Long, lean, sculpted: These are some of the biggest fitness buzzwords du jour. And if you're wondering where gym-goers are flocking to chisel that slim, strong bod, we can bet it's barre class. The trendy ballet-inspired method focuses on isolating individual muscle groups through "micro-movements," or small pulses that you repeat until the point of fatigue. The effect: You tire out your muscles quickly, which means speedy results.
But barre isn't just about the physical intensity, says Jennifer Williams, founder of the boutique studio PopPhysique and a former professional ballet dancer. "The mental rewards are great as well. The class is so challenging, it requires your complete focus, allowing you to be in an almost meditative state."
Here, Williams, along with Tanya Becker—the co-founder of another popular studio, Physique 57—fill us in on everything a first-timer should know before bellying up to the barre.
You don't need a dance background
While this style of class is dance-inspired, ballet is by no means a prerequisite. Anyone can benefit from it. Barre classes are typically low impact and gentle on the joints. Plus, the moves can be modified to fit your strength and flexibility level. "The great thing about this method is that it meets you where you are in life, whether you are recovering from an injury, bouncing back from a pregnancy, new to exercise, or just looking for a challenge," Becker explains.
You'll probably hear words you don't recognize
Some of the instructions are borrowed from ballet, like first position (stand with your feet flat, heels together, toes pointing to the sides), relevé (balance on the balls of your feet), and plié (bend your knees). But others may be unique to the studio. Think small V, deli slicer, pretzel—huh?!
If the lingo leaves you scratching your head, don't worry, says Williams. The words matter far less than the movement, so follow along with the instructor and the other students around you. "Over time, you will come to learn the technique and understand the terminology, but you don't have to know it going in," assures Williams.
Becker adds: "For beginners, we usually say after five to 10 classes, you start to get the hang of it."
You won't be at the barre the whole time
Most classes mix in elements of glute and abdominal work, cardio, and stretching that take place away from the barre. A chunk of the class may be done on the floor, and incorporate balls, bands, Pilates rings, or light dumbbells to achieve an extra burn. "I don’t think people realize what a comprehensive full-body workout barre classes can deliver," Becker says.
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If you're shaking, you're doing it right
People don't hashtag #BarreBurn for nothing. "Due to the intensity of the workout, you should feel heat in your muscles, and sometimes you’ll shake, which is a sure sign that you are working effectively and achieving those beautiful, long, lean muscles," says Becker.
Don't get discouraged if you need to relax and stretch out your arms, legs, feet, or tush periodically. Even barre regulars need to surrender to their quivering thighs. "There might be moments in class where you need to stop because the burn is so intense," says Becker, "and that’s OK—it’s not about how many times you stop but about how quickly you get back in."
You're going to be sore the next day
Expect to feel achy in places you may not normally get sore. But don't sit out for too long. Williams and Becker recommend you take another class within a few days. "It's better to work through the soreness by stretching in class than wait so long between classes that when you come back, you just get super sore all over again," Williams says. And of course, as Becker points out, "the more you come the faster you will see results."
You may need to invest in a pair of grippy socks
You'll see most students in class wearing socks with grippy rubber material on the bottom. "It's definitely easier and more comfortable in socks," Williams explains. "The grips on the bottom give you great traction when you need it, and the fabric allows you to slide easily during stretches." We like the Lucy Studio Grip Socks ($42 for a 3-pack; zappos.com) and the New Balance Studio Skins ($55; newbalance.com). But if you forget a pair, don't panic: Most studios have socks for sale on site.
It's best to wear formfitting clothing
A leotard and tights aren't required (although totally welcome!). But it's helpful to dress in gear that makes it easy for you and your instructor to evaluate and correct your alignment. "Leggings that come below the knee or ankle-length are ideal," says Williams. "For the top, something comfortable yet formfitting."
If giving up your favorite slouchy workout tee is what's keeping you from going to a barre class however, wear it. "The most important thing is that clients feel comfortable and confident," Becker assures.
Below, a few of our favorite tops, leggings, and cover-ups that stay in place while you're sculpting a toned tummy, lean thighs, and lifted seat.
Athleta Epitomize Tank ($49; athleta.gap.com)
Under Armour Solid Lux Tank ($50; zappos.com)
Sweaty Betty Vitality Dance Top ($115; sweatybetty.com)
ALO Nova Capri ($82; zappos.com)
Body Language Helio Legging ($96; bandier.com)
Soybu Camii Stirrup Legging Pants ($64; amazon.com)
Sweaty Betty Contemporary Dance Crop ($125; sweatbetty.com)
Ideology Ballet Wrap Top ($55; amazon.com)