THE CLASSES

After bringing his talent from New York City to Los Angeles, from the big screen to the small screen and even to the stage, dancer/CHOREOGRAPHER Richard Giorla, has used his over 30 years of experience and classical training to create CARDIO BARRE®, one of today’s hottest fitness workouts.

His training consisted of scholarships at Pennsylvania Ballet, Steps on Broadway, David Howard Ballet School and Joe Tremaines.

It all began when Richard suffered a crushing hip injury, which ended his dance career. Giorla wanted to keep moving at a pace that made sense for his body, yet no exercise routine met his needs.

Giorla wasn’t alone. With years of experience in the fitness industry, he witnessed an alarming rate of injury caused by high impact workouts. He also noticed many injured athletes and everyday people struggling to find a workout that fit their body, injury and motivation.

Giorla saw the need for a high-energy workout, offering cardio yet without the impact on the body, offering a much safer work out. Giorla used his passion for dance and fitness to design a workout that combined the two, and created what is today, CARDIO BARRE®.

WTF Are Barre Workouts and Are They Actually Worth Doing?

Visit any barre studio’s website and you’ll find plenty of appealing promises: “Develop long, lean muscles without bulk.” “Sculpt a ballerina’s body.” “Enhance flexibility and improve balance.” Many say that after only five classes, you’ll see changes in your body, gain strength, and tone those hard-to-target muscles in your core, arms, and legs. And the best part: Anyone—no matter their age, weight, or fitness level—can hit the bar and get results. With claims like these, who wouldn’t want to plié their way to a stronger body?

As with anything that sounds too good to be true, we had to investigate. Here, we dig into the science behind the the ballet-inspired workout to find out exactly how (and if) it can actually transform your physique.

The History

Considering that the basic equipment (ahem, a ballet barre) and many of the moves are based on classic ballet positions, it’s no surprise barre was developed by a ballerina. After injuring her back, Lotte Berk, a German dancer living in London, came up with the idea to combine her dance conditioning routine with her rehabilitative therapy. She opened her first studio in 1959 in her London basement, where famous faces such as Joan Collins and Barbara Streisand regularly came to lift, tuck, and curl.

Lydia Bach, an American student of Berk’s, brought the workout back to the states in 1971, when she opened the first Lotte Berk Method studio in New York City. Over time instructors began branching off to create their own variations of the workout, such as Physique 57, The Bar Method, and Core Fusion, among others. In fact, so many teachers eventually left the original Lotte Berk Method studio that it ended up closing its doors in 2005.

To say the barre trend has heated up in the last 10 years is an understatement. Barre has morphed from a class for nimble dancer-types to become the workout of choice for fitness fiends everywhere—and studios are springing up in droves across the U.S. (and internationally). In fact, Pure Barre has almost 300 locations, while The Bar Method just opened its 82nd studio. Several brands, including Barre3, Beyond Barre, and Physique 57 also offer online streaming and on-demand videos. Basically if your neighborhood doesn’t have a barre studio, it’s safe to assume it will soon.

The Workout

While barre has origins in dance, the rhythmically challenged shouldn’t worry: No tapshoes, leotards, or any fancy footwork are required. “You don’t need any dance experience—you’re not going to be doing pirouettes,” says Nicole Bushong, DPT, a former dancer and physical therapist at the Center for Advanced Orthopedics and Advanced Medicine in Auburn Hills, MI.

Instead, most barre classes follow the same basic structure: You’ll start with a mat-based warm-up full of planks and push-ups, do a series of arm exercises, and continue at the bar with a lower-body section to work your thighs and glutes. Finally, you’ll finish with a series of core-focused moves at the bar or a short session on the mat.

As for gear, the moves are typically bodyweight only, but you can use light hand weights (usually two or three pounds) or resistance bands to level up your arm exercises. For lower-body work, a soft exercise ball is often used to help engage leg muscles. And while most studios recommend wearing socks with sticky grips on the bottom, others let you go barefoot.

