Monday, July 27, 2015

Barre So Hard

As I mentioned in the last post, I'm back to teaching barre at Urban Yoga, the place where barre began for me back in 2012. I'm just subbing for now, but I've been subbing a LOT, 3-4x per week since the end of June. I'm hoping for a permanent spot on the schedule when fall rolls around, but until then I'll just keep popping in randomly on nights and weekends when the other teachers can't make it.

I need this

To support this second career of mine, I've purchased a few new pieces of workout clothing. After observing my full leggings drawer I decided I was done expanding my wardrobe, but then I went to hot yoga Saturday morning (omg do NOT do that when it's 102 degrees outside and you haven't been in months; I didn't cool down until Sunday afternoon) and found this amazing pair of pants, in my size, on clearance and knew they had to be mine. After making them my focus object for the whole 80 minutes of class, I bought them while dripping sweat in the front lobby.

Aren't they beautiful?

I wore them to teach on Sunday. But now I'm seriously done. Barre teaching is only barely profitable once you start using that 15% Lululemon discount and keep downloading new songs to jazz up your class playlists. Speaking of, I have two new favorites- they're slow and smooth and make my counting slower in class, providing a beautiful background to the curse words people are muttering at me under their breath. I love them: "Be Together" by Major Lazer feat. Wild Belle and "Showstopper" by Brandon & Leah. Soooo good.

Lately I've been getting lots of questions about barre class from friends and blog readers. So while I've addressed some of them directly, I thought I'd have a brief FAQ session here for some of the most repeated inquiries.

(1) What is Barre?

Barre, pronounced "bar," is many things and can vary quite a bit between studios. Put simply it's a combination of pilates, cardio, strength training, ballet-inspired isometric moves, and stretching, incorporating light hand weights, floor work, and a ballet barre. It's low impact- there isn't a lot of jumping or any running or jarring movements, but it's highly effective. You tone muscles you never knew you had (plus all the ones you did) and stretch them out as you go, creating long lean muscles you start to see in just a few weeks. Your heart rate does get up (at least in my class, though I add some cardio in the warm-up to make that happen), my legs still shake just about every class, and you're probably going to sweat, but it's all calm and controlled (form is everything) and set to music.

I absolutely love it. I've always enjoyed group classes and I love that I get to feel dance-y while following very specific instruction. I tried Nia once and it was so stressful for me to just have free form movement on the floor with lots of other people around me that I still feel my heart rate rise anytime I think about it. I'm a lawyer. I like rules. I also love music and ballet movies and getting really toned legs.

my set list

(2) Is it for me?

Yes! If you're interested, barre is for everyone! So far, just in the 40 or so classes that I've taught, I've had students as young as 18 and as old as 70. I've had women who were 8 months pregnant those dealing with a variety of injuries. I've had former ballerinas who rock it and people who are brand new to working out and need to take frequent breaks. Sometimes a brand new person has great body awareness and never needs a single adjustment and sometimes a person who comes every week still needs me to pull up a hip or tap their back to remind them to tuck just about every class. All of these things are totally normal in any random class and everyone else is too focused on their own leg shaking to care that you keep putting yours down or that you can't get your leg off the ground in pretzel. Just give it a try, you'll be coached during every movement along the way and you'll feel so good when you're done!

(3) What does it do for you? When will I see results?

This also varies among studios and teachers. All of them will strengthen and lengthen your muscles. One of my favorite things about barre is that you stretch each muscle group right after you work it, so your muscles are still warm and you have no excuse not to do the stretching (I was terrible about skipping stretching when it was at the end of a class). The music is still going, the teacher is still talking, it's an important integrated part of the workout. I noticed my flexibility increasing in two weeks. I found my triceps within the first month. When I started going again 6 weeks after I had Cora, I was 5 lbs. below my pre-baby weight when I went back to work 6 more weeks later. Plenty of that is diet and metabolism of course, but barre was my only form of exercise and I went 5x a week. And more important, I loved that it made me feel strong even while I was still finding myself in my body again. And feeling strong made me eat better and make other good choices too, even when my skinny jeans felt far away.

Which is an unwieldy way of saying, it's an effective workout. My thighs each lost 2 inches in circumference, my hips lost another 2.5. I dropped a jeans size and I'm much stronger than I was before. Classes vary in their intensity and if you're embarking on a full fitness routine, you may need to mix in some cardio like running, spinning, or interval training, but barre is a workout and a great one at that.

best hamstring move in the whole world

(4) What should I bring/wear to my first class?

Again, it varies, of course. At my studio we have a wood floor, so we use yoga mats for the warm-up, abs, cool-down, and any other floor work. Many studios work this way, though some provide mats for you (we always have extras you can use), and others have carpeted floors that don't use mats at all. We exercise barefoot, but some studios require socks. So if you're starting at a new place, check their website to see if they tell you what to bring and don't be worried if you show up and are the only person with a mat or without socks. I'm a pretty experienced bar goer and if I went to a new studio I'd be in the same position. No one thinks anything of it.

