Susan Grimm, 60 years old, in Orlando, Florida, says, “When I opened the door of the 1 Body Studio, managed by Leslee Bender, I felt at home. I had been turned away before from an expensive local barre studio. After two C-sections and much weight gain, I felt horrible about myself. I tried health clubs but always felt out of place. In 1 Body Studio’s barre class, I could go at my own pace. I try to come three or four times a week. I’ve lost 40 pounds, but the weight loss is icing on the cake. I feel stronger now. I hear my body more now than ever.”

Grimm’s story points to one reason why barre classes are growing in popularity: While participants can train together, they receive individual coaching and work at their own pace. Another reason for barre’s success? Using a prop helps many students feel confident they can accomplish exercises that otherwise would be too intimidating. Bender noticed that this was true in Grimm’s case.

“People can feel success doing barre,” observes Michele Olson, PhD, CSCS, professor of exercise science and a researcher at Auburn University at Montgomery, in Montgomery, Alabama. “It’s not over-the-top cardio like HIIT, which is demanding. Barre classes use positions, postures and exercises that target muscles in the trouble-zone areas such as legs, glutes and abdominals, making people feel satisfied that they’ve challenged those ÔÇÿchallenging to change’ body areas.”

Statistics support the noticeable barre boom. Barre and Pilates are the top two group exercise activities among women, according to the Fall 2014 IRHSA Health Club Consumer Seasonal Trend Report. Barre has grown so quickly that the Sports & Fitness Industry Association began collecting data on it in 2013. From 2013 to 2014, total participation in barre across the United States rose by more than 10% (Sports & Fitness Industry Association 2015). Currently, barre programs are providing the boost to the fitness industry that CrossFit® stimulated a few years ago. Fitness facilities are adding programs to avoid losing members to studios.

Barre Training Today

Barre programs can include anything from specific balletic movements taught only by former professional dancers, to “hot barre,” to programs that offer functional cross-training for athletes and people of all ages and abilities. Some programs focus primarily on lower-body training; others work the whole body. Some highlight cardiovascular exercise; others focus on muscle endurance and strength training. Most involve a combination of ballet, Pilates, yoga and muscle-conditioning exercises.

Benefits and Risks of Barre Training

Barre training can provide numerous benefits—including targeted lower-body training, neuromuscular re-education, core strengthening, and improvements in overall alignment and function—if instructors modify the traditional exercise approach of holding a tucked pelvis and, instead, emphasize neutral alignment and intelligent use of repetition and range of motion. If instructors don’t take an up-to-date approach and don’t modify moves for the untrained dancer, barre exercises may harm joints and connective tissue and can lead to injury.

Benefits of Barre

Effective barre training increases local strength, muscular endurance, core fitness and, likely, balance,” says Olson. “It’s good for the brain and coordination and can help someone round out a traditional exercise routine.”

It can also restore functional neutral alignment. Peter G. Gorman, doctor of chiropractic, president of Microgate USA, in Mahopac, New York, and a movement analysis specialist, assessed 18 people before and after they completed the Fluidity® Method barre exercises. “We found that all subjects showed improvement with balance, timing, coordination and mobility and the exercises provided corrective movement to restore proper alignment.” Gorman thinks this improvement was due to the emphasis placed on neutral alignment and proper engagement of the core, including the pelvic floor.

Risks (and Limitations) of Barre

Barre may involve two isometric-style training elements: pulsing and static holds. These have benefits, but also limitations and/or risks.

Pulsing—contracting a muscle in a range of motion up to 2 inches—is close to an isometric contraction, and the burning sensation means the muscle is primarily using anaerobic glycolysis to fuel contractions, explains Olson. With pulsing, increased strength occurs only at the precise range where pulsing occurs.

A static hold is an isometric contraction that improves the ability to hold a position longer without reaching muscular fatigue. For example, when you hold a crouched position in an activity like gardening, you’re maintaining a static hold.

Pulses and static holds should be done for 10-30 seconds after the muscle has been prefatigued with full-range-of-motion exercises—which is very challenging.

For more information on the benefits and risks of barre training, please see “The Barre Boom Bonanza” in the online IDEA Library or in the November–December 2015 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7