So what’s the difference between barre and a typical strength training class? Rather than larger, compound movements (think squats and shoulder presses), you’ll perform tiny, one-inch increments called isometric movements, says Burr Leonard, fitness expert and founder of The Bar Method. That’s why you’ll often hear, “Down an inch, up an inch,” repeated by barre teachers.

For someone who’s used to HIIT or CrossFit, it may seem like you’re not working hard enough. But that’s absolutely not the case, Leonard says. “In fact, you’re getting a killer workout because the one-inch increments are enough to fire up the muscle and make it more elastic, but not too big to tear the muscle.”

The Benefits

So really, can the $20 to $30 spent on each class truly help lift your rear, tone your thighs, improve posture, and deliver a dancer’s body? Here’s what the experts say:

1. Those tiny movements can help you get stronger.

The isometric contractions that make up the bulk of a barre class occur when the muscle tenses without changing length. Think of these movements as the opposite of typical strength training moves (or concentric and eccentric contractions), which occur when a muscle stretches then shortens (as in a biceps curl). Isometric exercise is a great way to maintain muscle strength.

“What’s wonderful about the one-inch movements is that you can hold a posture and benefit from continuously engaging the muscle, but you also get a mini-recovery with each pulse, so you can stay in the hold longer,” says Sadie Lincoln, fitness expert and founder of Barre3.

Bushong agrees that there’s a physical payoff from these tiny pulses. “Isometric movements help isolate specific muscles,” she says. “You can do more reps with smaller movements like these, which fatigue your muscles in a different way.” These higher-rep, low-weight exercises target slow-twitch muscles, which help increase endurance. In contrast, larger, compound movements target fast-twitch muscles, which help with power and speed (think running a marathon vs. sprinting). Plus, isometric movements can help strengthen muscles without straining tendons or ligaments, so there’s less risk of injury compared to more traditional strength training.

2. You’ll target multiple muscle groups at once.

“It’s a highly efficient workout since you’re doing two to four movements—holding, pulsing, stretching, for example—at a time in each move,” Leonard says. For example, in Bar Method classes, you’ll practice the “diamond waterski.” While holding onto the bar with one hand, your legs are in a diamond-shape, heels raised, while the torso is angled (think of a water-skier leaning back). This move mainly targets your quads, but at the same time you’re also challenging the calves, hamstrings, glutes, abs, and upper-back muscles. Bonus: “Working all these areas at once also helps raise the heart rate,” Leonard says.

3. You’re going to see your body shake like a bowl of JELL-O.

“This happens most commonly in thigh work at the barre, as you’re spending an extended period of time in a muscle (quad) contraction, while performing an isometric hold to intensify the work,” says Kira Stokes, trainer and creator of the Stoked Series and StokedC3BarreMAX. Shaking is a sign of muscle fatigue—your muscles are telling you they are feeling it. If taught and done correctly, this is a good thing. You may be tempted to pop out of the hold if you start to shake, but try to embrace the shake! “Also, if you worked your lower body the day before or you’re dehydrated, this can increase the likelihood of muscles trembling,” Stokes adds.

4. You’ll improve your mind-body connection.

The smaller movements in a barre class can bring a new level of awareness to the body that you don’t get in regular strength workouts, says Greatist Expert Jessi Kneeland, founder of Remodel Fitness. “In this way, barre can improve muscular activation for frequently underused muscles by strengthening the neuro-muscular (mind-body) connection,” she says.

5. You may lose weight.

“We’ve had students who have lost 100 pounds or more doing The Bar Method, but it’s so individual,” Leonard says. “You just have to be aware of your body and figure out what’s best for you to lose weight.” And it’s important to remember that what you eat can have a bigger impact on weight loss than what you do: “Ninety percent of losing weight is about what you eat and how much you eat,” Leonard says. (Hint: as little sugar as possible.)

Plus, as with any exercise, barre affects different body types in different ways. “While a trained ballerina or 6’2” model can come in and see results in a few classes, someone struggling with their weight may not see change as quickly,” Stokes says.

