It’s causing quite a stir in the world of health and fitness in recent years, despite being around for over 50 years… but what is a barre workout?
Barre draws on a combination of ballet, Pilates and yoga concepts. And it utilizes them in a series of movements to help improve your range of motion, strength, and flexibility. All of which are great for your bones too!
As far as ballet is concerned, the most notable influence in barre is the barre itself. (That’s the handrail ballerinas use to stretch and perfect their technique). Many barre exercises use the barre handrail in one way or another. But there are also barre workouts you can do without a barre handrail too, as you’ll see in our workout videos a little further down the page.
Now, barre, as it’s known today, was developed by German-born ballet dancer Lotte Berk.¹ Berk employed elements of ballet training to help her recover from a back injury and saw a wider scope for her new workout. After moving to England, Berk set up her own studio offering barre classes in the 1950s. Before long, Berk had celebrity clientele, including Bond girl Britt Ekland! By the 70s barre had crossed the Atlantic, and has continued to grow in popularity amongst women and men of all ages and fitness levels since.
That’s why we’ve put together five barre workout videos for you! An introductory workout video led by our very own Bone Health Expert Lara Pizzorno. And a four-part workout series led by Barre3 Studios instructor Mary Lytle! But first, let’s check out the benefits of barre…
The Benefits of Barre
If you’re looking for something a bit different from your run-of-the-mill workouts, barre is well worth a go! It’s fun, it’s challenging, and there are plenty of benefits (including bone health benefits) too.
Now, it’s worth noting that, to date, there hasn’t been any solid research on the effects of barre workouts specifically. But based on the movements involved and their likeness to ballet, yoga, and Pilates exercises, we can assert that barre has the following benefits:
Improves Your Flexibility
Given the close association to ballet, you’d be forgiven for thinking you have to have the flexibility of a ballerina to cope with barre. But don’t worry, that’s not the case at all! Barre is accommodating of all ages, levels of flexibility and experience.
In fact, you should view barre as an opportunity to improve your flexibility and reap the associated benefits! A significant portion of a barre workout does revolve around stretching and flexibility training. (Although it’s very easy to tailor this to your current level).
Stretching helps to keep your muscles flexible which in turn helps to improve your range of motion.² Your range of motion is the distance and direction your joints can move at their full potential. Poor flexibility and a low range of motion will result in tight muscles. And when you call upon tight muscles to perform an exercise, or even an everyday activity, they’re weak and unable to extend to their full potential. That puts you at risk for a whole host of undesirables like joint pain, muscles strains, muscle injury and poor posture (more on that in just a moment).
How does it apply to osteoporosis?
Stronger, more flexible muscles that are better prepared for action when you call upon them can reduce your risk of taking a tumble and a suffering a fall-related fracture!
Works Your Muscular Strength and Endurance
The primary focus of a barre workout is to work a certain set of muscles to fatigue before moving on to a different set. This is called muscular endurance training. So basically, you’ll repeat a certain move many times over until you really feel the burn! Endurance training will, of course, strengthen your muscles, but more prominently it will improve the length of time you can work a set of muscles for. So as you improve, you’ll notice you can perform the other exercises in your regimen for longer!
And you’ll be working some muscles you never knew you had during a barre workout! For example, if you’re performing a thigh exercise like the “incline chair,” you’ll work the muscles at the front of your thighs, the muscles along your inner thighs and the muscles at the back of your thighs. Talk about a complete workout!
Another key component of barre exercises is the use of short phases of isotonic muscle contractions followed by more prolonged periods of isometric muscle contractions. Here’s the difference between the two:
- Isotonic muscle contractions – A movement that creates tension in the muscle as it shortens or lengthens. An example from barre would be when you bend your knees to lower yourself down into a squat position and straighten them again to come back to your starting position.
- Isometric muscle contractions – A movement that creates tension in the muscle, but the muscle does not shorten or lengthen. An example from barre would be the phase of the squat where you actually hold the squat position itself.
Remember when we mentioned that the focus of barre was to work your muscle to fatigue? Well, that’s achieved largely with isometric contractions, where you’re working your muscles hard to hold yourself in a position.³ And there’s another bonus too. Because your muscles can never technically overcome an isometric contraction (i.e. you can’t hold a squat forever) your cardiovascular system is taxed a little harder too!
How does it apply to osteoporosis?
Exercise is a key pillar of bone health. But not all exercise is equally beneficial for your bones. Any type of exercise that is weight-bearing is of most benefit for your bone health. Because you perform the majority of the movements in barre from a standing position, barre is weight-bearing! Plus, depending on your current level of fitness and balance, the barre handrail is a great support too!
Promotes An Elegant Posture
The elegant moves in barre are a reminder of the close link to ballet. And stick with it long enough and you can enjoy an elegant posture reminiscent of ballet too!
Throughout a barre workout, you’ll really notice your core muscles being engaged. (If it’s burning, it’s engaged!) This is great news for your often underworked “stabilizer muscles,” and as a result your posture.
In everyday activities, people tend to slouch and hunch over. And when this happens, you’re not engaging your core group of stabilizing muscles as you should. These muscles include your abdominals, pelvis, abdomen and back muscles amongst others. This team of muscles are effectively your frame, and are designed to keep your spine nice and erect, and your hips aligned, so your whole body is stable. But if you’re not trying to maintain that erect posture, then your stabilizing muscles aren’t utilized.
