The best workouts are frenetic, music-pounding, grunt-worthy experiences that make you sweat and hurt and smell bad. Right?
Not necessarily, says Natalie Mandeville, co-owner of South Tampa Pilates and an instructor in the latest low-impact craze in the Tampa Bay area.
Spend an hour gracefully stretching and aligning and strengthening muscle groups the way ballet dancers do, and you will know the calorie-burning power of the “barre” workout.
“It’s very subtle. You don’t expect it,” she says. “It just sneaks up on you.”
Rooted in the style of fitness-fads-turned-stalwarts like Pilates, this workout named for the classic ballet handrail continues to build a presence in the Tampa Bay area.
Quietly offered locally for three years, barre is raising its profile from St. Petersburg to New Tampa with catchy-named programs like Bar Method, Barre Fitness, Pure Barre or Xtend Barre.
All of them follow the same premise, and use the ballet barre and a few add-ons, such as resistance bands or hand weights. An hour-long workout blends a rotation of stretches and isolated muscle group strengthening exercises to an upbeat music soundtrack. Calisthenics like situps and pushups also can be thrown into the mix, but with a pace and grace you’re used to seeing in a classic dance studio.
“You get the feeling you are being graceful but at the same time you don’t,” says Jeanette DePuy, owner and instructor of The Bar Method, which opened its own storefront a few months ago near Tampa’s International Plaza.
Only half of the 11 students in a recent class with DuPuy had previous dance experience. Even fewer had tried yoga or Pilates, the other two workouts most similar to barre.
Still, each one looked poised doing moves that include grueling, squats done standing on tiptoes. That is, if you looked only at their faces and not how their legs were shaking from the intense challenge to their thigh muscles.
“People sometimes get the wrong idea of how hard they are working out,” says DuPuy, who blends affirmations with drill-sergeant-like challenges to her students.
Avian Avena, 24, signed up for a class as she was recovering from a back injury. Though she danced as a kid, she most liked barre’s low-impact moves and focus on body alignment and core stabilization.
The American Council on Exercise says that’s exactly what barre does best. It is effective in enhancing muscular endurance and flexibility with movements that don’t beat up the joints. And the ballet and Pilates elements make otherwise dull stationary exercises entertaining, says Jessica Matthews, an ACE exercise physiologist.
Avena says while barre workouts push her physically, they also calm her mentally. That’s especially true after a long day in front of a computer, says the civil engineer.
“It gets me out of that element and relieves a lot of stress,” she says.
Women tend to populate most barre workouts, partly because of the feminine appeal of dance classes. The cost is comparable to many specialty workouts, anywhere from $20 a session to $100 or $150 for unlimited month-long access.
Mandeville says many barre students like that it burns calories – about 500 in an hour. By comparison, a sweaty spin class burns about 570 calories in the same amount of time.
The small, repetitive moves also don’t hurt as much when different body parts are worked on one at a time. (“You’re fatiguing muscle groups one at a time,” Mandeville says.)
Newbies may be a little intimidated by the first few classes, specifically by the positions and terms used to describe some of the moves, Mandeville says. And like yoga or dance classes, students need to be comfortable with an instructor adjusting arm, shoulder, leg or hip alignment.
DuPuy, who has been teaching barre for two years, says she feels it is actually less of a fad than an emerging classic, like ballet. While the workout is still new locally, it’s been established elsewhere for more than a decade.
“The principles of it make sense,” DuPuy says. “From the core, it is good for you, and it’s fun and it will always be challenging.”