Depending on your body type and fitness level, you’ll see and feel changes in three weeks to three months, Leonard says—though making a major change in your body and losing a significant amount of weight could take more than a year. All that hard work will pay off, though: “Our students develop a natural youthfulness, power, and grace, and wonderful, natural posture and a lifted derriere,” Leonard says.

The Real Deal

Other fitness experts, however, aren’t so sure that barre is the end-all, be-all fitness miracle it’s touted to be. “Of course anything that gets people moving is fantastic,” says Adam Rosante, founder of The People’s Bootcamp and author of The 30-Second Body. “And barre classes can help improve postural alignment, core strength, and enhance mobility—especially if you spend most of your time sitting at a desk.” On the other hand, there are a few downsides:

1. You may not gain functional strength.

“You’re not going to build great functional strength through the methods employed in barre classes alone,” Rosante says. Barre classes can lack compound movements, like squats, lunges, bent-over rows, or clean-and-presses, which involve multiple muscle groups and joints. These functional exercises help you gain strength for moves you’re likely to encounter in everyday life, like walking up stairs, picking up boxes, or carrying groceries. “Plus, compound movements recruit maximum muscle fibers, which in turn drive your heart rate through the roof. This translates into greater fat loss,” Rosante says.

Many brands, including Barre3 and The Bar Method, are adding functional, aerobic movements to their repertoire. After fatiguing the muscles in isometric holds, Barre3 students, for example, follow with functional movements (think full-range squats following small pulses at the bar), which also add in some cardio. “We don’t want to train your body to dance—we want to train your body for life,” Lincoln says.

2. You’re not challenging your heart enough.

The cardio you’ll do in typical barre classes isn’t enough for cardiovascular health and post-exercise calorie burn, Stokes says. Even though you do some low-level cardio in barre, Stokes estimates you’re only working at 40 to 50 percent of your maximum heart rate in a typical barre class, as evidenced by the fact you can often head straight to dinner after class (without needing to shower).

Translation: If your goal is to burn fat, you need to consider the lack of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC)—what’s commonly known as afterburn—when it comes to barre, Rosante says. “Any calorie burn that’s happening in class is going to end when it’s over.”

3. You may plateau.

Your body will get used to barre class, and without hefting heavier weights (barre class weights typically max out at five pounds), you’ll tap out your potential to get stronger, Kneeland says. “Since consistent progressive overload and challenging your body is the key to consistent progress, you’ll most likely see results for a little while, then plateau.”

The Takeaway

If you find barre classes fun and motivating, go for it! After all, you’re more likely to stick with an exercise regimen if you enjoy it. Consider it “fine-tuning for your body,” Stokes suggests. If you’re doing a lot of strength training and spinning, for example, it’s a good idea to incorporate the high-reps, bodyweight-only exercises of a barre class once a week. “A combination of classes together creates the leanest, best body possible,” she says.

Adding barre to your routine? On another two to three days a week, do some cardio to get your heart rate up, and add in two to three strength training sessions, Kneeland suggests. (We like to make our workouts super efficient with metabolic strength training like this high-intensity workout you can do at home.)

To quote the cereal commercials of your childhood, “It’s all part of a balanced breakfast,” Rosante says. “Lift, run, jump, do yoga, swim, take a barre class, dance. Mix up your routine and keep your body moving while focusing the majority of your efforts on work that increases overall strength and endurance. Do that and you’ll be fit as a fiddle for life.”

What Dr. Michael Smith Says:

Barre fitness is ideal if you’re just getting into exercise. The classes will improve your balance, build strength, make you more flexible, burn calories, and improve stability through a stronger core.

As you get more comfortable and fit, you can ramp up the intensity by adding weights and more challenging moves. If you have more experience and are looking for something new to challenge yourself, advanced barre classes can do the trick.

It’s challenging for men and women alike. These moves are a lot harder than they look and can help anyone take their fitness to the next level.

