Barre is the workout trend that boomed during lockdown. But why does everyone love it so much?
Every single aspect of our worlds have been turned upside down over the past 10 months. No matter where you work, be it an office or a hospital, it’s likely that your shifts have looked very different to how they did before coronavirus. No matter who you live with, be it distant housemates or your nuclear family, they are now your Friday evening TV companion, morning coffee maker and probably a shoulder to cry on. The place you once headed to relax, be it a bar or a friend’s house, have suddenly become out of bounds.
Exercise routines also changed, which may not sound like a big deal given the circumstances, but if you use exercise as a stress reliever or mental health booster, you’ll know the huge impact of that. With gyms, yoga studios, spinning classes and swimming pools closed, we had to adapt to home workouts or running. But from experimenting with different workouts, one seemed to reign supreme: barre.
Barre is focused on ballet and pilates style moves, working slowly through exercises, pulsing and holding isometric positions for longer periods of time. Since lockdown began, you’ve probably seen Instagram Lives blow up with barre style pulsing, the workout app FIIT launch new barre workouts and Google search for the training style has skyrocketed.
One person who found herself falling for the workout was Stylist’s deputy digital editor Jazmin Kopotsha. “Truth be told, I’d quickly settled into my fate as someone who wouldn’t be joining in with the whole ‘working out from home’ thing,” she says. “I’ve long been what I like to call a ‘reluctant exerciser’. Translation: I hate feeling like I’m over-exerting myself and the only way you’ll get me to ‘workout’ is by accident.
“When I started moaning about feeling really stiff and stagnant during lockdown, my friends, family and boyfriend all kindly (read: exasperatedly) advised I do some sort of movement at home. Being that a barre class would probably be the most familiar for my body, having taken hours of dance classes per week as a child, I went for it. I didn’t hate it, but rather was annoyed that I wasn’t able to keep up with pliés and arabesques as well as I thought I could, so that frustrated competition with myself is what kept me at it.”
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Of course, barre is no new trend, but lockdown has made the workout more accessible than ever. Traditionally, classes have been reserved for fancy studios with expensive memberships, but the free Instagram workouts and cheaper-than-in-person subscriptions mean that barre is now available to most people. And while you do traditionally need a bar for barre, it’s easier to adapt for home workouts than, say, weight lifting, which requires barbells and dumbbells that sold out everywhere.
“You don’t necessarily need anything except bodyweight for barre, but everyone at home has a chair, some sort of raised surface such as a table or kitchen countertop, a window sill or, at the very least, a wall that they can lean on,” says Emma Obayuvana, fitness trainer and barre teacher from the Strong Women Collective.
Plus, barre can be done by those who struggle with the other forms of training we had access to during lockdown such as 5Ks and HIIT – and not just because, like Jaz says, the exertion feels like an “accident”.
“There’s rarely any impact work in barre, unless it’s a hybrid class such as power barre,” says Emma. “If you have any joint issues or don’t want to put too much pressure through your joints, and if you need a quiet workout because of your neighbours, barre is great.”
However, just because you won’t be jumping around, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be working hard. “Even though it is low impact, barre is incredibly challenging,” agrees Emma. Barre works on muscular endurance, meaning the amount of time that the muscles can withstand being under tension.
“You’re doing so many reps of the movements and holding and pulsing for a really long time that it becomes really taxing on the muscles,” Emma says. It’s important to note that you won’t be building muscle in the same way you would with weight training, it can still build strength. A 2007 study from the Journal of Applied Research found that just seven minutes of isometric exercise a day improved strength by 20%.
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“In order to hold the positions you need to engage every single muscle, from your core to your arms to your glutes,” adds Emma. And that also has a big impact on your posture, as “you’re being concise with the movements – you can’t have rounded shoulders, arching backs or locked hips,” which can translate out of the practice to your desk job.
Ultimately though, barre can just be fun. Lots of people simply don’t enjoy jumping or weight lifting, while others have found it a suitable replacement to help them feel the muscles burning without access to equipment. “You move with the music, changing and progressing positions every time the music changes. That feels good, anytime you move to a beat just feels innately amazing,” says Emma.
Whether we’re allowed back in gyms or classes in 2021 is yet to be discovered, but knowing there’s always barre makes that slightly less daunting.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).