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Barre Workout: What It Is + Health Benefits

Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Published in Fitness

9 min read

March 9, 2024
A group of three women doing the Barre workout in a fitness studio
A group of three women doing the Barre workout in a fitness studio

The Barre workout, rooted in ballet-inspired movements, has recently blossomed into a widely embraced fitness trend, fusing elements of ballet, pilates, and yoga.

Barre workouts are characterized by small, precise movements and isometric contractions, all performed with the aid of a stationary handrail. This unique combination not only targets a diverse range of muscle groups, enhancing muscle strength, but it also places a strong emphasis on enhancing flexibility and promoting mindfulness. 

Notably, Barre's adaptability and low-impact nature make this full-body workout easily customizable, catering to individuals of all fitness levels and age groups. Let's dive deeper into Barre and its potential health benefits to see if this workout might be right for you!

What is Barre?

A closeup of the back of a person in a dark-haired ponytail, wearing fitness gear and holding a pink dumbbell in one hand
Source: Shutterstock

Barre is a fitness regimen that combines elements of ballet techniques with strength training and flexibility exercises. Participants typically perform a series of low-impact, high-repetition movements with light weights that target all major muscle groups, such as the legs, core, back, and arms.

The key elements of a typical total body barre workout often include:

  • Ballet barre: Participants use the ballet barre for support and balance while performing a series of movements. 
  • Small weights: Small weights (often one to three pounds) are incorporated to add resistance and intensify the workout. Arm exercises such as bicep curls, shoulder presses, and lateral raises are common during this strength training portion.
  • Resistance bands: Resistance bands are used to add challenge to various movements, providing continuous tension and improving muscle strength.
  • Mat work: Barre workouts may transition to the mat for floor exercises focusing on core strength and flexibility.

Importantly, barre workouts place heavy emphasis on isometric movements, such as planks or wall sits, which consist of holding certain body positions for an extended period, effectively targeting specific muscle groups. Pulsing exercises and high repetitions are other critical elements of barre workouts, which both contribute to better muscle endurance and tone.

Who Is Barre For?

A common misconception about barre workouts is that they're exclusive to dancers or individuals with prior ballet experience. While inspired by ballet, barre workouts are designed for all individuals regardless of fitness level and require no previous dance experience.

Barre fitness workouts are designed to be inclusive for all with the ability to challenge participants at various fitness levels, and many classes even cater to beginners. The use of lighter weights and body weight modifications to certain exercises allows individuals to progress at their own pace, gradually building strength, endurance, and flexibility over time. 

Due to the low-impact nature of these exercises, barre workouts may be particularly accessible and beneficial for older adults or pregnant women looking for a postnatal training routine.

Barre, Yoga, or Pilates

A split image with three pictures, one of the back of a person in a dark ponytail doing Barre, another of a person outdoors with curly hair doing yoga, and the third of a blond person with a bob cut doing pilates with an exercise ball and black exercise mat in a gym
Source: Unsplash, Pexels

Barre, yoga, and pilates are popular, yet distinct fitness regimens, each with its own focus and unique characteristics.

  • Barre: Barre workouts blend elements of ballet, strength training, and flexibility exercises and often involve isometric movements, high repetition, pulsing movements, and the use of the ballet barre for support.
  • Yoga: Yoga is a holistic practice that combines physical postures, breath control, meditation, and mindfulness with a focus on flexibility and balance, aiming to promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
  • Pilates: Pilates is a low-impact workout that targets the core muscles, emphasizing strength, flexibility, and overall body awareness, and it often focuses on building core strength, improving posture, and enhancing overall body strength.

6 Benefits of Barre Workouts

Not only is Barre an accessible workout that everyone can enjoy, but it also provides several different benefits for health and fitness. The Nutrisense health team rounded up some of its benefits. Here's the lowdown on some of the evidence-based reasons you should try adding a Barre workout to your routine.

A beige backdrop with a white text box, with black text listing out six benefits of the barre workout

May Improve Flexibility

Barre workouts may contribute to better flexibility through a combination of dynamic and static stretches, along with targeted movements that enhance the range of motion in various muscle groups. Particularly, many barre exercises involve isometric contractions, where muscles are engaged without changing length.

The pulsing movements also help improve flexibility by working on both the contraction and relaxation phases of muscle movement.

May Increase Strength

Barre workouts can be effective in improving muscle strength by specifically targeting and isolating various muscle groups in the upper body and lower body. The small, controlled movements are able to target specific muscles with precision, and the use of high repetitions helps to promote muscle endurance and strength. 

Furthermore, barre workouts often utilize resistance bands and small weights which helps to intensify the workout and strengthen muscles.

Can Reduce Stress

A person with their hair tied, meditating
Source: Unsplash

Barre workouts can help reduce stress through a combination of physical activity, mindfulness, and controlled breathing. Exercise promotes the release of endorphins, the body's natural stress relievers, and engaging in physical activity helps reduce tension and elevate mood. 

Barre classes also often incorporate controlled breathing techniques, aligning breath with movement, which can help activate the body’s relaxation response, alleviating stress and tension.

May Support Better Balance

Barre exercises often involve movements that challenge stability resulting in increased muscle engagement and improved balance. The isometric exercises in barre, such as holding static positions like pliés or relevés, specifically target balance by challenging the body to maintain equilibrium.

The use of a ballet barre for support allows participants to work on balance gradually, targeting muscles in the legs, core, and ankles.

Can Increase Mindfulness

Barre workouts also often emphasize a mind-body connection, encouraging participants to be present in the moment and to be aware of their body’s positioning and alignment. This increased awareness may contribute to better control over movements and, subsequently, improved balance. 