Is It Good for Me If I Have a Health Condition?

Barre exercises are often gentle on the joints and can be an excellent choice if you have arthritis or joint problems. You’ll also build stronger muscles, which gives more support to your joints and lessens pain.

But certain moves can put added stress on your joints. For example, turning out your legs may not feel good on your knees, especially if you’re turning out from your feet, rather than from your hips. Ask your instructor how to adapt moves that don’t feel good, and to show you good form.

When recovering from a back injury, you want to focus on building a stronger core. Barre fitness can help you do that.

If you’re looking for exercise to help control your diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease, there are better options for you. Look for fitness options that involve more cardio exercise.

If you’re pregnant, barre classes are a perfect choice. You’ll burn calories and keep your muscles strong and flexible without putting unneeded stress on your body. You will need to change some of the moves as you get further along in your pregnancy. Avoid any moves that make you unsteady on your feet.

If you ever dreamt of being a ballerina—or at least, dreamed of being as strong and/or as flexible as a ballerina—you’re in luck. Instead of having to schlep to (and pay for) a dance class, you can now get everything you need for a ballet-level strength right in the comfort of your living room.

YouTube is bursting with barre videos that cost exactly 0 bucks—which is much, much cheaper than the usual 20 to 30 dollars per class that most studios charge—and offer ballet-based workouts that you can do without an actual barre (unless, ya know, you happen to have one of those lying around at home). All you have to do is sub in a chair or table to hold onto in order to keep your form in tact and get to plié-ing.

Barre workouts might be light on cardio, but they’re an A-plus way to sculpt and strengthen muscles using teeny, tiny movements that will leave your legs shaking, for real. But instead of trying to first, second, and third-position on your own, here are seven videos worth pulling on some white tights and a leotard for. You’re welcome.

Barre3 Body Burner

Even if you don’t have a Barre3 studio nearby (… or just don’t feel like leaving the house to get there), this 45-minute workout is basically the same as taking an actual class. Except that you can do it at home in your underwear.

Holabird Sports Cardio Blasting Barre Workout

Part floor, part barre, this 27-minute series will give you a full taste of what would normally happen in a boutique studio class.

Full-Body Barre Workout

For a barre workout that will leave your arms, abs, ass, and everything in between burning, look no further than Coach Kel. Her videos will give you equal parts cardio and toning, and you’ll for sure be feeling it the next day.

Fit by Larie 25-minute Barre Workout

Only have 25 minutes to spare? Grab a chair and a set of free weights and let Fit by Larie take you through her ballet-inspired sculpt series.

Full-Length Total Body Barre Workout

Strengthen, lengthen, and tone your muscles with absolutely zero equipment—leg warmers optional, but encouraged.

Beach Barre Workout With Renée Herlocker

Giving an entirely new meaning to the phrase “beach bar(re).” Summer, here you come.

Follow Along Barre for Beginners

New to barre? Give it a first-time try with this slow-follow class, which will help even the earliest beginner feel like a legit ballerina.

Supplement your barre yoga with some stretching, care of our favorite YouTube yogis. And here’s how one ballerina uses Pilates for injury prevention and recovery.

20-Minute Cardio Barre Home Workout {Barre + HIIT Fusion Workout}

This full body, 20-Minute Cardio Barre Home Workout fuses traditional barre strength training exercises with high intensity interval training; toning your arms, abs, and inner thighs while raising your heart rate to burn calories.

When you think ‘barre workout‘, you probably think pulsing pliés and not sweaty, heart-pumping cardio.

But if you follow me on Instagram and have seen my ‘barre workouts’ highlight reel, you know that I like to kick up {pun intended} the intensity of my barre workouts.

I love combining smaller, barre strength training exercises that tighten and tone common trouble areas for women {triceps, inner thighs, and abs} with larger, high intensity movements with both cardiovascular, strength training, and fat burning benefits.

And that’s what you get with this effective, 20-minute cardio barre home workout!

