How Barre Changed My Body For the Better
I've been switching it up this summer. If you know me, there's nothing I love more than a heavy barbell and trying to hit a new personal best in the gym. But recently, I've felt the calling to try something a little different.
In the past, I've traditionally stayed away from "lighter" forms of exercise - pilates, yoga, & barre - because I didn't see the strength correlation in the movements. How could using two pound weights in micro movements be even remotely effective? Clearly, the way to get stronger is to move weight and lots of it! It just seemed to make logical sense to me. Besides, I'd had great success with my running by incorporating Crossfit routines into my schedule and I was happy with the progress that I had made. After all, I'd finished my most injury-free season in as many years as I could remember.
But this summer, I was really feeling the heat. And not just a metaphorical heat, but literally, it was 100 degrees in Austin by May. I was frequently finding that by the end of a day of coaching and training clients, I was exhausted and dehydrated. What started this journey into joining a barre studio was simply that I wanted a way to exercise in some air-conditioning! So in June, I joined at MOD Fitness for a month-long barre awakening.
What is barre class? Good thing you asked! Barre classes focus on combinations of isometric holds ("Up an inch, down an inch!") coupled with high-rep, bodyweight (or light weight) movements. In a standard barre class, you'll see planks, squats, lunges, and pushups make an appearance.
Even though I felt as though I was "strong," each class quickly reduced my legs to pulp when I was required to hold any pose for longer than a few seconds. Balance on my toes? Absolutely not. Those little two pound weights I was so easily dismissing? Well, they felt like twenty pounds after a straight arm series.
But here is what is so great about barre is that it's perfect for everyone. Whether you're an exercise newbie or a seasoned vet, there's something for you. I found that certain sequences felt easier for me, while others left my muscles weak and shaking. I'm still trying to get through an entire class where I don't have to shake my quivering legs out during chair pose.
Barre is low-impact. This might sound counter-intuitive for me, as a personal trainer to say, but I believe in moderation in all things. That includes for me, personally. For the runners amongst us, think about what running consists of: a series of one-legged squats. When it comes to impact, running is incredibly high-impact. Each stride requires that the leg absorb and then transfer the energy into the next. Now, let me just say: I'm not anti-plyometric exercise. On the contrary, I think that everyone should include some in their daily workouts. But, if you're already running high mileage, or prone to overuse injuries (like I was), I think that barre is a perfect fit.
This style of exercise is so effective, too, because it works both the large muscles and the tiny stabilizers. In high intensity, high repetition exercises like Crossfit, it's almost impossible to work your muscles to failure safely. The load and intensity is too high. By keeping the movements small, the weight light, and the muscles engaged, barre class is able to target specific areas of the body and truly work. Ever felt that involuntary muscle shake as you hold a posture? That's your body working! Those stabilizer muscles, while small, are some of the key reasons that we find ourselves injured. All muscles work together in unison, but when there is a natural tendency to favor the primary, we create compensation. Compensation results in muscle imbalance and inefficiency. It's only been a month, but I can already tell I'm so much stronger in my hips, glutes, and core.
The MOD Fitness instructors have been nothing short of amazing. I'm always amazed at their ability to keep rhythm (as I'm off in a corner pulsing to the beat of my own drum), but also provide immediate corrections and modifications to everyone in class. Even in some of the larger classes, I feel that they take the time to create a personal atmosphere and attentiveness.
The classes are never the same. MOD offers a variety of barre classes, including a Cardio Burn, that changes it up each and every time. Again, this speaks to the skill of the instructors, but each class is unique and challenging. I love that the class is an hour but I leave feeling like I worked out for two.
For me, barre class is the perfect companion to my running. I've been going to MOD Fitness for a little over a month, and I'm beyond glad that I did. My legs feel stronger than ever, I'm more confident in my running, and let's be honest, I'm feeling pretty dang good about my butt in my swimsuit!
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