The man with the most gold medals in the world tries his hand—or, more accurately, thighs—at barre. Here's why you should too.
The most decorated Olympian in history took a barre class yesterday. Yup. That's right. Michael Phelps joined his fiancée Nicole Johnson for some quad-trembling goodness at Barre3 in Arizona. Johnson noted in her caption that she enjoyed watching Phelps get through the class—and as any barre first-timer knows, if you've never done it before it can be crazy hard, no matter how fit you are. But despite any muscle-quivering he endured in the class, Phelps looked pretty happy.
Barre is known for its tiny isometric and repetitive movements. For someone who is used to doing a more dynamic exercise like swimming or running, it's definitely an adjustment. While plenty of people use barre classes to stay in shape, it made us wonder: Are barre classes a good complement for intense physical training? We chatted with Shalisa Pouw, Senior Master Teacher Trainer at Pure Barre to find out. (See also: The Best and Worst Barre Exercises.)
Pouw notes that barre is awesome for athletes of any kind for several reasons. First, the isometric and isotonic contractions featured in barre workouts "have been shown to work your slow-twitch muscle fibers, and those slow-twitch fibers help to increase stamina and improve endurance, which is great cross training for any athlete." She also says that "while a lot of sports and exercises target the larger muscle groups, barre classes help to target some of the muscle groups that are often dormant, helping to strengthen the structure of your body. Runners, for instance, do a repetitive motion that works their quads and hamstrings. By adding in barre classes to strengthen their hips, outer seat, and inner thighs, they are able to fire from more muscles as they run, helping to increase their speed and distance."
Barre classes also emphasize stretching immediately after each set of exercises, which you won't find in most other workout classes. "Flexibility is crucial for any athlete," says Pouw, "as it helps improve range of motion and prevent the risk of injury. For a lot of hardcore athletes, barre classes allow them to cross-train in a way that helps them build strength and flexibility at the same time." And if you've ever been to a class, you know you can't forget the core. "Barre classes are loaded with core work, which helps athletes with stability, balance, and overall strength," she says.
While Pouw recommends taking a barre class to get the full experience and ensure proper form, here are her recommendations for complementing your training alone at home:
Start by lying on your back and extending your legs out to a 45-degree angle with your low back pressed to the floor. Curl your chin to your chest and reach your arms by your sides with your palms facing down. Begin pumping your arms up and down (like you are slapping water) and start your breath. Inhale for 4 pumps and exhale for 4 pumps, glancing down to try to keep your navel pulled in. Repeat for 10 slow breaths.
2. Straight-Arm Plank Position
Come to a high plank and take your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Pull your abs in to flatten your back and soften your elbows. Pick up your right toes and pull your knee across your body toward your left shoulder and then reach it out toward your right shoulder. Alternate pulling the knee from shoulder to shoulder 10 times. Then repeat with the left knee. Repeat for 3 sets per leg.
3. Triceps Extension
To do this exercise (which is ideal for swimmers) stand with your feet hip-width apart and parallel. Slightly hinge the upper body forward to a 45-degree angle, keeping your back flat. Bend your elbows by your sides and extend both arms straight to their highest point. Start with 15 to 20 tiny lifts of the arms and then move to 15 to 20 tiny squeezes in toward the midline. Work for your straightest, highest arms. Repeat for 3 sets.
4. Inner Thigh and Outer Seat Work
Start by holding on to the back of a chair for support. Walk your feet out wider than your hips and turn your toes out slightly. Rise high on your tiptoes and bend your knees to sink your seat down toward knee level, keeping your shoulders stacked over your hips and knees over your ankles. Start by pressing your knees back slightly 10 to 15 times. Then hold the press and tuck your hips under, squeezing your glutes 10 to 15 times. Repeat series 3 times, without coming out of the position in between sets, and work for that shaking point. This exercise is awesome for runners.
5. Standing Outer Seat Work
Hold on to the back of a chair for support. Take your heels together and toes apart. Extend your right leg straight toward the back right diagonal and flex your foot with your toes slightly turned out. Soften your standing knee and tuck your hips under to engage your outer seat while keeping your upper body lifted. Start by tracing dime-size circles with your heel 20 times, and then reverse your circles for 20 reps. Hold the leg up and squeeze your outer seat to lift the leg 20 times. Point your right toe and repeat your circles and lifts without dropping the leg. Repeat full series on the left side.