How Barre Classes Are Changing Work Outs
As a former dancer with over a decade of experience, I walked into local fitness studio Iron & Grace feeling pretty confident. I was there for their Fluid Sculpt barre class, and I assumed my years of experience doing tendus and pliés would mean this class would be a piece of cake. I think you can tell where this is headed—I was wrong.
After 45 minutes of strenuous exercise, I emerged from the class feeling exhilarated and a bit sheepish. Barre workouts, I discovered, utilize many techniques and poses from ballet barre exercises, but they may also integrate elements from aerobics, yoga and Pilates. Combining these approaches makes for a rigorous and comprehensive workout that targets and strengthens several areas of the body.
To learn more about barre classes and how they are changing the fitness world, I spoke with Alaya Sexton, co-owner/program director of Iron & Grace, and Megan Heatwole, community recreation programmer with Lynchburg Parks and Recreation.
Iron & Grace
Alaya Sexton founded Pilates and yoga studio Vitality Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2004 before deciding to open a new studio, Iron & Grace, in Lynchburg in 2013. “The move was about the same thing we want for our clients, a healthy balanced life,” she says. “For us, that meant having more time for our family and following our passions.”
Sexton, who co-owns Iron & Grace with her husband, Chad, believes Lynchburg is the ideal place for their studio for several reasons. “More than any city we were considering, Lynchburg was ripe for a business just like ours,” she says.
“It seemed like this community needed a studio that could bridge the gap between rehabilitation and fitness, and there were just a couple people teaching Pilates and kettlebells. We also understood that there were a lot of people like us—outdoor enthusiasts—who enjoy being active in this beautiful place, and being strong makes your endeavors more enjoyable.”
Among the body-strengthening classes offered at Iron & Grace are three different formats of barre (see sidebar, left).
Although barre workouts are trending now, Sexton and her team do not choose which classes to offer based on popularity alone. “Because we all attend industry conferences and pursue continuing education frequently, we have an awareness of what is trending but choose formats that honor our educational pursuits and creativity and align with evidence-based practices and sound exercise science,” she says.
Sexton believes barre workouts are popular because “they are accessible to all fitness levels, require little to no extra equipment that may otherwise intimidate, and they deliver results.” She also notes that barre classes “target the areas where many women seek change: they lift your bottom, tighten your waist, and tone your arms and shoulders.”
Although each barre format is distinct, certain elements run throughout all barre classes at Iron & Grace. “All barre classes at Iron & Grace are Pilates-based so the attention to posture, the role of the core, and proper mobility/stability principles are present in every class,” Sexton says. “Our classes are consciously crafted to move in functional patterns that promote better overall balance. All definitions of balance apply. First, in a steady/equilibrium way: you won’t fall down. Second, in a balancing the length and strength of a joint way: reducing wear and tear and optimizing both flexibility and power. Third, in a mind/body way: coaching conscious breathing and body awareness to decrease stress hormones. The endorphins that come with fun, invigorating cardiovascular exercise certainly help one stay balanced as well.”
Sexton believes barre classes will continue to be popular in the future as long as studios, not corporations, retain creative control. “Industry wide there are many homegrown barre programs, like ours, that will continue to deliver results, apply new knowledge and grow,” she says. “However, franchised and licensed barre programs lack creative control for the person delivering the class when they are subject to corporate programming. That model puts a performer, not a teacher, standing in front of a class giving the same workout and not interacting with their students to teach them. If one is always doing the same workout, their body adapts and they no longer get results. Luckily, there are always innovators who have direct interaction with their students and can continually deliver results.”
Iron & Grace is without a doubt one of these innovators. Since opening in Lynchburg, it has grown in terms of both physical space and staff, recently developed a two-year apprenticeship to keep up with demand, and trained other studios in its Power Barre format. “Our message is and always will be the same: knowing and moving your body improves your quality of life, and the pursuit of fitness should be relevant to life,” Sexton says. “We are scientists practicing the art of movement and can help any person achieve their fitness goals.”
Lynchburg Parks & Recreation
Lynchburg Parks & Recreation has always offered a multitude of health and fitness classes, and one of their latest offerings is called “Ballerobics.” Community Recreation Programmer Megan Heatwole describes Ballerobics as a class that “uses ballet exercise and technique for a gentle, full body workout, aimed to increase flexibility, balance, and muscle tone.”
Heatwole indicates that enrollment has grown since Parks & Rec first offered the class in spring 2016, and she attributes that growth largely to the abiding popularity of ballet.
“Ballet is the mother of all dance, and it is a great workout,” she says. “It is one of the most classical and revered styles of dance. Ballet form and technique has been used in many different styles of fitness classes. In addition, many professional athletes, such as football players, have been known to use the art form as a workout to improve balance, flexibility, posture and strength. Ballet-influenced fitness classes aren’t going away.”
Ballerobics is for individuals age 16 and older, and it can be modified for those who are new to barre workouts and those with minor injuries. “All movements can be modified to accommodate your fitness level and physical ability,” Heatwole says. “For example, I took the class as I was recovering from ankle surgery. Although squatting and jumping were nearly impossible for my left foot, I was able to easily modify the movements to accommodate my limited mobility.”
Regardless of which fitness class you choose, Lynchburg Parks & Recreation always aims to create a fun, active experience for attendees. Says Heatwole: “Our fitness classes offer a friendly, laid back environment for people to get motivated, have some fun and get a workout in!”
By Emily Hedrick