When it comes to low-impact workouts, you’ve probably heard of Pilates and yoga, but Barre workouts have been trending recently — and for good reason. Barre is a full-body workout that combines strength training, flexibility, and core workouts to sculpt strong, lean muscles using just your body weight.
Founded by a ballet dancer, barre takes elements of dance training, yoga, and physiotherapy. The workouts focus on repetitive micro-movements, pulses, and isometric holds to work the muscles hard.
Not sure where to start? I swapped my daily Pilates workout for a 20-minute barre class to find out more. Would I be converted? Read on to find out.
As a reminder, what works for me might not be right for you and your body. While barre is low-impact, making it suitable for most individuals, if you’re recovering from a particular injury, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor or a qualified fitness professional before taking a class.
What is the workout?
The workout, created by barre instructor Action Jacquelyn, is 20 minutes long, and doesn’t require any additional equipment. You’ll do each exercise for 50 seconds, followed by a 10-second break, and you can follow along with the workout live on YouTube. Alternatively, if you like to know what to expect, here’s a few exercises that’ll pop up:
Plank pike walks: For this exercise, start in a low plank position, with your body weight on your elbows. Your elbows should be stacked underneath your shoulders, your core should be engaged, and there should be a straight line down your back. Keeping your upper body still, walk your legs in towards your elbows, until you make a pike position, with straight legs, and your glutes raised to the ceiling. Without letting your hips drop, walk your legs back out to a plank position.
Inner thigh pulses: This one really targets your inner-thigh muscles. Lying on your side, with your bodyweight resting on your elbow, bend your top leg, and press your foot into the floor, and extend your bottom leg out away from your body. Flex your foot, engage your abs and glutes, and raise your leg a few inches off the ground. From here, pulse up and down, keeping your foot flexed and your leg engaged — don’t let your leg drop back down to the mat. Work on keeping your hips still in this move, they shouldn’t be rocking back and forth.
Plie heel lifts: Based on the ballet exercise, start by getting into a plie position, with your feet wider than hip-width apart, your toes pointing out away from your body, and your knees bent. Engage your abs and hold this position, then slowly lift one heel up and off the floor, pause at the top, then slowly lower it down to the mat and repeat on the other side.
I tried this 20-minute barre workout — and was surprised by the results
As I mentioned, I often opt for Pilates classes over Barre, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this quick, 20-minute class. Sure, I was in my spare bedroom, not the beautiful beach setting of my instructor, but it worked my body hard. Here’s my results:
It helped me focus on moving with good posture
Similar to Pilates, which has a real focus on core strength, this Barre workout really helped me focus on my posture. Throughout the workout, I thought about moving like a ballerina, with a straight spine, and keeping my core engaged. As a runner, I tend to have pretty tight muscles, so spending time improving my flexibility and range of motion is important, and I found this much more enjoyable than a yoga class.
It isolated individual muscle groups more than Pilates
The way this barre class was set up was more like a strength training class — it started with abs, then moved into legs, and finished with a couple of arm exercises. This is deliberate — the whole aim of barre is to isolate and work on individual muscle groups, compared to Pilates, which focuses on the body as a whole. The class definitely raised my heart rate in a short period of time, and I could feel it in my legs. Sticking to its ballet routes, you'll often find more of a focus on the lower body in a barre class, whereas Pilates will generally focus on moving from your core.
I liked that I didn’t need any equipment
While some barre classes might add light weights or one of the best resistance bands to increase the intensity, most do the job using just your body weight. I was surprised at the little micro-shake I got during this class — a sign I was working my muscles.
Of course, if you’re looking to lose weight or develop muscle, you’ll probably want to pair your barre classes with weight training and cardio, as well as a good diet. Here's why you might not be seeing visible ab muscles, despite all of your workouts. My verdict? I really enjoyed this workout, and while I’ll probably stick to Pilates in the future, as I like the focus on my core strength, barre is definitely an excellent low-impact way to mix up my recovery days.
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Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.