Raising the Barre

As ballerinas float across the stage, they perform jumps, spins and other acts that seem effortless for people of such tiny stature. Their thin, lean legs carry them high into the air, mixing acrobatics and gymnastics with grace and balance. These physical feats require immense strength, but you don’t see the muscle, you see the moves.

That’s the idea of barre, a growing trend in the exercise scene that focuses on strengthening and lengthening muscles to create a long, lean physique.

“It’s loosely related to ballet moves, but more of a fitness approach,” explains Emily Johnson, the owner of all three local Pure Barre locations and a former Ohio State cheerleader. “If you were a ballerina you would recognize some of the positioning, but it’s for everyone.”

There’s no need to have a background in dance or choreography to understand executing the moves; there is no bouncing or jumping, and it’s very low-impact so it’s easy on the joints.

“You won’t see very much movement, which is the weirdest part about it. It’s very small movements,” Johnson continues. “We try to hit and find the point where it’s going to be most effective.”

That is probably why it’s growing in popularity. The small, isometric movements target many trouble areas for women; thighs, seat, back of arms and abs. Many people see changes in only 10 classes when it’s used as a strength-training component of a good exercise regimen.

“We do get the heart rate up though; you’ll get a little bit of that because we are fatiguing the muscles, so it is tiring in that sense, but it’s definitely more to strengthen and lengthen the muscles back out, more to tone up rather than bulk up,” Johnson says. “We only use very light hand-weights for upper body, the rest is your own body weight.”

As the trend continues to gain momentum, there are different variations from which to choose.

“We use a method called Xtend Barre; to be an extend barre instructor you have to be a Pilates instructor first,” explains Mary Willis, co-owner of Body Pure Pilates. “The movements are a lot [larger], so we not only do small, controlled, very precise movements … but we also go out into bigger global movements, which is what gets your heart rate up a lot.”

There are only three studios in Columbus that teach Xtend Barre, which uses an Xtend stick for additional resistance, as well as a Pilates-type practice.

“Ballerinas work very hard at their core, and work very hard at their posture, and their balance, and they work very hard at the muscular [development] of the lower body,” says Willis. The Pilates instructor’s knowledge of anatomy and correction helps to ensure these principles are retained during the movements in class.

If you don’t like your first barre experience, be aware that each studio may have its own spin.

“I would encourage people to try a few different ones. Just because you did one doesn’t mean it’s going to be exactly the same as the next one, because they are different,” says Lisa Hunsaker of Turning Pointe Fitness, which also practices Xtend Barre. “The format might be like, ‘Oh yeah, we use the same props,’ but the intent of the classes are different than others. I know some are yoga infused; some have other concepts in it.”

While these classes aren’t meant to turn someone into the next prima ballerina of Swan Lake, they can create that beautiful, sleek look without all the dance moves and complicated choreography. Though you might feel good enough to pirouette anyway.