Michelle Welling

Beginner Barre Exercise Guide

Words by Gede Foster

barre exercises for core strength

The barre community is rapidly growing with over 50 barre studios in London alone. Its popularity has exploded since Lotte Berk first introduced it in 1959. People are quick to get addicted to barre as it appeals to all levels, it is a total body workout that gives you the burn and the fire without all the impact. It’s a form of exercise that works to naturally strengthen your core, posture, flexibility, body awareness that all amount to clients walking out feeling stronger, taller and with an air of grace about them.  

The barre community is rapidly growing with over 50 barre studios in London alone. Its popularity has exploded since Lotte Berk first introduced it in 1959. People are quick to get addicted to barre as it appeals to all levels, it is a total body workout that gives you the burn and the fire without all the impact. It’s a form of exercise that works to naturally strengthen your core, posture, flexibility, body awareness that all amount to clients walking out feeling stronger, taller and with an air of grace about them.  

WHAT IS BARRE?

Barre is a hybrid between ballet, pilates and yoga techniques. It focuses on improving posture and muscular endurance to target your smaller stabilising muscles as well as your larger global muscles. 

Commonly, barre uses small pieces of equipment from resistance bands, light weights, pilates balls, weighted balls, and small loop bands, but it can also be done without any equipment at all. 

Barre works at isolating certain muscle groups, working specifically with focus to alignment and core with a mixture of full range, pulsing and isometric holds. This is why an exercise can feel just fine until about half way through when the pulses start and the fire kicks in!

It is a music driven class and has you moving at all different tempos to some great tunes to work your muscles in different ways. 

Barre is a total body workout but typically has a heavy emphasis on the glutes and core. 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BARRE?

  • Improves posture
  • Strengthens stabilising muscles
  • Works muscular endurance
  • Low impact
  • Coordination

Barre is all about the alignment of every exercise making it great for improving or strengthening posture with all its core and glute work. Every barre class class has hundreds of isometric pulses and holds which really challenge the smaller stabilising muscles that don’t often get worked as much as they could in many other forms of exercise. 

The majority of classes are low impact and due to the length of controlled time you are in positions it is great for anyone with injuries as it has minimal impact to the joints and is very measurable due to its small refined movements. 

TYPICAL BARRE EXERCISES:

The following exercises are some of the most common series you will see in a barre class. They can vary using different pieces of equipment to change the focus slightly and to add variety but these are some of the moves you can expect when rocking up to the barre. 

ballet barre how to plie

1. Plies

    Start with your feet in a pilates ‘V’ which is about a pizza slice between your feet. Rise up on your tiptoes keeping your heels together. Throughout the different variations you do here in this position we keep the heels squeezing together. This is a technique drawn from classical pilates as it engages the entire midline connecting inner thighs - pelvic floor - core. From here, feel like your thigh muscles are wrapping around your thigh bones like a helter skelter while a puppet string is pulling you up tall from the crown of your head!..... Still with me? 

    Plie, brought from ballet form, means to bend. When you bend you want to keep the shoulders stacked on top of you hips, as if you back was up against a wall the whole time. The temptation is to ducktail your bum out, try to keep it in neutral, dropping straight to the floor. 

    How far should you bend? This is predominantly an exercise for your thighs. Bend about half way keeping most of the work in the belly of your thigh muscle. This minute you can feel too much too close to the knee, ease off and lift yourself a little higher, especially if you are in the pulsing section.

    Barre plank at home

    2. Ponche plank

      This is great for working on your flexibility as well as your core and shoulder strength. 

      From downward dog, inhale to float your right leg all the way as close to the ceiling as your body allows to feel a stretch in the hamstrings. At the same time, your chest is working back towards your thighs, shoulders are relaxed away from the ears. 

      Exhale, sweep your right knee to your right elbow as you transfer your weight forward to bring your shoulders over your wrists.

      You can repeat this by bringing the knee to the nose, to the opposite elbow before changing legs. 

      The key is to move slowly. Indulging in the stretch and then the scooping of the abs. 

      barre atitude pose with chair

      3. Atitude

        ‘We’re not talking how much swag you bring to the barre. ‘Attitude’ is a position in ballet, and in barre it has become the famous barre glute burner!

        The key is all in your setup for this one. 

        Use the back of a chair / sofa / kitchen side / window cill to hold onto. Depending on the height of it you may have hands or forearms resting lightly on it. 

        From there, hinge your hips back making sure you are about a body’s distance from your ‘barre’. Then further bend the knees to increase the hip hinge. 

        It is important to hug the abdominals to the spine providing support for your lower back in this prone position. 

        From there lift your right leg at a right angle, starting with your thigh bones together. You then lift your toe towards the ceiling without any arching in the back. In this parallel position you really target your glute max, you main butt cheek muscle. If you want to then add on your glute medius and minimus, start to turn your knee out to the side and back down to the floor. 

        Expect a range of variations here but one thing that might surprise you about this exercise is the fact the supporting glute is on fire more than the moving leg, don’t fret, this means you are doing it correctly!

        You see, if you remain in a hip hinge position the entire time, this means your left glute and pelvic stabilisers are constantly working the entire time while the leg you are moving is in and out of tension.

        barre exercises for core

        4. Scissors

          There is a wide variety of ab exercises that come up in barre but this one is one of the most common because it encompasses core strength and flexibility all in one. 

          To set up, imprint the spine, peel your shoulder blades off the floor keeping an apples distance under the chin to keep the length in the neck. Take hold of one leg as you lengthen it to the ceiling and reach the opposite leg away. What people tend to do here is focus on hugging and straining the top leg towards you. Instead, you want to think more about lengthening the lower leg away from you as much as possible as a dynamic stretch to the hamstrings. 

          Use a strong energetic breath, inhaling through the transition and a strong exhale and the end range. 

          If you live in a slightly tighter body the top leg can have a little bend in it until you have the flexibility to straighten it. 

          30 MINUTE BARRE TASTER

          Join me below for a 30 minute barre taster where I will coach you through all of the above exercises and lots more. This is an entry into your barre experience so today all you will need is yourself, a mat, and something to hold onto whether that be a chair / kitchen side / windowsill etc. 

          The barre community is rapidly growing with over 50 barre studios in London alone. Its popularity has exploded since Lotte Berk first introduced it in 1959. People are quick to get addicted to barre as it appeals to all levels, it is a total body workout that gives you the burn and the fire without all the impact. It’s a form of exercise that works to naturally strengthen your core, posture, flexibility, body awareness that all amount to clients walking out feeling stronger, taller and with an air of grace about them.  

          Music is very important to me as a barre teacher and I love to have tunes that will hopefully make you sing-a-long. To listen to what I am listening to in the video use this playlist.