Step Up to the Barre

Five-Six-Seven-Eight, Plié

Photo: Jeremy Fokkens

Ever wanted a dancer’s body ­— ­a fit, slim and toned silhouette, but thought it was unobtainable? A barre class could get you on the road to your goals.

While every barre studio has its own style, generally barre classes incorporate dance, yoga and Pilates. They focus on small, isometric movements combined with stretches that lengthen and tone the muscles. These classes utilize equipment such as resistance bands, light weights, small exercise balls and yoga mats.

You go from one exercise to the next and add a few cardio blasts to keep your heart rate revving while you tone muscles you didn’t even know existed. Doing a barre workout at aerobic pace means you are constantly burning fat.

To achieve a longer, leaner and more toned look, here are my five favourite barre exercises that would be incorporated in most classes, or that you can do at home. All you need is something for support, such as a chair or kitchen counter.

1. Isometric Pliés

With heels together and off the ground, squeeze them in toward each other. Lower down for two counts, then lift half way up for two counts. Don’t straighten your legs until the end of the exercise. This will engage your legs, buttocks and core for the entire exercise. Repeat 8 times.

Dial it down:

  • Keep your heels on the floor.

Amp it up:

  • After the 8 pliés, repeat with 16 small up and down pulses.
Isometric Pliés
Photo: Nina Visnjic

2. Attitude Lifts

Start facing your barre with heels together and feet turned out. Lift one foot and place it behind the calf of the standing leg. Begin lifting your leg until you feel your seat tighten, then lower the leg and return to your starting position. Make sure your hips are aligned and square to the ground. Use your glutes, not your lower back, to lift your leg. Repeat 8 times then switch legs.

Dial it down:

  • Keep leg lifts close to the ground.

Amp it up:

  • After 8 attitude lifts, hold each leg at the top and add 16 small pulses.
Attitude Lifts
Photo: Nina Visnjic

3. Angle Push-up with a Leg Lift

Start facing your barre, standing on the balls of your feet. Angle your body by placing your hands down in front of you, shoulder-width apart. Lift one leg and keep it at that height for the entire exercise. Bend your arms and lower your body down for 2 counts keeping your elbows tight to your sides. Straighten your arms for 2 counts. Ensure your arms, glutes and core are engaged the entire time. Repeat 8 times then switch sides lifting the other leg.

Dial it down:

  • Eliminate leg lift and keep both feet on the ground.

Amp it up:

  • After the 8 angled push-ups repeat with 16 small arm pulses.
Angle Push-up with a Leg Lift
Photo: Nina Visnjic

4. Side Leg Lift

Your supporting leg is closest to the chair or kitchen counter and your foot is turned out at the hip. Your working leg is turned in with your foot pointing forward. Lift your leg to a 45-degree angle and then lower. Repeat 8 times and change sides.

Dial it down:

  • Only raise the leg as far as it will go. It’s OK if you can’t get it to a 45-degree angle.

Amp it up:

  • After the 8 leg lifts do 16 small pulses at the top without letting your leg touch the ground.
Side Leg Lift
Photo: Nina Visnjic

5. Cardio Blast

Begin in a lunge position with your supporting leg bent and closest to the barre. The supporting leg should remain stable throughout the exercise. Avoid bouncing up and down. Your other leg is straightened and behind you with your heel facing upward. Inhale and reach your outside arm in front of you. Then, on exhale, crunch your outside arm and outside knee into your body. Continue for 30 seconds and then switch sides.

Dial it down:

  • Lessen the depth in lunge position.

Amp it up:

  • Get lower on lunge.
Cardio Blast
Photo: Nina Visnjic

Where to Barre

Vancouver: Barre Fitness, Barre3, Bar Method, The Dailey Method

Calgary: Barre Body Studio, Union Fitness Collective, The Dailey Method, Ballet, Barre Works, The Sweat Lab, S2 Barre & Fitness Studio

Toronto: Barreworks, Barre Beautiful, Spynga