This 6 move workout strengthens the core, builds muscle and helps to lower hormonal stress

barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre plié to curtsy lunge
Barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre plié to curtsy lunge (Image credit: Catie Miller)

We’ve tried Barre before, in fact we even tried doing barre workouts every day for a week, and loved that it can be done from the comfort of your own home and work muscles all over the body without the addition of any fancy equipment. Plus, Barre is a great way to challenge the core and improve your posture and flexibility. But what if we told you it’s also a great stress busting workout?

After all, exercise is so much more than the physical results. Yes, it feels good to know you’ve worked hard after a session and start to see your body change aesthetically. But, working out can also do wonders for our overall wellbeing, and be a real help when it comes to managing things like hormones.

We spoke to Catie Miller, the trainer and founder of the Barre Series, to find out what relationship exercise has with managing hormonal stress and how to use Barre to do just that while we work our muscles in a low impact and effective way.

What is hormonal stress?

Hormones are a bit of a taboo topic but something we all experience. According to Miller, hormonal stress refers to the physical and psychological responses triggered by the release of certain hormones in the body, particularly those associated with the body's stress response. 

“The primary hormones involved include cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine), and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). 

"These hormones are released by the adrenal glands in response to stressors, whether they are physical (e.g., injury, exercise) or psychological (e.g., anxiety, work pressure). The release of these hormones is part of the "fight-or-flight" response, preparing the body to deal with the perceived threat.

barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre tricep kickbacks

Barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre tricep kickbacks (Image credit: Catie Miller)

How can exercise help us manage hormonal stress?

Miller tells us that exercise is a powerful tool for managing hormonal stress for several reasons. 

First of all, regular physical activity helps lower baseline cortisol levels, which reduces overall stress. It stimulates the production of endorphins known to be  natural mood lifters, and enhances sleep quality, which is crucial for stress management and hormonal balance. 

Exercise also regulates other hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and insulin, contributing to a more balanced hormonal environment. 

“Regular exercise is linked to improved mental health, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, which are often associated with stress,” adds Miller.

What is the barre workout? 

Miller has pieced together six exercises in total, each of which she will walk you through below so you can rest assured you learn the correct form for each move and get the most out of this workout.

“When you start out,” says Miller, “I would suggest using a steady surface, such as a chair, a wall, or a breakfast bar, to help keep you balanced. When you’re ready, all these exercises can also be performed freestanding, although this will require more core strength and good balance.”

You will notice in the images below that Miller uses some light dumbbells in her exercise. This isn't compulsory but if you fancy an extra challenge feel free to add in a pair of dumbbells in the one to three pound weight range.

High Knees / Up to 2 sets of 8 reps

barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre high knees

(Image credit: Catie Miller)
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms reached out in front of your shoulders in the first position.
  2. Brush your right leg out in front of you, bringing your thigh and knee towards your chest.
  3. Keeping your back straight and arms strong, continue this movement, alternating leg lifts with a steady rhythm and pace.
  4. Advancement: Work through the same exercise series with added weights (0.5–1 kg weights are great).
  5. Cardio challenge: Add a light jog, bringing your knees up towards your chest as you run on the spot. Swing your arms in opposition, ensuring they are placed with purpose.

Plié to Curtsy Lunge / 8–16 reps on each side

barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre plié to curtsy lunge

(Image credit: Catie Miller)
  1. Stand with your legs open to a wide second position. Make sure your feet are naturally turned out and your arms are stretched out to the side from your shoulders. 
  2. Cross your foot behind, keeping it turned out, bend both knees in each position and bring your arms to first. The working leg is moving as the supporting leg is anchored into the floor. Ensure your arms are moving from second to first as you transition into the movements.
  3. Advancement: Continue for another 8–16 reps. Deepen your curtsy, hinge forward, reaching one arm long towards the floor as the other arm reaches in opposition above your head.
  4. Cardio challenge: To finish, take your curtsy straight to a passé (toe to knee), adding a hop at the top before you place it back down into curtsy. Feel and embrace the hamstring and quadriceps burn!
  5. Tip: Keep a proud chest, square shoulders and hips, and even weight on both feet.

Second Position Plié / 2 sets of 8 on each side

barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre second position plié

(Image credit: Catie Miller)
  1. Standing centre or side-on to your chair, open your feet wider than your hips to second position with your arms stretched out to the side from your shoulders.
  2. Plié all the way down into second position, pressing through your feet and ensuring your knees are laterally rotated out from the hip.
  3. During the plié, focus on lifting your abdominals in and up. As you stretch your legs, press through your feet, squeezing the backs of your legs (glutes and hamstrings) as you return to your starting position.
  4. Advancement: Add a relevé (this is a classical ballet term that means ‘raised’: it describes the action when a dancer rises up and stands on their toes) at the top of the move to create instability and test your core.
  5. Cardio challenge! Continue with the plié to relevé series, adding a jump at the top and softly landing through your feet into a deep plié.
  6. Extra challenge: Try all three levels back to back to increase your heart rate. Try slowing it down or picking up the tempo!

First to Second Plié / 8–16 reps

barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre first to second position pliés

(Image credit: Catie Miller)
  • Carrying on from the second position pliés, alternating legs, step your outside foot back in to join your heels together in first position.
  • Continue this action 8–16 times, working on stepping out to a wide second position with your toes turned out, knees wrapping back, and your heels pressing into the floor.
  • Advancement: Once your rhythm and technique is set, you can advance by taking large jumps from first to second position. Focus on landing softly through your feet and keeping your chest proud. This will have your legs burning in no time!

Passé with Lunge Back / 2 sets of 8 reps each side

barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre passé with lunge back

(Image credit: Catie Miller)
  • Begin at an angle turned slightly into your chair. Starting with your feet in the first position, bring your outside leg to passé (toe to knee).
  • Plié deep into your supporting leg, reaching your leg behind you towards the floor into a lunge as you hinge forward and reach your arm overhead. Straighten the supporting leg as you draw the working leg into passé and your arm back to first position.
  • Straighten the supporting leg as you draw the working leg into passé and your arm back to first position.
  • Advancement: Add a relevé on your supporting leg as you bring the working leg into passé. Repeat for 2 sets of 8 on each side.
  • Cardio challenge! Continue the advancement series and add a hop at the top, landing softly through your working leg. Try all three levels back to back to increase your heart rate and work up that sweat!
  • Tip: Focus on maintaining a neutral spine, especially as you extend both arm and leg.

Tricep Kickbacks / 8–16 reps

barre instructor Catie Miller performing barre tricep kickbacks

(Image credit: Catie Miller)
  1. Standing in the centre of the floor with your feet together, hinge forward from your hips, and extend one leg behind you to a lunge. Ensure your weight is forward into your front leg and the back leg is straight with little weight placed on it.
  2. Square off your hips and shoulders. Reaching both arms behind, above your hips, with your palms facing each other or upwards, bend and extend the arms, keeping your elbows lifted. The bend is small. Concentrate on extending your arms to engage the triceps fully.
  3. Advancement: Add a full range lunge, driving your back knee towards the floor when you bend your arms and straightening your legs when you extend your arms.
  4. Cardio challenge: Continue with the lunge/tricep kick-backs and add a lift of the back leg off the floor. Think about extending the leg longer, not higher, to activate your core and glutes for an added burn! Hold your leg and arms off the floor for your final balance!
  5. Extra challenge: Try all three levels back to back to increase your heart rate. Try slowing it down or picking up the tempo!

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.