For clothing, form-fitting items are best because it really helps the instructor to see and correct your form. A huge part of barre is keeping your pelvis tucked so you back is straight and your booty isn't sticking out giving you a curve in your lower spine and putting stress on your lower back. I can usually tell, but I can tell better if you aren't in an oversized t-shirt. That said, wear what makes you feel comfortable. Most women will be in capris or leggings (I prefer leggings myself) and workout tops (I love a light support built-in bra workout tank), but I've seen everything from tennis skirts to running shorts to form-fitted jersey pants.

(5) What else should I expect?

Lots of instruction, an emphasis on form, and lots of repetition of small movements with big movements mixed in between. You'll warm up, and then usually move to arms and upper body work (generally with light weights; don't let those 1-pounders fool you, I get everyone in my class to reach failure and put them down at some point), and then legwork at the barre, and then back to the mat for abs and cool-down. Other studios mix up the order, but you'll get direction all along the way.

Your legs will probably shake. Your standing leg is going to hurt as much as the one moving. Stretching is going to feel so good it's going to hurt. If you feel pain, stop whatever you're doing and talk to the instructor. You should be getting close to your edge (i.e., I can't do this lift one more time because my leg is no longer accepting signals from my brain), but you should not actually hurt. Listen to where your instructor says you should be feeling a movement, if you aren't feeling it in that spot you're risking injury and/or probably doing it in a way that makes it easier. I can't tell you how many times I've tapped someone's knee up or down to get it into position and the person exclaims "OH!!". I love that moment.

You'll learn some ballet terms. Again, it depends on the instructor, but I cue the foot and arm positions using 1st, 2nd, 5th, etc. You'll also hear passe, releve, arabesque, tendu, plie, and others. Just follow the instructor, you'll be able to learn them quickly.

(6) Can I do it at home?

Yes and no. I really highly recommend you go to a class or two to get some of the basic form down before doing it yourself at home. It's little movements, but you can hurt yourself if you do something incorrectly over and over again. But if you don't have a class near you, I do have some barre videos I've recommended in the past. I haven't updated my stock in a long time, but any of the instructors on that list have a bunch of options and all would be great. You don't get the advantage of the barre to really isolate certain muscle groups or do certain classic moves (chair, some of the hip work, etc.), but they're great workouts and it's certainly cheaper and easier to do it at home.

One move I used to do standing at the kitchen counter when I first started going to class (because it made my legs feel so good) is a great little look into how barre works. Stand with your feet together, inseam touching, shoulders down, chest proud, back straight, pelvis tucked in. One straight line. Lift your heels up and down, keeping your weight spread evenly across the balls of your feet, sending your head up towards the ceiling and straight back down. Pop up and down a few times (or 100), never letting your heels touch the floor.

Then, with your feet up in releve (so your heels up; weight on the balls of your feet), sink your hips down, sending your knees out front, while your back stays perfect straight: shoulders over hips over heels. Pulse here lots of times. Hold low for 8. Pulse up and down again 16 times. The set continues, but by know your legs are probably shaking and you can feel your quads getting stronger. Then you stretch them, then you do more.

I freaking love it.

Let me know if you have any other questions. Barre has seriously changed my life. That would have been true for whatever fitness routine I fell in love with, but barre is the one for me. It's brought me yoga, vastly increased flexibility, a smaller, stronger body, and better sleeping.

It's also brought me great music. Keeping an ear out for songs to play in class has been so fun. Here's the playlist for the class I taught on Sunday, with my very favorite songs of the moment in bold:

Sunday's Playlist (80 minute class)

I Don't Like It, I Love It - Flo Rida
King - Years & Years
Somebody Loves You - Betty Who
Unwritten - Natasha Bedingfield

Budapest - George Ezra
Ex's & Oh's - Elle King
Bulletproof - La Roux

Geranimo - Sheppard

Showstopper - Brandon & Leah
Back Home - Andy Grammer
Worth It - Fifth Harmony
Hold My Hand - Jess Glynne
Canned Heat - Jamiroquai
Be Together (feat. Wild Belle) - Major Lazer
Ain't It Fun - Paramore
Talking Body - Tove Lo

Abs (I love all of these)
Four Five Seconds - Rachel Potter
Fight Song - Rachel Platten
I Bet My Life - Imagine Dragons
Peace - O.A.R.

Cool Down
Photograph - Ed Sheeran
Middle Ground - Mark Wilkinson
Magic - Coldplay
Wild Horses - Natasha Bedingfield

Most of these are great for running too. Let me know if you have any other favorites!


  1. LL, I never would've imagined you teaching others how to releve - I love it!! You even inspired me to start doing some barre in Austin. I have a subscription to online videos since that studio's classes are very popular.

    One of my favorite running/workout songs is one you'll appreciate... No Doubt's "End it on This" from the Tragic Kingdom album. Its got a great tempo that you can do slower counts and still feel motivated...could be the perfect ending for your last set before cool down.

    PS - you should look into a Spotify subscription. $10/month and you can make playlists from pretty much any song in the universe (except for TSwift) and you can make them available offline if you dont have wifi in the studio. Might give you more $$ for Lululemon wardrobe.
    Love, Megel

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  3. (whoops accidentally deleted my comment.) fantastic! i love how much you love barre. i also love those yoga pants! what brand are they? i hope i get to be in one of your barre classes one of these days :)

  4. THANK YOU. I may be brave enough to try it now!