How to make your next barre class more effective

Barre lovers, this one is for you. And if you’re not a barre lover, but you’re considering taking a barre class some day, then this one is for you too. It’s all about how to make your next barre class more effective.

I’ve got to be honest, it took me a long time to like barre, because I’m more of a high-intensity exercise lover. And there are still some barre styles and barre studios that I do not like, because the experience can be quite different depending on where you go. But overall, I think barre is an amazing workout program for people who like to feel challenged, work on their flexibility and enjoy endurance strength training, with a lot of isometric pulses, yet little-to-no impact on the joints.

I’ve been teaching barre classes for about three years now, and I can tell you that technique and form are everything in barre. The positions and movement patterns are unlike any other workout, so there’s a learning curve — it can seem very easy if you don’t do it right, and it can seem very awkward too. Also, just like with any other group fitness program, if you’re newer to barre, you should definitely give it a few tries before you decide if it’s for you. And if one barre class isn’t right, try a different one.

I find that people who love barre tend to go often. And if you’re spending time doing any workout, especially one that you’re paying for, you may as well get as much as you can from it. Here’s how you can kick up your next barre class a notch …

How to make your next barre class more effective

How to make your next barre class more effective by A Lady Goes West

Consider doing some of the following …

Wear grippy barre socks.

Here’s the deal: I taught maybe 100 barre classes in my bare feet before realizing that I should be wearing grippy socks. I taught all of my classes in bare feet that first year of becoming a barre instructor, because that’s what I experienced during my barre certification training, so I just stuck with it.

Then, I got a couple pairs of this brand of grippy socks in a blog event gift bag and started wearing them one day because my toenail polish was chipped, and I wanted to cover it for my class. All I needed was that one wear, and I was hooked. Now I can’t imagine teaching or taking barre without grippy socks on.

Here’s why: The slight grip of the socks provides just a tiny bit of padding when you’re in the heels-lifted relevé position, which feels comfortable. In addition, your feet stay clean. I used to finish barre class with incredibly dirty feet. Yuck.

There are also some benefits for safety too. When you’re wearing grippy socks, you’re less likely to slip during the workout, and you also protect your feet from anything you may come into contact with on the ground. As far as performance-wise, I feel like I can kick higher and with more power, as well as slide my feet more purposefully wearing grippy socks, thus improving my whole workout. 

Side note: Barre classes can take place on wood or carpet floors, and some studios require that you wear grippy socks. My gym has wood floors, and there are no requirements, but now I have a self-imposed requirement.

Be really present in the workout to use the mind/body connection.

What if I told you that you could get significantly more from your workout if you truly focus on feeling the movements where they are supposed to be felt? It’s the truth. Rather than just going through the motions and loosely listening to the instructor, show up to class with your ears open and mind ready to fully engage with the practice. It goes like this: You picture the movement in your head, you tell your body where you should be feeling the most effort, and then you breathe into that position to stay with the sensations. 

If that all sounds a little fluffy for you, that’s because we’re not taught to think about what we’re doing in a workout class as much as we should be — but the mind/body connection is powerful. Oftentimes instructors will try to distract you from the discomfort or hard parts, but really, you want to feel them and know that you’re activating the right muscles the entire time to get the most out of it.

Especially because barre-style workouts have so many small and precise moves, you have to be fully present and think about everything you’re doing. It may sound like torture to have to think about what your body is doing for a full-hour barre class, but the good news is that it means you won’t be thinking about things outside of class, so it’s almost like a little escape from reality too.

Show up early or stay late to speak to your instructor in a one-on-one setting.

If there is a move that doesn’t feel right on your body, or if there is a section of class where you don’t feel like you’re truly getting into the right position, speak to your instructor about it privately. In some barre classes, the instructor will walk around and correct form during class, but that’s not always the case, and it’s also not the time to ask questions. If the class is too full, or if it’s a hands-off facility, then more of the burden of getting into the right form is on you. Oftentimes you can hear what the instructor is saying, but still have trouble making your body do it. That’s why you should get to class early or stay late and ask for one-on-one help directly from your instructor.

I always encourage my barre students to come see me before or after class, and I usually get at least one a week who will ask for help in a particular move. I chat with them about what they’re feeling, then I watch them do the move, adjust them, give them some pointers, and then they are able to get so much more from the exercise moving forward. Sometimes it’s even just the slightest tweak to give them the advantage.

It can be scary to speak to the instructor, but I can assure you that your instructor is definitely not judging you and is very happy to help you. Take advantage of that insight to give yourself the best chance you can of getting results from your barre workouts.

Find your full range of motion, not your neighbor’s.

Every single one of us has a unique body structure. That means we can’t all get into the exact same position in the exact same way. It’s important to remember this in barre classes, so you don’t force yourself into moves that feel wrong or could wind up injuring you.

Your plié may not be as low as your neighbor’s, and that’s okay, as long as you know you’re taking yourself to your full range of motion. That means you should feel challenged, but definitely should not feel pain.

The same goes for setting up in ballet first position, which is something you often see in barre classes. You don’t have to have the perfect ballerina turnout, because a barre workout is NOT a professional dancer’s workshop. I find one of the best ways to figure out your natural first position turnout is like this …

Start by standing with your feet together at the toe and heels. Place your hands on your hips and keep your back straight. Then, in one fluid motion, lift up the front part of your feet (while your heels maintain contact with the ground) and move them out to the diagonals and let them land where they naturally land — this is your turnout. It shouldn’t feel forced at all or cause pain in the hips or knees. 

