What Is Barre Class, and Are Barre Workouts Effective?

It's Time to Take Your Workout to the Barre

barre workout plie squat
Getty Images/Christopher Futcher

Hollywood and television are rife with ballet-inspired entertainment. From Bunheads and Breaking Pointe to Flesh and Bone and So You Think You Can Dance?, it's no wonder everyone wants the long, lean lines of a "dancer's body." But are booming workouts like Bar Method, Barre3, and Pure Barre pure hype, or are barre workouts actually effective? 

The answer isn't necessarily as simple as "yes" or "no." It really comes down to your definition of "effective." While barre workouts are much more difficult than they might appear at a glance (what could possibly be so hard about standing at a barre and doing small, isolated movements, right?),  they're not necessarily a one-stop shop for all your fitness needs.

Before you spend all your money on a barre studio membership, consider what benefits the classes offer, and what they sometimes lack. 

What Is Barre Class? 

Barre workouts are intensely focused on improving core strength, developing the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder and hip girdles, and enhancing flexibility. This is done mostly by performing isometric exercises and small movements that "burn out" muscles at a specific joint angle within a given range of motion. The result is the "shaping" of common female trouble zones—tightening up the hips, glutes, thighs, and core—while improving posture, which can result in greater confidence and the appearance of a longer, leaner physique.

The truth is, barre workouts are hard. This is largely because they tend to target muscles in a way most people aren't used to. Rather than moving steadily through a full range of motion, as you would when performing a standard squat or lunge, you might squat down to a specific level, and hold the position, then begin moving just one inch up and down to further stress the muscles at that specific joint angle, then you might change your position very slightly and do it again.

This is incredibly difficult. Your legs will shake, you'll have a hard time steadying your breath, and internally you'll pray for the whole thing to be over.

And when class ends, you'll feel amazing.

That said, barre workouts aren't a solution for cardiovascular fitnes unless you find a specialized class that's designed to include cardiovascular work.

They also aren't heavy-lifting workouts. They can improve muscular endurance, and they can improve muscular strength to a point, but they aren't going to help you lift heavy weights or develop greater muscle mass. Depending on your goals, this could be a good or bad thing.

Are Barre Workouts Effective?

To answer the question of whether barre workouts are effective, you have to ask, yourself "effective for what?" They're certainly good for improving core strength, flexibility, and muscular endurance. They may help "lift" and "shape" trouble zones. And of course, if they're enjoyable enough to solidify your exercise habit and increase your total activity, then by all means, they're effective.

That said, barre workouts (in most cases) aren't designed to deliver a cardiovascular fitness component. They're also not designed to drastically improve muscular strength. And it's these two components of fitness—muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance—that contribute most effectively to weight loss and changes in body composition.

So, if your goal is to experience efficient and significant changes in body composition, barre classes may not be the fastest way to achieve results.

Of course, that's not to say results aren't possible.

If you're already fit and healthy, adding a barre workout to your routine can certainly help you tone up and improve your posture. Likewise, if you're relatively sedentary and you decide to start attending barre classes, you're likely to see changes in weight and tone largely due to your relative increase in exercise and strength training.

That said, there may be an upper limit to the initial changes you experience unless you actively seek out more strenuous classes that incorporate cardio and strength training into the routine.

Incorporating Barre Workouts for Maximum Results

Personally, I enjoy barre workouts and I see the value in them.

They force me to work in ways that are unusual for me, which means I see results in areas I don't see from my other routines—namely, improvements in balance, flexibility, posture, and core strength.

The trick is not to rely solely on barre routines. Instead, try seeking out a barre studio, like Dancers Shape in Austin, TX, that offers a variety of classes, including multiple levels of barre, athletic conditioning, yoga, and cardio-based classes. This way you can mix up your routine and balance out your workouts to effectively train for all areas of fitness, including cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. 

If you don't have a barre studio near you or your studio doesn't offer multiple class options, consider picking up a barre DVD or trying an online workout platform that offers barre classes. Do the barre routine once or twice a week, and spend the rest of your week focusing on other forms of exercise, like running, boxing, swimming, strength training, or cycling. This way, you'll enjoy the benefits of a barre workout without neglecting other areas of fitness.

If you do plan on trying barre routines at home, keep in mind that most barre routines use small pieces of equipment, so it's a good idea to have lightweight dumbbells (between 1 to 3 pounds), a mat, and a sturdy chair on hand. If you don't have weights available, try using water bottles or canned goods, instead.