The Beginner's Guide to Barre Class

Here's what you need to know before you hit the bar(re).

just the legs and feet of six women doing a barre fitness workout in front of a mirror
Photo: Getty Images/FatCamera

Looking to try a barre fitness class for the first time, but don't really know what you should expect? You're not alone.

Here's the basic 101 rundown: "Most barre-based classes use a combination of postures inspired by ballet and other disciplines like yoga and Pilates," says Sadie Lincoln, co-founder and CEO of barre3. "The barre is used as a prop to 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 range-of-motion movements," she explains. Also, don't be surprised if your barre fitness class incorporates light handheld weights to bring the heat during all those reps, as well as mats for targeted core work.

Ahead, more on the barre fitness trend, the benefits of the workout style, and what to actually expect before your first barre fitness class.

Why Are Barre Workouts So Trendy?

Wondering why these boutique studios and specialty classes are popping up all over the place? Lincoln, who opened her first studio in 2008, points to the trend toward community. "Many of us discovered during hard times that we craved smaller and more connected classes. We needed a place where we could balance our bodies and get prepared for our busy and stressful days," she says.

On the other hand, Tanya Becker, co-founder of Physique 57 and ACE-certified personal trainer, thinks the results are the reason for the craze (which is inspired by the retro fitness movement launched with the Lotte Berk Method). "Women see results quickly with barre class: It's a one-stop shop that includes all the essentials of a well-rounded exercise program, plus it's perfect for women who are short on time. That's a workout women will always need!" she notes. (If you want to try a barre fitness class at home before heading to a studio, here's a full body barre workout for you to try.)

The Benefits of Barre Workouts

If you're still sitting slumped in your chair reading this instead of working on perfecting your plié, here's another reason to get moving: Major benefits of barre class are improved posture, muscle definition, weight loss, increased flexibility, and reduced stress, according to Lincoln. (See also: 5 Benefits of Barre That Will Keep You Coming Back for More)

Plus, exercisers at just about any fitness level can sign up for a barre fitness class: Barre is perfectly fine for pregnant people because it's not high impact, note both Lincoln and Becker. Plus, the workout and specific movements are easily modifiable. They may even help with imbalance — a common issue during pregnancy due to that growing belly — and stability. (These are the best and worst exercises to do during a third trimester workout.)

What to Expect from a Barre Fitness Class

While the experience will differ from studio to studio, the typical class (such as a Physique 57 beginner session) will take you through a dynamic and invigorating workout, says Becker. You'll start with a warm-up and a sequence of upper-body exercises, which include free weights, push-ups, planks and other moves to target the biceps, triceps, chest, and back muscles.

Next, you'll use the ballet barre and your own body weight for resistance to focus on the thigh and glute muscles. Your core will be engaged the entire class and then targeted at the end — trust, you'll feel it the next day.

For the cool down, you'll go through a series of stretches to increase flexibility and allow your muscles to recover. Most classes are 60 minutes, and some studios (including most barre3 locations) may even offer childcare during class, says Lincoln.

What to Wear to Barre Class

When choosing your workout attire, think yoga wear, suggests Lincoln. Leggings, a sports bra, and a tank will do the trick. As for footwear, you won't need it! Go barefoot or do the class in grippy socks to prevent slipping. (Want to know where to find the best workout clothes? Right this way.)

How a Barre Workout Stacks Up Against Cardio

One of the best parts about barre fitness classes is that they combine strength training and cardio, so you're burning fat and building muscle at the same time, notes Becker. "Our technique focuses on strengthening the muscles, and muscle tissue burns 15 times as many calories as fat. The stronger you get, the more calories you'll burn 'round the clock," she adds.

But it's not all about the competition: Barre is actually one of the best complements to running and other high-impact activities. Time to pump up those pliés! (Up next: Your Comprehensive Guide to Barre)

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