What is Barre Pilates?

If you asked a purist how to do Pilates and what type of Pilates you should pursue, you would get a very clear answer: ‘classic Pilates’ as this is the original method Joseph Pilates taught around 100 years ago. But imagine he was still alive and fit today, don’t you think he would have come up with some variations to his original exercise regime? Wouldn’t he have suggested or recommended some of the different types of Pilates on offer nowadays?

There are quite a few variations of Pilates around now and you might ask yourself what is Barre Pilates, what is Hot Pilates, what is Yogilates and what the heck is Paddleboard Pilates? Is it any good? Will I benefit from it and can it help me get a stronger core and better posture just as well as classic Pilates?

So let’s now concentrate on Barre Pilates and see what this is about and whether this is a type of Pilates you could practise at home instead of or as an addition to your general Pilates exercises – and also what additional benefits you will get from it.

Barre Pilates is fusion fitness

As the name suggests, Barre Pilates is not a pure form of Pilates but one incorporating a ballet barre. In fact, it’s a fusion of Pilates and Ballet, with an element of aerobics and weight training. This means that exercises are mainly done at the barre, complemented by abdominal mat work and back strengthening exercises. Reformers are not used in these workouts. As in pure Pilates, one of the aims is to challenge and boost your core stability and balance while employing body weight for resistance in the exercises.

It not only focuses on Pilates principles, such as balance, alignment, flexibility, core strength and body control, but also on typical ballet movement patterns and elements like elegance and grace. All movements are generally performed to music – something which is optional in pure Pilates.

Whilst Barre Pilates is considered an all over body workout, the main emphasis lies on working the lower limbs – the calves, quads, hamstrings and buttocks. Also, a Barre Pilates workout is generally faster paced than a pure Pilates workout which is reflected in the type of music used here.

In focus – calves, quads and hamstrings

So what are typical Barre Pilates exercises? Well, the most common and popular ones are, of course, plies in all different variations – plies with one hand on the barre or those with both hands on the barre. But don’t worry if you haven’t got a purpose-made ballet barre. You can use anything that is around waist height and stable, such as the back of a chair, the back of a sofa or even a kitchen top.

When doing the exercise with one hand, you stand with your feet apart and then bend with the knees positioned over your toes allowing your glutes to stretch open while straightening up. For an extra stretch and for working the buttock muscles even harder, you can then raise the heels off the floor. This exercise really works the calves, quads and hamstrings on top of the buttock muscles as the focus is on the lower limbs here.

Alternatively, you may face the barre (or back of the chair or sofa etc.), slide out one leg behind you and lift it whilst contracting the buttocks. Here, the focus is more on the upper outer thigh and the upper backside, although the calves, quads and hamstrings get worked as well.

Another very popular type of barre exercise are squats, which are perfect for strengthening your legs. Again, there is the choice of facing the barre with both hands on the barre, or sideways with one hand on the barre. Having both hands on the barre is the easier version and therefore more suitable for beginners. When squatting – like sitting down on a chair – your knees and toes should be pointing forward and your back be straight.

So in these exercises, the legs do most of the work whilst the back needs to be kept straight and the weight is balanced on either one foot or both feet.

Why do Barre Pilates?

You might wonder why these Barre Pilates exercises are so popular and, in fact, have become the latest craze that everyone seems to be doing. Probably, one of the reasons is that is has a reputation of being a body sculpting and toning exercise program – quite upbeat and certainly faster than a pure Pilates workout.

That’s also one of the reasons why it’s so popular with a number of celebrities, such as Drew Barrymore, Zooey Deschanel, Kelly Ripa and Dakota Fanning. They all like to get toned in a low-impact workout that gets your heart rate up without putting too much strain on your muscles and joints.

You can safely say that Barre Pilates is designed to help you achieve a dancer’s body: sleek, strong and streamlined. And thanks to the cardiovascular element of the workouts, they not only improve your balance, posture and strength, but also help you burn fat.

If you want to target your calves, thighs, butts and hip whilst toning your body and burning fat, this is an ideal exercise regime, easily done at home. Just use the back of a chair or the back of a sofa if you haven’t got a purpose-made barre. Also, it can be helpful – and fun – to follow a DVD with Barre Pilates exercises as this gives you more variety and keeps you really motivated.

Is Barre Pilates good for the back?

One of the great benefits of Pilates is its ability to strengthen your back, alleviate back pain and to make it less prone to injuries. Can you also achieve this with Barre Pilates?

Undoubtedly, all the mat work you’ll be doing as part of the overall workout will be fine as you will be able to maintain a neutral spine quite easily in these exercises. However, this might be more difficult when performing exercises on the barre where the focus is on glutes, thighs, buttocks, legs and hips. When the back gets out of its neutral position, it’s prone to pain and injury. So it’s crucial to always maintain a neutral spine to protect your lower back when exercising.

If you are suffering from lower back pain or injury, Barre Pilates might not be right for you due to the risk of getting out of neutral, especially if you are new to this exercise regime. Instead, it would be advisable to concentrate on pure Pilates moves. And always remember: take every move slowly and stop or modify the move if it causes pain, because if it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.

Great variation – not quite for everyone

Should you give Barre Pilates a go? There are enough reasons to say ‘yes’, as it’s quite a fun variation of pure Pilates. It combines the benefits of Pilates with the benefits of ballet barre work and is appropriate for all age groups and fitness levels. In addition, it provides you with a low-impact workout that will show quick results.

One popular aspect of this exercise variation is its ability to strengthen and tone your muscles and improve your posture whilst increasing your cardiovascular endurance and metabolism – so you will burn calories faster. Apart from that, regular barre workouts are said to increase your bone density, which might help prevent osteoporosis.

It is an ideal workout for everyone sitting at a desk or in front of the computer for many hours a day as your whole body gets stretched and put back into alignment. But it’s also perfect for anyone who enjoys moving to music as barre workouts are quite upbeat.

However, for those with back pain or injuries, some of the barre exercises might not be suitable. If you are still keen on trying this exercise program, you should consult your doctor or physiotherapist first to make sure you don’t cause any damage to your spine.

If you have any questions or have any experience you wish to share, please leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

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