Barre workouts have become a staple fitness class in recent years, with popular franchise Barrecore (who now offer online sessions, too) helping to lead the way. Promising to tone your body and burn fat, all while improving your range of motion and flexibility, barre classes involve performing small, repeated movements, using your bodyweight and holding your body in certain positions to really 'feel the burn'. Sometimes dumbbells, ankle weights and resistance bands are added into the mix too.
Fans of barre claim that regular sessions can help your body to tone up quickly and will result in the lean physique of a dancer... But do these bold claims actually work? As a self-confessed exercise junkie, I was pretty sceptical about trying something so low impact (typically preferring weight training and HIIT), and thought barre would have little to no impact on my body.
However, after being told by a doctor that I had to give up my intense workouts, and following a gruelling round of fertility treatment that left me unable to exercise, I found I'd lost all my energy and was left feeling sluggish, bloated and desperate to move my body again.
After a three month break from exercise and injecting myself with a load of hormones, I wasn't overweight, but my body had completely changed and none of my clothes fit – and although I was told by my fertility doctor I could exercise again, I had to take it easy. Cue: turning to barre.
I signed up to do six weeks of classes with Barrecore, who have studios all over London (and in various locations nationwide, such as Cheshire and Bristol), as well as offering online classes and live workouts - meaning you can give it a go wherever you are in the world.
Here's what happened to my body in just six weeks:
1. I needed quite a few classes per week to see results
My first session at Barrecore was a private session with Emily, the instructor trainer at Barrecore's Mayfair branch (aka the master of barre classes!). She told me that with barre, it was a case of "the more the better".
I didn't want to commit to a class every day, because I was still recovering a little bit, so we settled on three to four classes a week. I'd be doing Barrecore Signature - the studio's combination class of ballet barre moves along with using your own body weight, lightweight props and high reps to exhaust all my muscles.
2. I learnt how to *really* switch my glutes on
In my first session, Emily checked my form multiple times, as holding the right position is crucial to seeing results with barre workouts (something that's a little trickier - but not impossible - to master when doing an online barre class). You've got to learn how to 'tuck under' your core and keep your body still while doing small movements, so you're truly targeting the muscles you're working.
It's easy to get lazy in class and look like you're doing the moves when actually you're not really doing anything (trust me... that was me when I was tired/hungover)!
While I had okay posture because I'd done ballet as a kid, for me the biggest lesson during those early sessions was about how to switch my glutes on. I thought because I'd done squats and deadlifts in the gym that I was a pro, but it turns out there are a tonne of tiny muscles I was ignoring.
It was worth it though, because for the first time ever I actually felt the 'booty burn' people talk about, and any back pain I'd previously had during exercise melted away.
3. Using your core is key
Despite having had actual visible abs at one point in my 'fitness journey' (don't cringe), turns out my core wasn't all that strong! When I first strolled into class, I couldn't hold a plank for longer than 20 seconds, and doing side plank dips to tone my obliques were hell on a plate. But by the end of the six weeks, I could hold a plank for a minute, crunches no longer hurt my lower back, and those dips were easy as pie.
4. My thighs hated me, every single class
There is a lot of focus on 'seat' (bum) and thigh work in barre classes, and because I have relatively hefty and muscly thighs, I thought I'd find the leg workouts the easiest. In my former life, I loved the leg press in the gym (I know) – but give me an exercise where you have to hold your thighs in one position, without moving anything else and doing tiny pulses with your legs, and pretty soon the 'burn' got to me. I wanted to scream as my legs shook like they were possessed.
Epsom salts were my best friend after a particularly tough class (and throughout my challenge I took a bath in them once a week), so for anybody else thinking of giving barre a go, I'd say it's best to stock up:
5. My thighs also got really strong
You do a lot of small movements in barre, so I thought my legs wouldn't change. But these tiny, but effective movements really did make my legs feel a lot stronger, and it took me much longer to 'burnout' (collapse mid exercise because it hurts too much) as the weeks progressed. By week six, I didn't even swear when we did what I called the 'move of hell' (when you bend your knees and try to slide them under the barre - trust me, it kills).