Stability is a result of highly coordinated muscle activation patterns which calls on your entire “stability unit” of muscles.⁴ And the more you train these muscles specifically, the stronger they’ll become, and the better they get at responding to motion produced by your more utilized mobilizing muscles. An undertrained stability unit reacts slower to motion and this can cause improper alignment and can be a risk for injury.⁵ So activities like walking and running do use your stabilizing muscles, but they’re not being pushed or trained to their maximum potential. And just like any muscles, if you don’t progressively train them, they’ll reach a plateau of underperformance.
To have a strong core unit, and a nice elegant posture as a result, first you need to “recruit” individual core muscles to strengthen them in isolation– which is a big focus of barre exercises! Then as you progress, you’ll gain the ability to actively control your core unit which is an important part of stability.⁵
So when you hear “shoulders back” or “chest up” from your barre instructor, they have your posture and stability in mind!
How does it apply to osteoporosis?
Having proper posture will reduce the amount of strain you put on your body’s ligaments and muscles. Plus, it can also prevent forward hunching and injuries. In fact, poor posture can lead to a condition called Kyphosis where the spine becomes curved. This condition represents a major risk for spinal fractures and falls!⁶
It’s An Absolute Blast!
Perhaps one of the biggest draws of barre, and one of the reasons it’s become so popular, is because it’s great fun. The combination of dance, yoga and Pilates styles keep things fresh and interesting, and the movements are often performed to music so you can really get into the groove.
How does it apply to osteoporosis?
Working on your bone health has never been so fun!
Complete Barre For Bone Health Workout Video Series
Now you know all about the history of barre, and the health benefits it provides, so there’s only one thing left to do… try it out for yourself!
We’ve got 5 very special videos for you, featuring some very special ladies, that will give you a taste of barre, an idea of what you can expect from a barre class, and even some exercises you can do at home!
Please note: If you’ve been advised to avoid certain exercises or movements by your doctor, please check with them first before trying the following workouts. In the 4-part Barre3 series, Monica performs modified versions of some moves that may be beneficial for those just starting out. But you know your body best, so listen to it and don’t try to overdo things.
Lara Pizzorno’s Introduction to Barre
Our very own Bone Health Expert, author of “Your Bones,” and certified Pilates instructor, Lara Pizzorno, provides an introduction to barre in the video below.
Follow along at home as Lara discusses why barre is such a beneficial workout, describes certain safety modifications you may want to consider, and demonstrates some of the key movements involved in this 28-minute workout video.
Our Four-Part Barre for Bone Health Video Series
We’re very excited to have teamed up with the amazing Barre3 studios in Seattle, Washington to bring you our “Barre for Bone Health” video series.
The four-part video series is led by barre instructor and studio owner, Mary Lytle. And you may recognize some of the ladies in Mary’s class too! Following along with Mary are; our resident Bone Health Expert Lara Pizzorno, our very own Content Manager and Fitness Lead Monica Lam-Feist, yoga instructor Taffy Frost (you may recognize Taffy from our “Ultimate Guide to Yoga for Osteoporosis” page), and Dr. Amy Alpine. (Rather remarkably, Amy had a hip replacement just six months before we filmed the series!)
The video series is a complete barre workout that you can tailor to your individual needs. We have a warm up to get your blood pumping, a series of exercises dedicated to your legs, a core and glute section, and some stretching and breathing techniques to cool down.
Complete the entire series in one go, or if you’re new to barre or aren’t quite feeling up to an entire workout, try just one or two of the videos at a time… it’s completely up to you!
Finding a Barre Studio Near You
We hope you’ve found this page helpful and that you enjoy our free barre video course!
And remember, your bone health and safety always come first, so ease your way into any new exercise regimen and listen to your body.
The beauty of barre is that it’s so fun, effective, and accessible. You can follow certain workouts along at home or attend an instructed class if you want to step things up a notch! Speaking of which, if you enjoyed Mary’s barre workout and are keen to find a barre studio near you, Barre3 have over 100 studios across The United States and Canada. You can find the studio nearest to you by clicking here.
- Lee Batchelor. (n.d.) The Ultimate Design in Body Exercise. Retrieved from https://www.lotte-berk.com/
- Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). The importance of stretching. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching
- Howell, M. L., Kimoto, R., Morford, W. R. (1962). Effect of isometric and isotonic exercise programs upon muscular endurance. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 33(4), 536-540. doi:10.1080/10671188.1962.10762104
- McGill, S. M., Grenier, S., Kavcic, N., Cholewicki, J. (2003). Coordination of muscle activity to assure stability of the lumbar spine. J Electromyogr. Kinesiol. 13(4), 353-9. doi:10.1016/s1050-6411(03)00043-9
- Jeong, U. C., Sim, J. H., Kim, C. Y., Hwang-Bo, G., Nam, C. W. (2015). The effects of gluteus muscle strengthening exercise and lumbar stabilization exercise on lumbar muscle strength and balance in chronic low back pain patients. Journal of physical therapy science, 27(12), 3813–3816. doi:10.1589/jpts.27.3813
- van der Jagt-Willems, H. C., de Groot, M. H., van Campen, J. P., Lamoth, C. J., Lems, W. F. (2015). Associations between vertebral fractures, increased thoracic kyphosis, a flexed posture and falls in older adults: a prospective cohort study. BMC geriatrics, 15, 34. doi:10.1186/s12877-015-0018-z