Barre can be considered a supercharged workout, either on its own or paired with another form of exercise. However, while the repetition of moves in workouts are great for targeting underworked muscles, after awhile, the sequences can teeter on monotonous, and quickly, motivation and hard work levels off. Even as a barre instructor, I’ve experienced the all too familiar rut—or what I refer to as the “pro-plateau”—a point at which you find yourself in a routine of following a handful of circuits with the same barre moves. Once I began experimenting with different moves and alignment practices, I started to look forward to the excitement of challenging myself more and more in each class. The physical transformation I experienced in barre was as motivating as the energized and accomplished feeling I felt during the final stretch.
If you find that you’re missing the thrill and excitement of your early barre days, try incorporating these four tips to refresh your workout and invigorate yourself.
Avoid treating the stretching portion of class as a break.
The emphasis on stretching is what makes barre unique when compared to other group fitness classes. The traditional barre class structure is designed to strengthen a muscle group and then immediately follow that resistance work with a stretch. When I first started taking barre class over 15 years ago, I made the mistake of rushing through the stretching sections of class or using the time to simply grab water, but now I understand how important stretching is to the barre workout method and results. This result of this blend of strength-stretch work is a body that is balanced, lean, and sculpted. Stretching also builds strength by allowing the muscle to increase its range of motion (tight muscles have less mobility and limited range of motion). Studies have shown that building strength helps with overall mobility, which helps with overall body alignment and function. Plus, contributing more of an effort to my stretching added a new level of challenge to the workout.
Think muscle over momentum.
If you consistently find yourself in the comfort zone during your barre exercises, you may be letting momentum take over. Each barre move typically calls for a precise movement of a particular body part to mindfully engage muscles. This movement then creates a chain reaction of movement resulting in a swing and jerk motion, and thus, momentum kicks into gear. If you rely solely on using momentum to complete an exercise, you’re probably not experiencing the deep muscle contractions that change the shape of that muscle. Focus and control are key for optimizing your barre workout. An easy rule of thumb to keep in mind is to make sure you are initiating the movement from the muscle group that is targeted for that specific exercises. For example, in triceps work, be sure that you are engaging the top of the back of the arm (triceps) to lift the weights as opposed to just swinging from the wrist.
Don’t shy away from the “shake.”
Even the strongest barre student will experience the barre “shake” if following proper barre alignment. Barre exercises are designed to fatigue muscles, quickly, often demonstrated as your body responding with a shake. The shaking indicates a shift in your body’s movement—the isometric movements/holds in barre tap into the body’s lactic acid energy system. The increase in acidity in the muscles is what creates that sensation of “barre burn” in the muscles. Pushing through the burning and the trembling (within reason) is a type of deep muscle work called “muscle overload” and is what muscles need to enact change. Therefore, to improve the progress and results, focus on working muscles to fatigue. It is always important to listen to one’s body and be careful not to push past one’s own limits, especially if working with an injury.
As with any exercise, being mindful in the present moment is key to getting the most out of a workout. Try beginning each class with setting the intention to keep the mind focused solely on what is going on in the studio. In a split second, one’s mind can wander to things like “What should I eat for lunch?” or “What do I need to accomplish today at the office?” In that moment of losing concentration, there is often a shift in focus from our physical alignment in the exercise, which leads to a decrease in the workout’s intensity. Keeping the awareness of thoughts connected to the class will create a richer experience and feeling of a more vigorous workout.