Stepping Up to the Bar(re): My First Barre Class

My Background

I am a man in my early thirties and have been involved in athletics, in one form or another, for most of my life. I wrestled as a teenager, played varsity basketball and volleyball, and swim and lift weights recreationally.

Friends have converted me when it comes to a lot of things I don’t think I would have touched in my teens or early twenties–like yoga and meditation, for example. Things, in other words, that seemed less demonstrably masculine, but that ended up being so good for my mind and body that I now encourage people of all shapes, sizes, and gender to participate in them, too.

Enter Barre, the ballet-themed exercise class that seems to have swept the country by storm.

What Is Barre, Exactly?

For the unitiated or uninformed, barre makes use of classical ballet training to create a challenging fitness class that combines total body conditioning and dynamic flexibility training. The ‘barre’ part refers to the horizontal beam that ballet dancers use to balance themselves on; you’ve probably seen them in workout rooms during your pilates or yoga classes while facing the mirror.

The Challenge

Whether it’s an ingrained cultural association that links ballet and femininity in my mind, or the fact that I just like lifting heavy stuff, I had practically no interest in attending a barre class. A lot of my athletic heroes meditated and did yoga to improve their performance, so I didn’t have a problem signing up for those activities. But I didn’t know anyone who looked like I wanted to look, who liked lifting heavy things, who also did barre.

And then a friend of mine, Carrie, challenged me to take a barre class with her. And since she knows me well enough to understand that the best way to get me to do something is to frame the activity as a challenge, she said that I would be sweating within the first five minutes of class.

Not a chance, I thought.

Here’s how it went.

My Barre Experience

The first surprising thing was the music. I thought there would be something classical, more like a night at the opera than a fitness class.

Oops. Right away the dance pop started up.

We started with a warm-up.

Lining up, we performed a series of movements without the barre, focusing particularly on posture using bends and squat-like movements that had fancy French names like demi-plie (pronounced with an accent) and releves. Our instructor encouraged us to focus on posture, imagining a cord traveling from our pelvis up through to the head, pulling us up to the ceiling.

The movements during the warm-up felt challenging at the outset, mostly because postural focus and the manner in which plies involve opening the hips and having the toes point upward aren’t typically used in strength training.

Yelp. Already I felt out of place, mechanically.

From there, things took an unexpected turn. And by that, I mean that they became very difficult, in ways that exposed my biomechanical and structural weaknesses.

We moved through a series of sequences that eventually ended up vaguely approximating ballet movements. I say vaguely approximating because I found them so difficult that calling the movement ballet would have been a gross overstatement.

The first sequence involved extending one leg straight behind, as per the kind of hip-opening leg swing you’d do in a dynamic warm-up, building to a short jumping movement. It’s harder than it looks.

More isometric activity, holding awkward positions. Leg swings and working in multiple planes. We ended up with a series of abdominal movements followed by a cool down.

Takeaways

Suffice it to say I lost my bet. But I did gain a lot. For example, I learned that I continue to have structural problems with my posture, something that the unique positions and movements of barre exposed. Moreover, I need to do a lot more stability work in multiple planes; I’m particularly weak when it comes to moving laterally.

Those intrepid souls who dare to try barre can also enjoy the following benefits:

  • Alarmingly strong core
  • Better posture
  • More stable joints (which, if you’re a big muscle man like me, can lead to gains in the big core lifts)
  • Increased dynamic flexibility

All in a low-impact, high-energy fitness class structure.

 

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