“Up an inch, down an inch.”
Who knew one small movement could cause so much shaking throughout my body? I lean back, listening to the instructor’s voice, contracting my abs to hold the weight of my upper body off the ground, then down an inch and back up. We’ve almost come to the end of class and these tiny movements have made muscles all over my body burn for 40 straight minutes.
Over the past few years, I began to notice different barre studios popping up all over my city. Fitness magazines were covering the trend, training apps started incorporating barre techniques into the exercises they offer, and my Instagram feed was full of smiling women holding poses against a barre. Next thing you know, a friend of mine, who is a former ballerina, enrolled herself into Pure Barre classes at our local studio in Knoxville, Tenn. Knowing how much I’ve always enjoyed fitness, she regularly invited me to do the Pure Barre free intro week offered to first-time clients. I constantly gave her excuses as to why I couldn’t do it. “I don’t have the time to commit for a whole week,” or “I’m not in shape enough to give it a try, yet…” was among them. But, honestly, I just wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this type of workout.
A few months later, another friend of mine texted me to see if I had tried “this awesome workout” called Pure Barre. She assured me that it was a kick-butt, total-body workout and that I could do. So, I caved and gave my ballerina friend a call. I downloaded the Pure Barre app and signed up for the free intro week. It was time for my first class.
Getting Familiar With the Barre
I met my friend at the studio for our mid-morning class, and as we entered the lobby, we were cheerfully greeted by our instructor, Claire, who was going to lead the group through a classic workout. Pure Barre Classic is the original Pure Barre total body workout that uses the barre, your body and other equipment to perform concentrated muscle movements that lift your thighs, abs and arms while burning fat, too.
Studios also offer specialty classes like Pure Barre Empower which is a workout that still uses the same techniques as classic but has a cardio focus. For the purposes of this experiment, I only signed up for Pure Barre Classic workouts.
Claire gave me a guided tour of the studio, making sure I knew where I could put my things and that no shoes or bare feet were permitted on the studio floor — only socks allowed. (FYI: I would encourage everyone to purchase socks with grip material on the bottom, also known as sticky socks; they sell them at the studio or you can find them online.)
Next, she showed me where I could find and gather the equipment I would need for class: a ball, double loop resistance band and a light set of weights – 2 lbs. for me please! Lastly, she reviewed some of the terms used in class and explained how they applied to the Pure Barre technique.
Tuck – The tuck is used for two techniques. The first is used as a foundational position to neutrally align the body by rolling the hips back, engaging the core and stacking the shoulders above the hips (think neutral spine). The second is used as a repeated small range of motion cued to the music; move hips slightly forward from neutral position, then quickly bring them back.
Hold – A movement held in its deepest, tightest, lowest position to achieve isometric contraction. May be used with down-hold, lift-hold, squeeze-hold, circle-hold, etc.
Pulse – A downward movement from the lowest point, to the Pure Barre tempo of the music.
Women of all shapes, sizes and ages entered the studio — some knowing other members in the class and others quietly stretching in their spot on the carpeted floor. About thirteen women in total made up the group for the day’s class. During my intro week, each class size averaged 12 women and this was during the summer when people are out of their normal routines. This particular studio caps the class size at 20 to give everyone enough space.
The Barre Experience
Once class time hit, Claire had on her headset, the music was blasting and we prepared for what was about to unfold.
After a warmup that engaged our entire bodies with big motions and extra attention to the core, we moved on to our arm circuits. Incorporating the light weights into the moves, we worked different areas of the arms with large and small movements. I actually had to set down my weights about three-fourths of the way through because my shoulders were burning too much and it was affecting my form. (It’s important to always listen to your body and keep good form to prevent injury.) Claire then instructed everyone to find a spot at the barre for a thigh and seat workout.
It was finally happening. We were now going to make use of the barre, something I was anxious about because the concept was so foreign to me. I had never trained like this before; I was afraid I would look silly and not receive an effective workout. To my surprise, it was one of the hardest and most rewarding workouts I have ever experienced.
We held onto the barre with both of our hands and did multiple variations of squats that included pulsing, holding and tucking with each variant. Claire shouted out our final change in the thigh circuit and as I raised my heels off the floor, lifting me to my tippy-toes per her instructions, my thighs began to fiercely shake. The Pure Barre technique actually encourage you to reach this point, it’s called, “finding your shake.”
