Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Shake Happens

I have to admit, the first time I stepped into the Pure Barre studio, I was skeptical.

I took one look at the shelves of three and two pound weights and snorted contemptuously.
Weights, ball, tube. That's all you need.
Because, ya’ know, I’m a superior athlete, a beast in the gym and all that. This just isn’t going to be challenging enough, I scoffed.
No way.


By the end of the class, my muscles were quivering and I was a puddle of sweat. And the next day, I cursed that smiling instructor every time I walked up the stairs or sat down or stood up or just basically tried to move.

Fast forward a few months and, although the class hasn’t gotten easier, I’m hooked.

Here’s why I love barre.

In an inch, out an inch.
These are tiny, tiny moves and contractions. The teacher gives  a series of precise instructions that move your body into the perfect form to isolate the muscle you’re working on. Like this:
Stand facing the barre.
Left foot back, quartet bend in the leg, foot flexed.
Lift your leg up an inch, down an inch.

So, it starts out innocently enough. But intensity increases because of a layered effect where each exercise builds on the one before it. You’re goal is to work the muscle to fatigue and make it shake. And it does.

It’s personal.
The instructor demonstrates the exercise but after the first few repetitions, she walks around the class, observing and correcting form or offering encouragement. And they know customers by name.
Instructor Sydney Chase demonstrates and coaches.

It gets better, not easier.
There’s a learning curve with the terminology and the precise movements take awhile to understand and master. Over time, you learn terms like “tuck” or what’s meant by the Pure Barre Ledge. You learn how to make the most of each exercise, how to tuck and plank at the same time or how to work deeper and  move effectively. Does it get easier? Not exactly. By the end of a series of challenging exercises, I’m inwardly screaming, “Where’s the final ten?!” But my strength and stamina have improved greatly since that first class.
Shake happens.

It’s head to toe.
By the end of each class, my body really hums because I’m quite sure I’ve worked every muscle. There’s satisfaction that comes with working that hard and not quitting. It’s a total body workout. Barre also helps improve flexibility and posture, two important aspects of fitness that I don’t think get near enough attention.

I’m all about that connection. I love the hypnotic effect of the music, the instructor’s voice, the sheer concentration and effort. I think my favorite part of class is the last two minutes when the lights are turned off and it's just the movement and the music. (Well, that and the fact that I only have two minutes until I can collapse on the mat!) Barre has a certain “yoga” feel to it that turns the workout into a meditation. Good for the brain and the spirit.

It doesn’t happen just at the end or the beginning. You do a series of exercises, followed by a stretch while your muscles are still warm.

It complements other workouts.
One woman in class told me she’s training for a half-marathon and barre workouts complement her training by improving strength and endurance in a low impact way.
I have occasional knee issues and barre helps strengthen the muscles around the knee that help prevent that pain. It’s also a great core workout.
And, by the way, the class isn't just for wanna-be ballerinas. It borrows some moves from ballet, as well as Pilates and yoga. No toes shoes required.

Have you tried barre classes? What do you think?