The departure from the Lotte Berk method here is more of a focus on muscles, away from exercises that are hard on the joints. At the Soho studio they only offer one kind of class (mixed level), which means that anyone is welcome and more than capable of getting through the hour, but if you go more than a few times, you may plateau pretty quickly. My sense after one class is that it's a great weekly commitment for toning up--you won't get Fergie's washboard abs from a few weeks here, but you will probably notice a difference in the shape of your muscles over time.
Pros: The studio is PRISTINE. It's like walking into a spa. And the staff is SUPER friendly. Since they're new to the city, they're bending over backwards to make sure everyone is educated and prepared before they come, adjusted and encouraged during the class, and consulted about any questions they may have afterwards. I felt so taken care of!
Cons: While I definitely felt the burn a few times, I didn't feel terribly challenged. However, take this with a grain of salt, because I'm the type that only feels like a workout was worth it if I'm close to puking....and I readily admit this is extreme and/or unhealthy. I have no doubt I would see results with this class, especially if I made it a regular part of my routine.
Bottom Line: A gorgeous space with cheery people that will guide you through the "barre" experience. Seems like a great springboard into more intense workouts, and a great place to keep coming back to for maintenance and nice muscle definition. Or for a glass of filtered water, the latest issue of US Weekly and plush towels, if you're REALLY going to milk your Bar Method experience.
STUDIO 2: Physique57
With only 4 studios total, Physique57 hews much more closely to the original "barre" method. This is the workout you've heard Kelly Ripa tout for years; she's claimed on more than one occasion to love it as much as her husband (Mark, don't feel bad--the workout's that good). Even though it's almost the same collection of exercises as The Bar Method, Physique57 classes are more intense. The positions go a bit deeper, the transitions are a bit faster, and the motions a bit more complex. For a single class, it's the same price as The Bar Method ($35), but the multi-class packages here are a little pricier.
Pros: You leave feeling like you got more bang for your buck. You'll feel like your glutes are going to burst into flames more than once per class but that means you'll see results.
Cons: The studio (at least their downtown location) could use a bit of an update. This workout (and The Bar Method workout too) is performed on carpet for reasons I cannot fully understand, and theirs is a garish shade of blue that's getting to look a little like my grandparents' rec room, which was probably carpeted in 1960. They also have you doing a few exercises on foam mats that are looking a tad shabby. At $35 a class, I think it's time for new mats.
Bottom Line: You will work hard here, and that's in the beginner class. Seems to me like the sky's the limit in terms of how ripped you want to get with this workout--you could be challenging Kelly Ripa to a bikini-off in no time!
STUDIO 3: barre3
Of the three workouts I tried, this was the most distinctively different. Many of the same exercises are incorporated, but the barre3 method really focuses on posture and elongation more than the other two. All poses are performed in a "neutral spine" position, as opposed to the pelvis "tucking" you do in The Bar Method and Physique57. Barre3 founder Sadie Lincoln has taught yoga for years, and really draws on that experience in her philosophy. It's definitely still challenging, and you will still feel the burn, but you will feel much more grounded and open as you do it. Though I only experienced the 40-minute barre3™ Total Body Lift Workout DVD and not an actual class (barre3 has yet to hit New York, but fingers crossed, one day soon!), I had the opportunity to speak with Sadie and confirm that the classes still involve an upbeat playlist, lots of hard work, and an intensity that produces results. It's not a relaxing yoga class; it's a great toning workout with attention to standing and living tall.
Pros: If you're into yoga and pilates, you may really enjoy this DVD. You'll still get a fierce workout (especially in the seat and the abs), but you will feel very calm and deliberate while you do it. As for the barre, that is replaced in your living room by the back of a chair, and all you need is a yoga mat or some carpet and a rolled up towel. Easy.
Cons: The obvious drawback for New Yorkers is that there's no studio--the DVD is great, but sometimes you want the added motivation of a teacher and fellow students to really get you going. Aside from that, the DVD workout itself is more of a maintenance tool; it would be great for travel or a busy day when you need some muscle exertion but don't have the time for a class.
Bottom Line: This is Madonna's new workout of choice, and let's assume Ms. Ripped-and-Fantastic herself knows what she's talking about when it comes to effective workouts. My personal take is that this DVD will give you a great introduction to the barre workout world and help keep you strong while you wait for Sadie to get from Portland out to the Big Apple!
Or you can barre3-it-up right now by watching Sadie Lincoln share her top 3 barre3 moves in this Fashionably Fit With MizzFIT Video. All you need is a kitchen counter!
My final thoughts on these barre studios and why you should go.
These classes, while not extremely taxing at the beginner level, gave me a great workout. If I could've taken advanced classes from the get-go, I know they would've kick my butt. Part of the appeal of small movements is that they target your smaller muscles--your stabilizers. Your body will be shaking with the exertion, and that's a good thing--it's the reshaping of those tiny muscles that will really give you the definition you're craving. Plus, instead of making you huff and puff, tiny movements allow you to really concentrate on your form and get it right for maximum results.
My only complaint with NYC's barre world: What's with the carpet?? It is the most unhygenic surface I can think of for a workout, and there doesn't appear to be a purpose for it. This workout could easily be done on wood floors with a yoga mat. In fact, barre3 studios are made with cork flooring, which is sanitary and also very green. Even though you're required to wear socks in the carpeted studios, I still couldn't help but get the heebie jeebies when we laid down for ab work and I had to rest my head on a carpet that no doubt thousands of other sweaty heads have graced. That's not to say that the studios are dirty--they're both immaculately clean (I even saw a girl Dust-Bustering the hallway at Physique57), and The Bar Method's carpet looks brand new. But seriously, what's the point?
If you're not a germaphobe like yours truly, this will not stop you from enjoying yourself (and actually, it didn't stop me either). The revolutionary concept here is micro movements that create lean and sexy muscle tone for a feminine physique. Pick a studio that appeals to you or grosses you out the least. Or if you've got the dough, Sadie Lincoln makes house calls...just ask Madonna.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment below with your thoughts on barre fitness and you'll be entered to win a barre3™ Total Body Lift Workout DVD. THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED.
About the Author: Erica Chapman is a connoisseur of team sports & gourmet food. She lives and works out in New York City.