How to make your next barre class more effective by A Lady Goes West -- October 2019

Use the barre for an additional challenge, not a crutch.

The barre in barre classes is not there to make the class easier for you. Not at all. The barre is actually there as a tool to help you work harder. You should never be grasping so tightly to the barre in barre workouts that you’re leaning on it. Instead, try lightly placing your hand on the barre to help with posture and muscle activation through the core and trunk. 

When you’re standing next to the barre, if you gently press into the barre with your hand closest to the barre, you can actually feel your side abs engage more fully. This is the sensation you want to keep with you through the workout. 

Next time you head to the barre, rather than collapsing into the barre or holding on for dear life, use it as a tool to lift up taller, brace your abs more and work just a bit harder.

Form is everything. Keep your shoulders over your hips.

Unless you’re doing crunching moves on the ground, the barre workout calls for a straight back at all times. How can you ensure your back is straight? Think about stacking your shoulders over your hips.

It’s very important to maintain this straight-back posture throughout class. You can practice this by standing at a barre with a mirror perpendicular to you — complete a few pliés and make sure your torso stays fully upright and erect as you bend your knees out over your toes. You shouldn’t be leaning forward or pitching the body forward in a plié, like you would do in a regular fitness squat. Remember, it’s a different feeling, so search for that, even if it doesn’t come easy at first.

Side note: There are a couple of formats of barre in which the standard posture involves tucking the tailbone under. I do not teach this, nor do I like this unnatural position.

Stay in the stretch until the very last second.

Most workouts don’t include as much stretching within the class as barre classes do. Enjoy this. Use it all. During the class and at the end. Typically, you’re supposed to hold static stretches for at least 20 to 30 seconds to truly elongate the muscles and improve flexility and elasticity. As an instructor, I know that I often cut a tiny bit of time of the stretching in order to keep the class flowing, but I’ve been making an extra effort to hold the stretches longer lately, and I notice students pop out too early when it’s longer than like 10 seconds. We’re hard-wired to keep moving, I guess.

But after you’ve spent time in a tough pulsing isometric move, you owe it to your body to hold those stretches until the end, so you can get the benefits of the instant recovery. Even if you get bored with the stretch, stay all the way to the end. Your body will thank you for it later, with improved flexibility and better ability to bounce back and get stronger.

Complement your barre workout with functional strength and cardio classes throughout the week.

Even though some barre studios will tell you that it’s safe to come to their classes every single day, that’s actually not a good idea at all (remember folks, fitness is a business too). You don’t want to do any sort of workout every single day, and especially not barre. Barre workouts are mostly strength endurance with flexibility, and they sometimes include a little bit of cardio as well, depending on the style. However, barre exercises aren’t super functional, meaning most of the moves in a barre class are not moves that you need to be functionally fit to live a strong life and do everyday activities better. For instance, you don’t do very many squats or push-ups in barre, yet, those are functional moves you need in a well-rounded fitness program. (I’ve actually been adding push-ups to my barre classes lately, and it’s a great change of pace for the participants.)

Therefore, to keep getting more fit and making improvements, make sure you’re spending time in other formats of fitness. If someone asks me, I recommend that a good week of fitness includes 2 to 3 barre classes, 2 to 3 cardio and strength workouts, as well as at least one full rest day off from exercise.

Ways to make your next barre class more effective by A Lady Goes West -- October 2019

(Wearing this top, these leggings and these shoes in the pictures in this post.)

That concludes our tips for now. If you have any questions at all, please leave them in a comment below. And as always, thank you for reading!

By the way, if you haven’t had a chance to sign up for the A Lady Goes West newsletter yet, do so here, because another edition is going out this week. Have a fabulous day! 🙂 

Here are some other posts you may like …

Questions of the day

How often do you take barre classes?

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8 Comments

    1. Hi Traci! Yay, that’s great to hear. Pass it along to any of your students who need to read it heheh. What type of barre do you teach? Thanks for reading!

  1. Great post Ashley! As a fellow barre instructor I completely agree with these thoughts, although I’m still barefoot and maybe need to try the socks ?. I had been teaching yoga for awhile before getting barre certified so I definitely tend to talk a lot of anatomy, neuromuscular pathway building with the mind, etc. it’s nice that the different places I work offer a variety of barre formats, some more cardio based, some more strength, and we strongly encourage our clients to take 1+ “yogastretch” classes a week too. I firmly believe in cross training and am very vocal that my own workouts are all over the board from barre, body pump, spinning, running, and of course lots of yoga.

    1. Hi Jenny, I LOVE to hear that — and I also love that you use your yoga knowledge to infuse some more body education in your barre classes, that’s a major plus to your students. Thank you SO much for weighing in and saying hi. Keep up the great working supporting your students! 🙂

    1. Hi Stefanie, they have all sorts of styles too — with the toe separators and not. Let me know if you try them and like them! 🙂 Thanks for reading!

    1. Hi Dom, I know, I know — barefoot feels fine, until you try the socks, right? 🙂 heeehh put that investment to use. Thanks for reading, my friend. Keep up the great work for your participants!

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