7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before My First Barre Class
By Ariana Marini
If you follow fitness trends, you’ve probably heard about barre, a ballet-inspired workout that sculpts your muscles (even if you’re far from a ballerina). The workout focuses on very small, isometric movements combined with stretches to lengthen muscles. During a barre class, you’ll often be switching from moves done at the barre to Pilates exercises, and sometimes to yoga poses.
If you try it, you’ll have a newfound respect for ballerinas everywhere — it’s tough. I went into my very first class knowing very little about barre other than that it’s a hot trend in fitness right now. Here are seven things I wish I knew before walking into my first barre class:
- Think small. In barre, you have to focus on very small movements. Your instructor may ask you to move just an inch. “Small movements and isometric movements allow you to directly target the muscle and area that you are toning,” says Hollis Morris, an instructor and studio manager at a national barre studio brand. If you’re more used to intense cardio, you may feel compelled to make bigger movements during barre exercises, but try to resist. “No unnecessary movement or large range of motion is needed and, in fact, is often why other forms of exercise cause injuries,” Morris says. Try to get in the mindset to “think small” before you enter the studio; you’ll be surprised at how much of a workout you’ll get from moving just an inch.
- You’ll be confused in the beginning. Don’t expect to know all of the moves right away. During your first few classes, you’ll probably have trouble keeping up. “It depends on the person and their background, but after three classes, most of the movements that may feel strange at first start to really click and make sense,” says Morris. Barre can be so fast-paced that the second you think you’ve finally mastered a pose, it’s time to switch to a new one. Don’t get discouraged. (But do expect to feel sore for a few days.)
- Know what it means to “tuck." The “tuck” is one of the key concepts of barre. “The best way to explain the tuck is a pelvic tilt,” says Morris. “Your pelvis tilts forward, your abdominals draw in, and your lower back tucks under. You're shortening the distance between your two hip bones and your rib cage.” One tip: Place your thumb on your rib cage and your pointer finger on your hip bone. If you’re tucking correctly, you should feel the distance between the two shorten. “The tuck is important because it's what protects our lower back throughout the exercises,” she says.
- Shaking is good. Halfway through the class, I found my legs shaking uncontrollably. Perhaps my embarrassment was written all over my face, because my instructor assured me that shaking was a good sign. “We joke 'embrace the shake' – but we also mean it as the shake is a sign that you have correctly targeted the leg muscles we are working, and you are working hard,” Morris says. “You have fatigued the large muscle group to the point that they start to shake.”
- Ask questions. Arrive to your first class early. Introduce yourself to the staff and let your instructor know you’re new to barre. After class, if you have a question about a particular move or want to know how to adjust it, stick around and ask your instructor. “While the first class will be challenging and there will be unfamiliar terminology and movements, if you stick with it, the results will be fast,” Morris says.
- Dress appropriately. Make sure to wear leggings or yoga pants and a tight tank top. This will keep heat from escaping your body, allowing you to sweat more — and it’ll help you and your instructor see your form. You won’t be wearing sneakers in the studio, so you’ll need socks. Some barre studios sell socks with special grips on the soles that help your balance, create traction, and promote circulation throughout your workout. (Many studios will also allow you to wear regular socks — though most discourage it because it's so easy to slip — while others allow you to take class in bare feet. Be sure to check your studio's policy ahead of time so you arrive prepared.)
- You can practice barre at home. Various studios use slightly different styles of barre, but remember that you can also practice at home. While not all the moves can be done without a ballet barre, you can try using a countertop, tall table, or chair instead. Look for instructional barre workout DVDs to purchase, and work out on your own time.