“It’s passé to tell someone to stretch,” says Paula Ryff, co-owner of Ultimate Athletics in Toronto and an instructor of their Ultimate Barre class.
“If you strengthen a muscle long in its full range of motion, you wouldn’t have short, tight muscles that are prone to injury and that you need to stretch. Usually people’s training isn’t ideal, and that’s why muscles get like that,” says Ryff. “They either do the same motions, or the same range of motion. If you look at a body, the more range of motion, the more movement and the better the muscles look.”
That’s where barre training comes in – and if you don’t think a barre class is a workout, you’re mistaken.
“People come in and think they’re just going to be lifting their leg a little or tapping their toe and holding their arms all pretty,” says Ryff. If you’ve ever done a barre class (and left drenched in sweat), you know this isn’t the case.
If you want to build strength, tone and flexibility, a barre class could become the staple you never knew you were missing in life (and all you need to break that workout rut). With the incorporation of a ballet barre and a focus on the core, the workout achieves a lean, long look that’s celebrated by its growing number of cult followers.
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about a barre class is that you need a dance background to do it – you don’t. Sure, the classes incorporate ballet moves, but you don’t have to be Karen Kain or Rex Harrington to get the idea.
“A lot of people think the classes stem from just ballet movements, but it’s basically more about restoring balance to the body and big muscles vs. small muscles,” says Ryff. “So, it’s more about an emphasis on technique and alignment, and achieving an ideal posture. But that does not mean they are slow, boring or lack intensity.”
While Ryff has a background from the National Ballet of Canada, barre instructors at other studios come from a purely fitness background.
Barre classes vary in technique, with some more fitness-focused than others, and some that incorporate more equipment than their counterparts.
“A lot of the studios incorporate ballet moves, but we take on more of a Pilates idea in that it’s more demanding on the body because it uses your own body weight,” says Ryff. “It involves bigger ranges of motion than typical gym equipment, like spinning and cardio that tend to be more front motion-focused. Why the barre classes are so great is that it involves multi-planked movement. It requires more muscles, big and small, working. This is what gives you that better shape.”
Like the classes offered at most studios, it’s also adaptable for various fitness levels (but expect to sweat regardless). Ryff’s class has special modifications for which she calls the “jumpers” and the “non-jumpers.”
It’s safe to say that barre classes are more than a passing trend (and don’t be shy, gents: Ryff assures us that her classes are a favourite among many men).