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MOVE

Lose your belly at the barre

If you stay on top of fitness trends, you've likely heard of barre workouts, which are all the rage these days for women and men. It seems like there are new barre classes and studios popping up all over the Twin Cities metro area. Many women are drawn by the desire to achieve a dancer's physique and core. While many men are intrigued by pro athletes using ballet to work on strength and balance.

I've been practicing barre fitness now for about one year. But I'll be honest, I was intimidated by the thought of a fitness class built around ballet moves. I was never much of a dancer and my flexibility was somewhere between a tin man and a body builder. Once I finally got up the courage to try a class I quickly discovered that you don't need prior dance experience and classes are considered multi-level, appropriate for a variety of fitness levels and body sizes.

Barre fitness draws from the disciplines of ballet, Pilates, yoga and physical therapy. The barre is used for balance while doing exercises that focus on isometric strength training (holding your body still while you contract a specific set of muscles) combined with high reps of small controlled movements, or pulses. These pulses create warmed muscles that can be stretched and shaped for toning. Barre exercises mainly rely on one's own body weight for resistance and the moves challenge your core, stability and balance.

A typical barre class involves the ballet barre, some weights, a small stability ball and a mat to sculpt and tone every muscle in the body. While some barre workouts contain a cardio component, not all programs will elevate your heart rate or burn a ton of calories—they are more about muscle toning. Attention may be spent on shoulders, biceps, triceps, core, thighs, glutes and calves.

Classes usually last 60 minutes from warm up to cool down. Nobody wears tutus but I have seen ballet shoes. I choose to go barefoot. There are also special socks with grippy bottoms you can wear.

In a typical fitness class you might be used to hearing "crunch" and "hold" but in barre class you'll hear "pulse" and "elongate." Because barre is based on principles of dance, when you contract a muscle you will then always lengthen it or elongate. You'll plié instead of squat. You'll straighten and point your toe (which engages all the muscles running through your leg) instead of doing movements with a flexed foot. Some of these moves might seem completely foreign to you. Like anything, it takes practice for your body to adjust. The class instructor is there to help you adjust and find the right body position.

There are many benefits to barre fitness including improved posture, muscle definition, weight loss, reduced stress and increased flexibility. Barre workouts can also increase agility and coordination; improve mental focus, mood and overall health. It is also a great exercise for those recovering from prior injuries since it puts minimal stress on the joints, ligaments and tendons.

It took only one barre workout for me to become hooked. I love it because of the variety it adds to my workout routines, keeping me motivated. Each class leaves me feeling strong, flexible and coordinated. 

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