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Hitting the Barre

by Chelsea Greenwood | Jezebel magazine | June 1, 2011

Seventies fashions—think bellbottoms, floppy hats and platforms—are back en vogue once again, so is it any surprise that an exercise from the 1970s is regaining popularity, too? Back then, women from New York to Hollywood were toning and tightening their bodies with barre workouts, following the teachings of the Lotte Berk Method, named for the German ballerina who originally developed the technique to treat her injured back. Now, celebs like Kelly Ripa and Drew Barrymore, in addition to thousands of men and women across the country, are reaping the benefits of the revitalized trend.

“I think the method has regained popularity because people are
looking for a fun way to get sculpting benefits in a group setting,” says
Jessica Gowen, director of Core, which has a studio offering barre classes.
“Many women also have an inner ballerina and remember barre work
from childhood dance classes. The classes give women a way to honor
that inner ballerina in a less intimidating manner than a ballet class.”

The premise is simple enough: A person holds onto a wall-mounted
bar and uses his or her own body weight to work out. But, depending
on one’s body and foot position as well as grip, the technique can be
modified to strengthen muscles in many different areas of the body,
in addition to increasing flexibility, improving posture and burning
calories without negatively impacting one’s joints. Alternating complex
movements (working several muscles at once) and deep stretches
results in a leaner, longer body overall.

“You’re working your abdominals, hips, arms and buttocks,” says
Patricia Russell, who teaches Urban Barre, a barre-fusion class at Urban
Body Studios. “You’re toning and firming the body from head to toe.”
The recent reincarnation of the barre craze fuses the traditional
method with other exercises—such as Pilates, weight conditioning
and yoga—to boost its efficacy and appeal.

“People are always looking for something different,” says Joy
Davis, whose Barre Blend class at Core Westside incorporates various
styles and equipment. “Your body can get used to doing certain
exercises and movements, and I think it’s good to change it up.”

Choose from a variety of different barre workouts offered by area
gyms (see Atlanta’s Barre Scene) to learn the basics and get a feel
for the overall technique. Then you can augment classes by performing
additional barre exercises at home. Davis provided step-by-step
instructions for five moves in which you can use a dining room chair
or other stable support in lieu of the barre. “Stand facing the barre or
dining chair to start each exercise,” she says. “Bend arms and place
heels of hands on barre. Each exercise will challenge the lower body.”