ballet days started and ended promptly with one class at age six. I left with tear-stained cheeks and didn’t return to the barre until my 20s. That’s when “barre” classes were popping up all over New York City. All the barre buzz piqued my curiosity and convinced me to give the modality a shot.
Fast-forward to my first session at Physique 57—a fitness studio built entirely around the barre and co-founded by a ballerina. The barre class instructor was warm and welcoming, making my first foray into the studio oh so positive. It wasn’t long before tiny muscles all over (legs, arms, and core) were quivering. I was so sore the next day, but in the best way.
Meet the experts: Katelyn DiGiorgio is the VP of training and technique and master teacher trainer at Pure Barre. Kara Liotta, CPT, is the co-founder of KKSWEAT, a barre and HIIT studio in New York City.
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It felt nothing like my tear-inducing ballet class so long ago. Instead, it was energizing and challenging in a great way, like my go-to Pilates workouts. The class focused on cardio, strength training, and stretching, rather than perfect dance technique. In all, I’ve tried out barre studios across New York City—Physique 57, Xtend, Barre Method, Exhale, Bar Method, and Barre3–and I’ve always been impressed by how much each class challenges my entire body and complements my running routine. (Don’t worry, all of these studios offer online workouts available anywhere.)
To give you a better idea of what to expect in your first barre class, Women’s Health chatted with Katelyn DiGiorgio, the VP of training and technique at Pure Barre, for the lowdown.
What To Expect In A Barre Workout Class
Each barre class is designed to be a full-body, muscle endurance workout (as I’ve definitely experienced). Typically, they’re broken into different sections that focus on major muscle groups including the arms, legs, glutes, and core.
“The muscles in each group are fatigued via small targeted movements, high numbers of repetitions, and light weight or resistance,” says DiGiorgio. Think pulsing in a squat to target the glutes and quads, cranking out as many triceps kickbacks as possible with three-pound weights, or moving through a lively plank sequence.
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“Barre class is a workout technique inspired by elements of ballet, yoga, and Pilates,” says DiGiorgio. “It focuses on low-impact, high-intensity movements designed to strengthen your body in ways that few other workouts can.”
In addition to building strength, this full-body workout also develops agility and flexibility, DiGiorgio adds. In some classes, you’ll use just the barre (or equivalent like a countertop or chair back) and your body weight to churn out rep after rep of muscle-burning move, while others incorporate tools like resistance bands, sliders, ankle weights, free weights, exercise balls, and more.
“Sections of class are also paired with stretching to increase overall flexibility,” DiGiorgio explains. So if you struggle with how to become more flexible (*raises hand*), barre class is a great choice.
Benefits Of Barre Workouts
There are many perks that come with dabbling in barre classes to supplement your other training or when you make them your go-to workouts.
- Increased flexibility. Borrowing from ballet and all the flexibility that dancers need, barre classes also can help improve your stretchiness. “Some exercises can involve a bit of mobility, particularly in your hips,” says Kara Liotta, the co-founder of KKSWEAT. She also notes that beyond the specific ballet-inspired moves, you’ll also get a fair amount of stretching in most Barre workouts to stretch out the muscles you’ll be exhausting.
- Increased muscle strength. Any form of resistance training—calisthenics, weight lifting, and barre—will increase muscle mass. Studies show that yes, intensity or added weight builds muscle, but so can volume, (think all those unending mini squats). Oh, and because so many of the moves you’ll work through in class get your abs and back fired up, you can bet you’ll sculpt a stronger, more defined core, DiGiorgio adds.
- Improved endurance. “Barre workouts are all about endurance, form, and repetition,” says Liotta. “You hold positions for a long time and exhaust reps, but with minimal weight.” Because you are spending a good amount of time in each shape to really wear out the muscles, you also can truly feel what part of your body you are supposed to be activating and strengthening.
- They’re gentle on joints. Barre classes are low-impact, which can reduce the risk of injury and help if you are already injured. “Many people are working with injuries and still want a solid physical challenge without feeling like they have to modify everything,” says Liotta. “Barre is low-impact because there is no jumping whatsoever in a traditional barre workout.” That also makes it a great option for pre- and postnatal women, DiGiorgio says.
- Better posture. So many of the moves in a barre class also target your abs and core. So not only can you work toward a stronger, more defined core, you’ll also be gaining solid strength to improve your posture, balance, and overall agility.
- Great for cross training. You don’t have to go all in on barre to feel the effects. Even if your primary focus is on getting ready for a race, barre class can be a great form of cross training to maintain strength and well-rounded fitness, DiGiorgio says.
How Barre Compares To Other Workouts
For starters, barre is for everyone, and you don’t have to be a dancer or super fit to do it. “The community is made of people who have tried every fitness class ever created, as well as those just starting their fitness journey,” says DiGiorgio. “Unlike many exercise programs, which require a high level of physical fitness or prior expertise, barre is very beginner-friendly and adaptable to different skill sets and ability levels.”
