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Barre fitness: A ballet-inspired workout worth trying

Feb 16th 2014 at 8:30 PM

Looking for a workout that raises the bar? Find out why the ballet barre workout is becoming incredibly popular and what to expect if you decide to try it out for yourself.

By Katherine Vankoughnet
Barre fitness: A ballet-inspired workout worth trying    ©istockphoto/forgiss

Fitness trends come and go, but some have a bit more staying power. One that's rooted in a centuries-old form of dance – famous for creating slight, muscular bodies without a trace of fat on them – is certainly worth a second look.

Ballet-inspired barre classes have amassed a devout following in recent years, and with good reason. Even if your dream of becoming Karen Kain faded decades ago, or you've never so much as heard of a rond de jambe, they may just be the workout you've been looking for.

What is a barre workout?
Lining up at a ballet barre probably conjures up fond memories of childhood dance lessons, but this workout is a far cry from beginner ballet. This three-in-one hour-long fitness

class is deceptively intense as it combines the principles of yoga, pilates and, of course, ballet to help you build long, lean muscles and establish a strong core. The workout essentially helps you develop a dancer's body without so much as a single pirouette.

"The barre is a tool that helps you get deeper into stretches, deeper into tiny muscles that dancers use, so you can end up looking like you're a dancer without actually being one," says Sandra Vadasz, communications director and devoted student at Toronto's Barreworks, which offers a wide range of barre-based classes in varying degrees of intensity.

Should I try it?
That depends. Are you looking for a fun and unique total-body workout? If so, then yes! Barre workouts are suited to all fitness levels and – in spite of what you might think – no previous dance experience is required. Instructors provide modifications for each exercise to help accommodate all students, from absolute beginners to people with injuries to barre veterans, so that everyone gets the most out of their workout.

What should I expect?
"A lot of people think you need to be coordinated or that you need to be a dancer, but you really don't," explains Vadasz. "It's more of a workout than a dance class. Go in with an open mind, listen to the instructor, listen to your body and enjoy yourself."

You'll be using all sorts of muscles you didn't even know you had in this flowing class. Expect weighted toning balls and resistance bands to come into play as you bend, stretch and sculpt to energizing music. Barre workouts are not completely removed from the classical dance form they were inspired by – you'll be sure to do a plié or two – but there's also a significant cardio component you won't get from a traditional pilates or yoga session.

"It's a really fun class and I think that's why people keep coming back," says Vadasz. "It's not like a bootcamp workout, where someone's screaming in your face, but it is intense, you will break a sweat."

What's in it for me?
Well, for one thing, you'll have a red-carpet-ready body like Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel, who are both fans of the fitness method. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but when you're burning anywhere from 400 to 600 calories in an hour-long class (depending on your weight and height), you're bound to see changes sooner rather than later. Long lean muscles, sculpted abs, toned thighs and calves, and improved posture and flexibility are often reported. And don't forget all of the other benefits that come with regular exercise: a decrease in stress levels, better sleep and improved cardiovascular health to help ward off heart disease and diabetes.

What should I wear?
Wear comfortable, breathable workout clothing that's easy to move around in, but not so loose that it's impossible for your instructor to see your form. As for your feet, leave the cutting-edge cross-trainers at home. Socks, preferably athletic ones with grips on the soles, are the footwear of choice, or go au naturel. 

How often should I go?
Practising ballet-barre fitness three or four times a week will deliver dramatic results in the form of a slimmer, more toned physique.

"That's why so many actresses and models take barre classes," explains Vadasz. "They want to get a great workout every day, but they don't want to end up looking like bulky body builders."

Where can I try it?
Thanks to their ever-increasing popularity, ballet-inspired fitness classes are available in most major cities across the country. Try Barre Fitness in Vancouver, Barre Body Studio in Calgary, Barreworks in Toronto and DBS Fitness Concepts in Montreal.

How much does it cost?
Costs depend on the location, but most drop-in classes come in at around $20. Many studios offer special introductory rates for new students, so you can get a feel for the practice before making a big financial commitment.

Check out some more celebrity-endorsed workouts that will help you get a lean and toned body. Are group classes not your thing? Try one of the best workout DVDs on the market!

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