Is a Low-Impact Exercise

Barre workouts are considered low-impact, which contributes to a lower risk of injury compared to other high-impact exercises. Barre consists of controlled, fluid movements that are often done with small hand weights. 

Despite being low-impact, barre still provides notable cardiovascular benefits and strength training through controlled movements, muscle isolation, and weights.

Is Barre Good for Weight Loss?

A group of people doing a Barre workout in a fitness studio
Source: Shutterstock

Barre workouts may contribute to weight loss through several mechanisms. However, it's important to note that individual results may vary based on factors such as consistency, diet, and overall lifestyle. Here's how barre may support weight loss:

  • Burning calories: While not as high-intensity as some other forms of cardio, the continuous and repetitive nature of the movements can lead to calorie burn during and after the workout which may contribute to weight loss.
  • Muscle building: Barre focuses on muscle engagement, and building lean muscle mass contributes to an increase in the rest metabolic rate, which means the body continues to burn calories even at rest.
  • Cardiovascular benefits: Elevating the heart rate during the workout improves cardiovascular health and contributes to overall calorie expenditure.
  • Stress reduction: Barre workouts often emphasize stress reduction techniques like mindfulness and deep breathing which may positively impact weight loss by reducing the likelihood of stress-induced overeating or emotional eating.
  • Improved body composition: Barre's focus on muscle toning and strengthening can lead to improved body composition, with a higher proportion of lean muscle mass to body fat, which can contribute to a more efficient metabolism and aid in weight loss.

Tips for Maximizing Benefits of Barre

  • Attend classes regularly: Regular attendance helps to consistently build strength, improve flexibility, and enhance overall endurance, so aiming for at least one class per week may help you experience optimal benefits.
  • Mix in complementary workouts: Incorporate other activities to help enhance Barre's effectiveness, such as stretching sessions, yoga, or cardio workouts.
  • Include strength training: If not already, incorporate small weights and resistance bands into your workout to further build overall muscle strength.
  • Prioritize recovery: Allow time for muscle recovery by integrating rest days into your routine. Adequate sleep, foam rolling, and gentle stretching on rest days can promote recovery and prevent overexerting your body.
  • Enjoy the process: Make barre workouts enjoyable by finding Barre studios or instructors that resonate with you or going with a friend to your first class to increase the likelihood of sticking with your fitness routine.

Try This Barre Workout

A beige backdrop with a cream text box on it and black text listing out a sample full body Barre workout

Here’s an equipment-free barre workout routine to try at home!

Warm Up

  1. March in Place: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart, gently lift knees towards the chest, swinging arms in opposition.
  2. Arm Circles: Extend arms out to the sides at shoulder height, make small circles forward for 30 seconds, then backward for 30 seconds.
  3. Torso Twist: Stand with feet hip-width apart, clasp hands together in front of the chest, and twist your torso from side to side, engaging core muscles.

Full Body Barre Workout

  1. Plié Pulses (Inner Thighs):some text
    • Stand facing the barre with feet wider than hip-width apart, toes turned out slightly.
    • Lower into a plié squat, keeping knees aligned over toes.
    • Pulse up and down in the plié position for 30 seconds, engaging inner thigh muscles.
  2. Lift and Lower (Glutes):some text
    • Hold onto the barre for support with one hand.
    • Extend one leg straight back, toes pointed, engaging glutes.
    • Lift your leg a few inches off the floor and lower back down in a controlled motion.
    • Perform 15 reps on each leg.
  3. Ballet Arms (Shoulders and Arms):some text
    • Stand tall with feet hip-width apart and hold onto the barre with both hands, arms extended.
    • Bend elbows slightly and lift arms to shoulder height.
    • Pulse arms up and down for 30 seconds, engaging shoulder muscles.
  4. Core Plank (Abdominals):some text
    • Place hands on the barre, shoulder-width apart, and step feet back into a plank position.
    • Keep the core engaged and the body in a straight line from head to heels.
    • Hold the plank for 30 seconds to 1 minute, focusing on breathing and maintaining proper form.
  5. Attitude Lifts (Outer Thighs and Glutes):some text
    • Stand facing the barre and hold onto it with one hand for support.
    • Bend one knee and lift it out to the side, keeping the foot flexed and the knee turned out (like a ballet attitude position).
    • Lift and lower the lifted leg in a controlled motion, engaging the outer thigh and glute muscles.
    • Perform 15 reps on each leg.

Cool Down

End your workout by stretching your arms and legs with static stretches and taking a few moments to practice deep breathing.

When engaging in barre workouts, it’s essential to perform each exercise with controlled movements and proper form while also adjusting repetitions and intensity based on fitness level and personal goals. Remember to always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions or concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions About Barre

Is Barre or Pilates Better?

Barre is known for its focus on small, repetitive movements and high repetitions, while pilates places a stronger emphasis on core strength and overall body awareness. While both are considered to be low-impact, effective exercises, choosing between them depends on personal preferences and specific fitness goals.

Is Barre Harder Than Yoga?

The difficulty between barre and yoga can vary widely from person to person depending on their individual fitness level and abilities. Barre can be particularly challenging due to its emphasis on small, controlled movements and high repetitions. While also challenging, yoga focuses more on flexibility, balance, and mindfulness.

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Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Reviewed by: Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Victoria began her career in the functional medicine space in 2015. She has extensive experience interpreting labs and supporting weight loss, gut imbalances, and chronic migraines. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and dietetics from Missouri State University.