Exercise Review: Barre Class
by Dr. Chris Cherubino
I recently attended a Barre class with a friend. As an insatiably curious person, I like to experiment with different types of exercise as frequently as I can. This is doubly true when the experiment includes a popular sensation like Barre. Going into the class, I had some reservations—primarily with regards to marketing. According to a Barre website, A Barre workout can transform your body by targeting specific areas that women tend to struggle with the most: thighs, hips, seat, and arms.
This is the way exercise has been marketed to women for decades: as a fix for those “unsightly” areas that we should be ashamed of. Not only is this propagating systemic sexism, but it’s just not true—research has clearly shown that targeted exercise is not predictable or particularly effective in changing the shape of a particular area. All that in mind, let’s talk Barre.
Barre, but not Ballet
The friend I went to this class with happens to be a professional dancer. She knew that Barre was not going to be like a ballet class, but neither of us knew exactly how different it would be. Upon entering, the room was brightly lit—its grey carpet matched the paint color of the walls, three of which were covered in eight-foot-high mirrors, with barres half-way up. During the course of the class, we leaned on the barres, pushed up on them, and held on for dear life, but we did not use them in any way that could be considered balletic.
Before the class started, we were given some equipment, including two interlocking resistance tubes, a small rubber ball, and 2lb dumbbells. As an aside, the dumbbells made me laugh—they’re a bit lighter than what I’m used to…
As soon as the class started, the room transformed into a loud exercise space. The instructor wore a headset and shouted—albeit nicely—at the 20+ students in the attendance. We were instantly thrust into a variety of tiny, frantic movements punctuated by something the instructor called a “tuck.” What she meant is a posterior pelvic tilt. This movement engages the lower abdominal muscles and—under the right circumstances—can prevent injury to the lumbar spine. The tuck is considered the most basic movement of barre and the “secret” to six pack abs.
Six Pack Abs? I think not…
Let’s talk about six pack abs for a second. They are easily the most coveted of all muscle groups. I have to admit, I like it when I can see mine too. Notice what I said there? “When I can see mine.” That means I can’t see them all the time—did they go away? No! They’re hidden underneath a thin layer fat for much of the year.
When I see them is determined not by how many tucks or crunches or ab-specific exercises I do, but by diet. The leaner I get overall, the more abs I can count. Doing a million tucks might make your abs a bit sore when you laugh, but seeing them when you’re not doing anything is unlikely without some other major changes.
…which brings me to my next point: Major Changes – Beyond Barre Method Exercise
One of the biggest components of looking awesome—if that’s your goal—is developing the large muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, glutes, pecs, etc. These muscle groups not only allow us to perform functional movements with ease, but give our bodies structure. If cellulite is a concern of yours (as barre enthusiasts suggest it is) the best way to get rid of it is to build large muscles underneath. Cellulite is actually just normal fat. The reason it looks different is because of the way fat cells stack on top of each other in between connective tissue. When enough connective tissue is between fat cells, it will pull in on the skin, causing a puckering effect.
There are essentially two things that will reduce the look of this type of fat. Losing weight overall (just like with the abs) and building larger muscles underneath so that the fat has to spread over a larger area. With a larger structure of muscle, the fat cells won’t be as stacked and the connective tissue will be pulled tighter, giving the entire area a smoother appearance.
So how should you do this? By lifting weights! Heavy ones! The heavier the load, the more muscle fibers will be recruited in order to complete the task. Using a muscle until it is out of oxygen will force it to use anaerobic metabolism and lead to increased intrinsic strength, flexibility, and size.
Strong doesn’t look like anything. Healthy doesn’t look like anything. These are constructs that we’ve been fed in order to sell things—including exercise classes. Yes, we might feel better about ourselves at a particular weight or with a particular body shape, but I am stronger now with 15lbs of body fat hanging out on my hips than I was when I competed this spring. While Barre isn’t likely to actually hurt you, its message of small movements leading to big gains isn’t necessarily true. To be fair, moving—no matter how small—is always better than not moving. So if Barre is fun for you, do it! But realize that is isn’t necessarily going to live up to the hype. In exercise, there really are no shortcuts. If there was an easier way to get fit and stay that way everyone would be fit. It takes work. If you need help getting started, contact me at the center and I’ll point you in the right direction.
Dr. Chris Cherubino is a chiropractic physician on staff at Cherubino Health Center, which is located just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. She is an advocate for self-directed treatment plans that include patient oriented goals, measurable means of evaluation, and evidence based treatment protocols. If you like this review on barre class, be sure to subscribe to receive email updates of our latest blog posts. (Bottom or side of this page)