I’m at an age—perimenopausal—where it can seem like no amount of exercise makes a difference. Like you, I don’t have a lot of time. I need efficiency. So you can trust me when I tell you the punishing barre fitness classes that are all the rage right now actually work. In fact, barre fitness is my preferred exercise in my New York Times bestseller, The Hormone Reset Diet.
Barre 3, Physique 57, The Bar Method, Pure Barre, The Dailey Method, Barre Fusion, and Bar-bie Barre (ok, I made that one up!) are just a few of the many trademarked classes that offer a total body workout combining elements of ballet, pilates, and strength training in a single class. Grounded in kinesiology, the work of dancer Lotte Berk, and core alignment principles, most barre classes strive to offer a workout that combines ballet barre work, core conditioning, yoga, and weights designed to strengthen, tone, and lengthen the entire body to produce quick physical results and balance in the body. There’s a heavy focus on the legs, gluteals, and core. Be prepared to make tiny movements with tiny weights, repeated over and over. And over.
The butt (whoops, sorry, newbie mistake… “seat”) work will make you understand why some call barre the “Ass Class.” You will tuck until tuckered out.
My First Foray
When I first started at The Dailey Method in Piedmont, it felt a bit Stepford Wives. That is, I was surrounded by blindly conforming women who were subservient to the teacher and seemed zombie-like. Then I realized I was making excuses that would result in my kimono arms staying the same. So I dove in with both sticky feet, and rather loved it.
Fortunately, I found hysterically funny teachers (Susan Willrich, owner of Piedmont Dailey Method and co-owner of Berkeley Dailey Method). I found smart teachers who knew anatomy and the female body (Kerry Corcoran, co-owner of Berkeley Dailey Method). I discovered that I love the irreverent and diverse crowd who attends the Bar Method in Berkeley!
Why I Became a Believer
I’ve been a barre-ista for a while now. I love it. It’s burst training, or high-intensity interval training but using your own body for resistance and light weights, not huge medicine balls or tires. My arms are noticeably more awesome. (Note: there’s a weird puffy thing that happens in the area of your triceps after 40, and you want to prevent or reverse it as soon as possible). Some describe the thigh chiseling as miraculous, and I can’t quite say I’ve noticed miracles. There’s the promise, repeated often, of developing a “dancer’s dent.” Mine is curiously missing despite hours of dedicated practice. Perhaps it’s my endless daydreaming during class of why it feels so wickedly good, and why it’s uniquely good for the female form?
My posture, compromised by the last three years sitting at my computer and writing in praying mantis position, has been vastly improved. I’m taller, less inflamed, and my pelvic floor is happy.
The Travesties of the Aging Female Form
As an OB/GYN and a mother of two, I am board certified in everything that can go wrong with the female body. The decline of the butt muscles with age. The fallout after carrying a small basketball in your uterus for nine months. The core that never quite gets reclaimed. Barre method exercises address these travesties and more.
If you’re like me and have a well-developed inner saboteur that’s coming up with multiple reasons why you don’t need to try barre fitness, I get it. Make it easy. Download a video onto your laptop or iPad, and try it at home.
I appreciate seeing pregnant women in class, many of whom sport better arms than me. Many of the instructors know about things that can happen during pregnancy and can help prep or heal those particular muscles.
My favorite part of barre class is the heightened, precise focus. It reminds of me of Transcendental Meditation classes that I took in college. There’s so much attention paid to the corset of your abdominal muscles and whether to use a “neutral” or “tucked” position for the low back, that you can’t perform the usual multitasking. There’s no remaining bandwidth for grocery lists or schedule rumination. You focus so hard on your micro movements of the arms, or your plank pose, or reverse pushups, that you emerge, one hour later, as if you’ve been on a silent meditation retreat.
Important facts no one else might tell you:
- Take a girlfriend. You will need her as an accountability partner so that you go back after your first session, when your muscles are tight as hell. Even better, sign up together for the
new student, one-month unlimited with your girlfriend. Most affordable and you’re more likely to become part of the cult-like following.
- Everyone will be dressed head-to-toe in Lululemon. Buy a size that fits. You will be in funny positions and do not want your girlie parts exposed to the world. (Word to the Lycra: Check yourself before you moon everyone else. Or ask a trusted girlfriend for an honest evaluation.)
- Make sure the sticky socks you are wearing are from the studio where you are taking the class, not a competitor. Trust me on this. Barre classes are as competitive as The Hunger Games.
- Don’t look at your thighs during the marching warm-up. The mirrors lie. (This may be another rationalization, but my home mirror looks way different.)
- You want long, lean lines? As RuPaul says, you better work. Like a dancer. Barre workouts focus lifting and lengthening. If you want to be leaner, yes, you will need to follow my nutritional protocol so you lose body fat, but there is no doubt that barre class can help you get results. There may not be a unicorn at the end of that seat work, but you’ll see and feel what the fuss is all about.
- Try not to make eye contact during “Back Dancing.” Awkward. The rule is: stare at the ceiling.
- Surrender yet paradoxically pay attention to alignment. It’s all about the form. You will be placed in contorted positions that have more in common with a game of Twister than ballet.
Spoiler alert: My favorite part is the shaking leg muscles. Yes, you CAN always go lower! Want to hear more about why that’s good for you? Watch for part 2 of my barre fitness series. See you in class.