If you like higher intensity barre workouts like this, you’d also love my:

  • 30-Minute Cardio Barre Boxing Workout
  • Yoga + HIIT Fusion Workout
  • Barre Legs + Cardio Tabata Workout
  • Glider Disc Barre Workout

And if you prefer more traditional, low-impact barre workouts give these a try:

  • Low Impact Beginner Barre Workout {great for prenatal fitness}
  • 10-Minute Barre Core Workout
  • Barre Buns + Thighs Workout
  • 7 Barre Moves to Tone + Tighten

The Workout: 20-Minute Cardio Barre Home Workout

This full body, 20-Minute Cardio Barre Home Workout fuses traditional barre strength training exercises with high intensity interval training.

Complete the timed interval or repetitions listed next to each exercise below using light-to-medium dumbbells {5-10 lbs}. Repeat the workout x 3 sets or set a timer for 20 minutes and work through as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes.

See video above for complete workout and proper exercise form.

DB Pliè Squat + Lunge + Knee Drive Combo

Pliè Squat + Back Fly

DB Heel Click Jumps

Lateral Lunge + Curl + Relevè

Alternating Squat Jack + High Pull

3 Point Push Up

Scissor Kicks + Triceps

What I’m Wearing

  • Athleta Stripe High Neck Chi Tank {$44}
  • Lululemon Align Leggings {hands down my favorite leggings, I have them in black + navy and wear them almost daily, $98}

The above apparel links are affiliate links and I do make a small commission for products purchased using these links. Thank you for supporting Nourish Move Love, making the content you see on this blog possible.

How to Get a Cardio Barre Workout At Home

Cardio Barre combines two amazing forms of exercise: aerobic training and barre (ballet) training. Though it may seem graceful and flowing, barre is actually one of the most intense, demanding forms of exercise around. If you want to strengthen your core, build muscular endurance, and shred your lower body muscle, you’d do well to try barre.

Thankfully, you don’t need to go to a dance studio to learn. You can do your own barre workout at home with the following exercises:

Relevé Plié

This exercise is amazing for your lower body, specifically your quads and glutes. However, the wide, open stance works the outside of your thigh muscles and improves hip mobility. Stand behind a chair (gripping it if needed), with your feet in “first position” and your posture straight and erect. Bend your knees outward over your toes as you plie (half-squat), then return to your original position. Stay on your toes the entire time for a killer calf workout!

Arabesque Attitude

This movement works out your obliques (side muscles) and glutes, improving hip mobility at the same time. Stand with your chest lifted and your left leg raised and pointed outward (arabesque position). Bend your left knee until your foot is higher than the knee (attitude position) and lift your arm over your head. Return your leg and arm to its original position for 1 rep. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps.

Plie Half-Twist

Get in the Releve Plie position (see above) with your knees bent and your chest up. Reach your arms across your body in a half-twist. You’ll feel the burn in your core, your legs, and your hips. It’s an amazing way to strengthen your lower body and improve mobility, all while in the Plie position.

Arabesque Curl

This movement engages your hips and glutes while working your arms at the same time. Stand in the first position, with your left hand on the back of a chair and a dumbbell in your right hand. As you lift your right leg into the Arabesque position, curl the dumbbell upward. Repeat for a set of 15 to 20 repetitions, then do the same on the left leg.

Attitude/Arabesque Standing Crunches

Perform this exercise to shred your hip muscles and core, especially the side muscles (obliques). Lean on a chair for support, standing with your weight on one foot. Raise a dumbbell over your head on the same side as your foot. Lift the foot in the Arabesque (straight leg lifted outward) or Attitude (knee bent, foot back) positions. As you lift your leg, bring the weight downward to touch your elbow to your knee. As you lower your leg, push the dumbbell upward to work the shoulders and triceps. Repeat 15 to 20 reps per set, and make sure to hit both sides.

These five simple movements are an amazing barre workout that will have your muscles on fire and your heart pumping. You can get that dancer’s body at home in no time!

What is cardio barre workout?

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