6. My arms changed too
I was worried with such a focus on legs that my arms would just kind of, sit there while my bottom half did all the work. But at the beginning of all the classes we did lots of push ups, bicep curls, tricep dips and shoulder work with tiny weights, which definitely burned more than anything else! I went from just about managing bent-knee pushups to doing full ones by the end. The tricep dips never got easy - but they definitely made my arms look more defined.
7. My pain threshold drastically improved
Because there's so much holding your body into positions until you 'feel the burn' in barre, you have to get used to feeling kind of uncomfortable. At first, I really hated that moment when my legs would shake and my muscles would feel like someone had literally struck a match on my thighs, but by the end? I kind of started to like it and learned to tough it out.
8. I had to adapt to keep progressing
I started off doing three classes a week, but quickly progressed to doing four Signature classes a week - then, when I felt like I was getting a bit too used to the intensity, I switched in a few of Barrecore's HIIT classes (which combine barre moves with HIIT training). I also dabbled with a few Sculpt classes, that use resistance bands for a deeper burn. Believe me when I say that resistance bands are the best thing ever for building a booty... I never felt a burn like that before.
9. I didn't lose much weight
I didn't do barre to lose weight – it was to ease myself back into exercise, and I know the numbers on the scale rarely reflect how fit you are. But I wouldn't say barre classes are the one for dropping a load of weight or burning lots of fat really quickly, if that's your current fitness goal. Unless you did plenty of barre x HIIT classes, which would definitely speed up your results.
Also I definitely didn't eat like a ballerina... I did my six weeks of barre around the festive period and let's just say cheese, wine and boozy truffles basically became their own food groups.
9. But I did tone up
What barre classes are really great at is strengthening your muscles and toning your body in a more long-term way (more muscle = a faster metabolism!). My before and after pics weren't hugely dramatic in difference, but I felt a bit more 'cinched in' and less bloated than before, and my legs definitely felt more muscular. What's more, despite stopping barre over Christmas, my body didn't change dramatically - these were long lasting results.
For reference, I'm wearing the same pants and sports bra in both photos here:
10. And I finally got a bum!
Even when I did weight training at the gym, my bum was hardly what you'd call a 'booty', and after stopping exercise, I'd lost a lot of muscle in that area. However, after six weeks of barre and eating all the food in the lead up to Christmas, I finally had the butt of a girl who squats.
According to my husband it was higher, firmer and rounder (although I had to laugh when my normal knickers became wedgie tastic 24/7 and I nearly split my gym leggings). Take my word for it though, those 'seat exercises' at Barrecore really work their magic.
11. I stopped dismissing 'low impact' classes - because I was pretty impressed with the results
Sometimes I didn't even break a sweat in Barrecore (ideal if you're short on time and would rather skip a shower), but make no mistake: the classes weren't easy. My Fitbit wasn't off the chain with a high heart rate or the calories burned - unless I did a HIIT-focussed barre class, but this was deceptive. I could certainly feel every movement, and I knew it was making a big difference to my body.
The bottom line on barre?
If you're looking for a low impact fitness class that still packs a punch, I would definitely recommend barre. You don't have to be a prima ballerina to take part; while my brother was an actual real life Billy Elliot who went to the Royal Ballet School, I was always the dunce of my ballet class - but I still picked everything up relatively quickly, and the vibe of the classes is super fun so it doesn't matter if you aren't the most graceful person at the barre.
The classes aren't cheap - but the level of teaching is is high and I felt like I was always being checked on to make sure my form was OK. Online barre classes come in at a slightly lower cost too.
While I can't say that I ended up with the physique of a dancer, I was still pretty pleased with the changes to my body in just six weeks, especially seeing as I had no nutrition plan in place and barely paid attention to what I ate. Plus, barre allowed me to fall back in love with exercise, learn how to actually work my glutes properly and appreciate that sometimes, small moves can be *super* effective. Although the barre burn is hell at first - after a few classes, I guarantee you'll be begging for more.
You can find out more about the Barrecore Method, where your nearest studio is and information about online classes here.
And try a sample Barrecore class yourself below:
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