I have been exercising for over 20 years and have pretty much tried every style of exercise on the market. I have done the heavy weights programs, the Insanity style boot camps, step aerobics, circuit training, HIIT training, stationary bike etc. etc. etc. and then I stumbled upon barre! And let me tell you, I was skeptical that it would deliver results considering the intense style of training I had been used to, but low and behold it did!! I have never been leaner, I have never had more slender limbs, I have never had less body fat than now – and that is definitely due to a combination of barre workouts along with cardio.
My first experience of barre was the Fusion Fitness Dream Body workout. I was totally taken aback by it. I couldn’t believe that a workout that was done barefoot with minimal equipment and hardly any cardio could be so TOUGH! In fact, I couldn’t even do it all the first time through. I had to modify a great deal of the exercises and was in excruciating pain for most of the workout! I definitely jumped in the deep end as I later discovered that Dream Body is one of the hardest workout programs on the Planet! I was determined not to be mastered by this workout so I proceeded to do it every second day until my muscles started getting stronger and I was able to make it all the way through without crumbling. I was gobsmacked and I wanted more! So I started searching online for all the best barre style workouts DVDs (I like to work out in the comfort of my own home) and I soon built up a collection of 25 or so to start sifting through. I found some great workouts and some not so great, but overall I loved the results I was starting to see.
So what is barre exactly you may ask? It is a ballet style workout that uses all your tiny muscle groups that hardly ever get touched with traditional strength training. When you look at a ballerina’s physique you can clearly see the definition in all those tiny muscles – and the best thing about it they very rarely lift weights! Your body weight is enough of a weight itself and if you start to use it wisely you will start to lengthen and lean out your muscles like never before. The great thing about barre is that it isn’t complicated. It’s really accessible to anyone – dance experience or not. The moves are tiny and controlled and a lot of the barre workouts I have tried don’t have any cardio in them at all. The word barre actually refers to the ballet bar that is used for a lot of the exercises, but you don’t even need one of those – just use a sturdy chair or counter top to hold on to.
One of the reasons why barre is so effective is because it uses a lot of iso-tension in the exercises. So, for example, if you perform a leg lift you lift your leg as high as you can go and then you start pulsing from there. There’s no big range of motion, you literally are moving an inch at a time, but the burn is incredible!
A typical barre workout has various segments – arms, thighs, seat, floorwork and abs. You generally start off with a light warm up of leg swings and graceful kicks. The arm work uses very light hand weights – 1-3 lbs. You wouldn’t think that such light weights would do anything, but it’s all about making the most out of each move and doing lots of repetitions to really fatigue the muscle. You will do a number of exercises for each muscle group before moving on, in this way you are really burning out each muscle and getting maximum results. Most of the barre workouts I have tried have a combination of standing arm work as well as push-ups and triceps dips on the floor.
The barre work is all lower body – you will hit your thighs and glutes hard! Sometimes additional equipment such as a resistance loop or a playground ball are used to further increase the intensity. There is a lot of work where you are up on your tip toes performing any variation of squats and lunges till your thighs quiver.
Form is one of the most important factors of a barre workout. You will only get the most out of each move if you use correct technique. That is why it is important to choose your barre instructors wisely. There are some who used to be professional dancers who really know their stuff, whereas others don’t give you enough pointers. The difference between feeling an exercise and not feeling it is the correct positioning of your body. If you are not feeling it then you are only cheating yourself! Because everyone is different the angles of your arms and legs may vary slightly to the instructor’s, but that’s totally OK.
So, which are my favourite barre style workout DVDs? I love Leah Sarago’s Ballet Body series. She has 4 DVDs as well as 130+ downloadable workouts on her website. Her workouts are really unique with lots of exercises that you won’t find anywhere else. She has a professional dance background and it really shows in her impeccable form and excellent technique. Her workouts are quite advanced, but she gives easier modifications so most fitness levels could attempt these workouts.
Some other great ones are Tracey Effinger’s Squeeze workouts, Xtend Barre, Ballet Physique Signature Sculpt, Pop Physique Hardcore, Tracy Mallet’s Booty Barre and Suzanne Bowen’s Tighten, Tone and Torch. But, my absolute favourites and the hardest of them all are definitely Fusion Fitness Dream Body workouts. There are 11 workouts in total in the Dream Body series and they are all equally amazing. They have a lot more cardio in them than any other barre workout I have come across. The good thing about that is that you don’t need to do extra cardio for the fat burning. But be warned, they are super tough. In fact, I would say that they are probably some of the toughest workouts on DVD. Many people would scoff at this comment, but I dare them to try these workouts. I have nearly done every extreme home fitness program on the market including Insanity, Asylum, P90X, Cathe STS, Chalean Xtreme, Tapout XT, Turbo Fire, Peak 10 etc. etc. etc. and these take the cake as being the toughest and bringing the best results by far. But don’t take my word for it – try them for yourself. You will not regret it.
So in conclusion, if you want to break through some weight loss plateaus, if you want to shape some long, lean muscles and shed some unwanted inches – then barre workouts may just be the right thing for you. Why not try it – the most you will lose is the cost of a DVD and the most you can gain is a new style of workout that will give you the body of your dreams!