Still, it may take a few classes before you hit your groove at the barre. “Class moves quickly, and can be challenging, since you’ll utilize muscles you never knew you had,” says DiGiorgio. “But you’ll get the hang of it after three or four classes, and you’ll generally see results in just eight to 10.”
In a barre class, expect to be moving to upbeat music, unlike Pilates, where you will be mostly relying on breath cues. You’ll also need to follow some choreography or rhythmic patterns, says Liotta, but not as much as if you were going to a more traditional dance class (or following along on Tiktok vids!) “In my classes, I like to incorporate patterns, but I err on the side of simplicity so that everyone can follow along,” says Liotta.
The newer “fusion” variations of barre classes have different goals and may remind you of other modalities you’ve tried. Pure Barre’s Pure Empower class, for example, combines traditional barre moves with interval training, so you get your heart rate up to get your cardio in, too. Other fusion classes, meanwhile, use more weights and resistance tools to up the strength ante.
What To Wear To Barre Class
While workout outfits are totally based on personal preference, DiGiorgio recommends wearing leggings or capris that you feel comfortable in and a workout tank or T-shirt to barre class.
Wearing clothes that fit close to your body also helps your instructor get a better view of your form (if you’re taking a Zoom or Google Hangout class or have access to an IRL instructor) throughout class so they can give you advice on any necessary adjustments.
You’ll also want to wear sticky socks to prevent your feet from sliding. (Trust me, this one is essential.)
Here are a few great grippy barre socks to get you started:
Best Barre Workouts To Try At Home
Still a little hesitant to hit a studio for your first class or don’t have one near you? Thankfully, there are plenty of online options that are guaranteed to give you a good workout. Here are the best at-home barre workouts to sweat and move when you want:
- KKSWEAT— Liotta’s platform, KKSWEAT, offers live streaming, on demand, and in-person classes in her NYC studio. Online, you can purchase a 50-minute workout for $28, which gets you a 12-hour rental. KKSWEAT also has a QUICKSWEAT option that gets you unlimited access to the video library of express-style, 30-minute workouts.
- Physique 57 — With Physique 57, you can work your way up through various levels of barre workouts. Classes include sculpt, power sculpt, back body sculpt, core lab, and prenatal. Plus, the online platform also offers HIIT classes, dance classes, and Pilates. Subscriptions start at $24.99 per month. Check out their Instagram, too, for live classes.
- Action Jacquelyn — Jacquelyn’s YouTube page has 150K follows, so you know she’s doing something right. You’ll get tons of free (!!) videos that range from a quick five minutes to 30 minutes and cover everything from a barre booty lift series to a full-body barre workout. She also offers yoga and Pilates videos, and 30-day challenges.
- Pure Barre — You can lift, tone, and burn with this total body workout anywhere, anytime. There are live and recorded workouts available to bring the studio experience to your home. Try it free for 7 days. After that, the on-demand subscription is $29.99 per month and also includes access to popular classes from Rumble, Cyclebar, Club Pilates, and more. Keep an eye out for DiGiorgio leading the workout, too.
- Exhale — Part spa and part fitness studio, Exhale offers challenging barre classes on demand and streamed live for a community sweat. There are also yoga and cardio modalities. Try it for 30 days for $99, subscribe to virtual classes only for $29.99 monthly, or grab an unlimited FIT membership for $209 per month, which includes spa service discounts and access to on-demand and in-person classes.
Barre Class Form Tips
There’s a lot of new lingo to learn when you step in the studio. Here are the terms you need to know to keep your form on point and make the most of your hard work.
- Pulse: In your first class, “one of the more challenging form essentials to grasp is the idea of small, controlled movements,” says DiGiorgio. “When you hear your teacher say pulse, for example, that literally means just move an inch up and down.” The goal here is to focus on contracting the target muscle, which requires keeping your range of motion controlled, precise, and small.
- Shaking: If your body starts shaking during class, that means you’re doing it right!
- Tuck your tailbone: If the instructor says this, or have a “heavy tailbone,” draw your abs inward and roll your hips under slightly to create a neutral spine, says DiGiorgio. This position promotes core engagement, and comes up a lot throughout class.
Remember, if you don’t catch on after your first try, don’t get discouraged! You’ll learn the lingo and moves after a few classes, DiGiorgio says.
Bottom line: Barre class is great for anyone—whether you’re new to fitness or you’ve danced ballet your whole life. Prepare for a total-body workout and to feel your muscles burn.
Kristine Thomason is a writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience creating content for print and digital publications. Previously, she was the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen, and the fitness and wellness editor at Women’s Health. Kristine’s work has appeared in Men’s Health, Travel + Leisure, Health, and Refinery29, among others. She holds a journalism degree from New York University, and is certified in personal training by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
Jennifer Nied is the fitness editor at Women’s Health and has more than 10 years of experience in health and wellness journalism. She’s always out exploring—sweat-testing workouts and gear, hiking, snowboarding, running, and more—with her husband, daughter, and dog.