Barre Your Way to Better Fitness

Ballet-Inspired Workouts Create Long and Lean Muscles



Imagine having a ballerina’s physique, grace, strength and flexibility. That’s the potential of barre.

“Barre is a combination of ballet, yoga and Pilates principles. We use small, isometric movements to temporarily fatigue muscles and make them long and lean. The so-called fatigue is what causes muscles to shake, and therefore, change,” explains Nadia Yokarini-Kotsonis, a certified barre instructor at Physique Fitness Studio, in Grove City, Ohio. Students use a ballet barre to support themselves while doing the exercises.

Yokarini-Kotsonis is among many former dancers that have embraced barre fitness. Trained in ballet, tap, contemporary and traditional dance in Athens, Greece, she discovered barre when she moved to the U.S. “I fell in love with how challenging it was and the effects and changes I saw in my body. I got certified a year later and have been teaching ever since. I’m still in love with practicing it, no matter how tired I might be beforehand,” she says.

Rather than a cardiovascular regimen, “Barre is good for developing core strength. You gain overall flexibility, muscle strength, improved posture and range of motion,” says Lisa Juliet, West Coast regional director of the teacher certification program (BarreCertification.com).

Not Just for Dancers

While barre has had some U.S. presence since the 1950s, “It’s having a resurgence now,” says Charlene Causey, a certified natural health professional and ballet body barre instructor in Pueblo, Colorado.

Newfound interest began on both coasts and is quickly becoming a Midwest mainstay, according to Yokarini-Kotsonis, who says it’s one of the most popular classes she teaches, and other studios are following suit. She remarks, “Everyone wants to offer barre, and everyone wants to come to a class and see what it’s about.”

This ballet-inspired conditioning class is choreographed to engage all the major muscle groups, stretching, lengthening and strengthening the body from top to bottom and from the inside out.

“Seniors love it because barre helps improve their balance. It’s also perfect for people working to overcome injuries,” says Juliet. She notes that while women are predominant in classes, the tide is turning a bit toward more gender equity. “Men that enter classes as skeptical come out sweating.” One recently earned his barre teaching certificate.

Benefits of Barre

“What makes this workout brilliant is that the classes are designed to fit the goals and ability levels of all participants. Each set of exercises provides options ranging from the beginner to the more advanced barre enthusiast. Effective, yet safe, low-impact techniques provide ongoing challenges,” says Causey.

Those that regularly practice realize many positive effects. “Your body becomes long and lean, similar to a ballet dancer’s. You learn to stand tall and become stronger with each class,” says Yokarini-Kotsonis. However, don’t expect it to be easy. “Even when you do it every day, you’ll still find it extremely challenging,” she adds.

Most teachers individualize modifications for beginners. “I tell my students to do what they can. There’s no judgment here,” says Causey.

Many yoga teachers offer barre classes as a beneficial complement to other sports and activities such as running. “It supplements your other endeavors,” notes Causey. Today’s barre classes feature bare feet and typical workout wear, specialized equipment and props, contemporary music and of course, the ballet barre. The whole experience is highly positive and upbeat, says Causey.

Most fitness experts would agree that it’s good to add variety to workouts, and trying something new adds spice to the mix. Plus, for those that keep at it, says Yokarini-Kotsonis, “Barre can be the fastest results-oriented program you can undergo. Expect to see a change in your body in a month if you attend three to four classes a week.”


Lynda Bassett is a freelance writer near Boston, MA. Connect at LyndaBassett@gmail.com.

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