Working the bum was difficult but felt incredible during class. We stayed at the barre and did small lifts and tucks with the aid of our resistance band to help lift the seat muscles. Then, we moved down to the floor and got on our hands and knees for more lifts and tiny pulses.
While we finished up our seat workouts, Claire passed out mats for the core portion of class. We also used the ball during core training to help with working the deep abdominals. We placed the ball between our thighs and held it with our legs pointed straight out as we did crunches and holds.
We wrapped up class with a cool-down stretch. Using the resistance band to stretch the back of my legs might have been my favorite part. We all gave each other a round of applause for completing class and being good to our bodies. I had finally completed my first Pure Barre class.
A Full Week of Strange Moves (and Soreness!)
During my intro week, I attended four Pure Barre Classic workouts and spent the days I was not at barre doing a cardio activity like running or using the elliptical. Pure Barre is a great workout to incorporate with other activities because it is low-impact — you will not do any jumping in class and your joints will thank you!
I did notice that my muscles, while tired from class, still felt good afterwards and throughout the day. Each class was fresh and challenging but the structure was always the same, which I enjoyed because it helped me let go of the day and fully get into the flow of class.
I did experience soreness in my quads, hamstrings, glutes, obliques, shoulders and a little stiffness in my neck, giving me an indication that I was certainly receiving the kick-butt, total-body workout my friend had promised me. I also experienced some soreness in my lower back and asked my instructor that day if it was normal. She said that stiffness I was feeling was my body changing its posture due to all the tucking and that this is completely normal.
By the end of the week, my mind and body genuinely felt better. I was proud of myself for taking on a fitness challenge and sticking to it. Mentally, I felt accomplished and physically I felt stronger. My body felt leaner, tighter and stronger, especially in my core, after just one week of training.
Understanding Why All of Those Barre Moves Are So Beneficial
According to their website, the Pure Barre technique uses low-impact, concentrated muscle movements to target and tone certain areas of the body for what they call intelligent exercising. I met with Pure Barre Knoxville co-owner, Lindsey Whitsett, to find out more about the method behind the workouts. When it comes to results, she believes that first and foremost the client will notice the strength they gain over time. “I always tell clients to think of it like training for a marathon, you can’t expect to come in and be able to do the full class from the get-go,” says Whitsett. “Take planks for example, we hold planks for a long time. Do lots of pushups and variations with them. It’s all about keeping your core in and building core strength over time to be able to do every move.”
In order to build that strength, the Pure Barre technique encourages you to “find your shake,” as I mentioned previously. It’s a sign that your muscles are reaching their point of fatigue, which is a good thing.
“The goal is to get to that deepest, tightest contraction so you’re squeezing that muscle until everything, all the fibers start to really get to their max point and then that’s when they start to break down,” says Whitsett.
This break down is necessary to signal to your system that these muscles have undergone stress and need to be repaired. During the repair process, new muscle fibers are created causing the muscles to grow and gain strength over time. Whitsett recommends taking at least three to four classes per week to see the most results quickly.
The atmosphere of working out in a group setting also kept me motivated to push through the burn because there were other people experiencing it, too. Some powered through the moves and others had to stop during a sequence to give their muscles a break. All the workouts are designed to be modified to all fitness levels so it brings everyone together for one experience.
“We say if you can hold on to the barre, then you can do Pure Barre,” explains Whitsett. For her, Pure Barre is all about coming together as a community to achieve fitness goals. She said, “We strive for it to be a warm supportive environment for any fitness level, and anybody can come in here and take a class.”
The community is a huge aspect of the Pure Barre technique as well. There are studio owners, instructors and other studio members who are involved on this journey with you. During my intro week, I took classes from three different instructors and each of them took the time to greet me and get to know me before class. They also took the time to give me one-on-one instruction during class, and they do this with all the class participants, which is extremely helpful with keeping correct form and movement.
The other women in class are also very encouraging. I got to know a few of the ladies that attended the mid-morning classes that week and it felt nice to have some camaraderie with other women going through this experience too.
I can honestly say that experiencing a week of Pure Barre taught me about my body and myself. I learned that if I stand at the barre with my toes apart, heels together and off the ground, then my thighs will shake enough to move my whole body as I try to lower into a deep-squat. But, aside from the total-body workout that I experienced with each class, I also felt empowered to take on each day. While I was in the studio I was so focused on my body movements, my instructor’s guidance and the bumpin’ music that I was able to be entirely in the present moment. After each class, no matter how challenging or enjoyable it was that day, I simply felt better about myself.