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Fitness

Why I Finally Bellyed Up to the Barre

Balance. Strength. Flexibility.

The ‘big 3’. Research now shows they are even more important as we age.  This is evidenced in, regardless of your fitness level, if you’ve turned the magical age of 65, your doctor’s first question to you will be “Have you fallen recently?”  That question is now required by law!

When asked that, I was taken aback, needless to say.

So, deciding to respond to the next doctor with an incredulous and resounding “NO!”, I thought I would up my game with a totally new type of class to cross train. Besides, adding something totally new to my already varied fitness routine would be especially good for my body and brain.

Hearing how great the barre workout is for balance and toning, as well as watching the bodies of several barre enthusiast friends change before my eyes, I signed up for a new challenge at a local barre fitness studio, Barre 3.

From the description of the class on its website, it absolutely checked all the boxes of balance, strength and flexibility, as well as a bonus, cardio! I then decided to jump in with a two-week introductory offer.

barre fitness class

My First Barre Fitness Class

As I entered the BARRE 3 studio, I walked through a sea of women half my age. Distracting me from wondering why I was one of the two oldest in the studio,

An outgoing instructor greeted me. I was able to let her know I was a barre novice. She then inquired of any physical challenges I may be currently experiencing. As we shared info, I learned she was a former ballet dancer.  Hmm…a barre fitness workout, of course she was! I should have expected that, but, for this 5’1 short-legged, end of the high school drill team line, I was a tad psyched out. I got it back together as I gathered the needed equipment: sliders for my feet, hand weights, medicine ball, stretchy bands and my declared spot at the mirror and barre.

With deep breaths and some stretches, I relaxed into the slow pulse of the instrumental background music. I felt ready to go…

What is Barre Fitness?

Having its finger on the pulse of the hottest trends for women, Cosmo bottom lines it: “Barre fitness is a hybrid workout class – combining ballet-inspired moves with elements of Pilates, dance, yoga and strength training. Most classes incorporate a ballet barre and use classic dance moves such as plies, alongside static stretches.”

But, my surprise, don’t let the term ‘dance’ fool you. If you’re used to the HIIT or cardio paced dance-inspired workouts such as Zumba involving movement and combinations with variations of high and/or low impact steps changing every 4 to 8 counts with an intro, verse or chorus, think again. Read more here for the best HIIT workouts for women over 50.

In barre, the term ‘dance’ refers to a classical dance position such as the plie, squat, or lunge. And, barre is totally low impact. Class begins by perfecting your body form, and as the class progresses, these positions become a ‘flow’, repetitive movements while adding variations.

Barre Fitness Focuses on Repetition

The repetition requires deliberate focus, balance, and strength.

It’s that repetitive isometric movement that goes deep into muscle tissue to strengthen, tighten and tone. Repetition also allows your mind to focus on form which is a must to prevent injury. The instructor gives modifications for all positions as a physical therapist would do if you were rehabbing an injury. With time to focus on breath and total body awareness, these contracted, repetitive movements result in a strengthened core and strong toned glutes, legs and arms.

Back to class…as Dana comes beside me to ask if it’s working and assess how I’m coming along during one of the seemingly endless plie toe lift series, all I can mutter is “deep”.  And she smiles approvingly.

And, deep it was! I was squeezing tissue in the higher area of my glutes (gluteus minimus) that I don’t usually feel from squats and leg presses at the gym. Yes, it was working!

Proper Technique in Barre Fitness Exercises

Once you have a position, say as I was in a plie, I was focusing on a feeling of length and a strong stable core, sinking deep into the back of my heels, squeezing deep into my glutes, all phrases you will be instructed to do throughout class. Yes, that is always proper body positioning in any class, but barre gives you time to perfect it.  And, my favorite part? Any movement actually standing at the barre.

barre fitness class

Listen to Your Body

Please know it’s okay to stop a movement and stretch out or move as your body tells you. As I looked around the room, I watched as ladies took a rest then joined when ready. Stamina and strength will come with time.

Whether holding weights in a squat, squeezing a ball between my thighs at the barre, or doing pulses with the stretch bands around my thighs, you can look forward to the elongated stretches and yoga inspired cool down that is definitely worth the work you just put in.

As I blissfully melted into the mat, eyes closed, I was relieved and proud! I could already feel how this hour would serve me well.

Looking back at that first class, quite honestly, I didn’t know if this was a workout I would love to hate or hate to love from the new type of in-depth soreness I experienced. But, walking out of the studio I was definitely more body-aware.

I do believe with age, we can do whatever we want to do with caveats:  more rest and more modifications. So, I’m listening to my body and mixing in barre only 1-2 sessions a week. An Epson salt soak after class and a monthly massage are absolute musts.

My intro weeks now over, I feel inspired.

Yes, I joined.

That yearly doctor check-up, not to mention swimsuit season, is well on the way.

ALWAYS CHECK WITH DOCTOR OR HEALTH PRACTITIONER TO BE SURE A WORKOUT IS RIGHT FOR YOU.

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