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Barre workouts help average athletes get dancer-fit

Kristyn Everson of Bel Air balances a ball in her lap along with other students during a barre exercise class at Bel Air Athletic Club.
Kristyn Everson of Bel Air balances a ball in her lap along with other students during a barre exercise class at Bel Air Athletic Club. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

You don't need to be a ballerina to get the muscle tone and posture of a dancer. At the Bel Air Athletic Club's barre class, you'll navigate the same waist-height handrail prima ballerinas use for warmups, no pointe shoes required.

"With barre, it's really the perfect exercise for a woman's body," says Lori Berry, a fitness instructor at Bel Air Athletic Club who teaches barre. "In the beginning, you use 3- to 5-pound weights, and again, it's isometric movements, so you may be working your biceps with a smaller range and it's less weight."

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Whereas Pilates, a more commonly known workout, works with a smaller number of repetitions and focuses on the quality of the reps, barre is the opposite, according to Berry. The hourlong barre class focuses on arm work, planks, push-ups and workouts on the bar, and includes more repetitions than Pilates.

Barre classes use exercises with "tiny motions, many reps [and] intentional squeezes and pulses known as isometric movements," Berry explains.

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"The movements are designed to fatigue muscles to failure," she adds. "Embrace the shaking, as it's totally natural for your muscles to quiver uncontrollably. It means you are exhausting that muscle and forcing [it] to tone."

The class starts with a warmup and then moves to an arm series consisting of using 2- to 6-pound weights before moving to the floor for push-ups and planks. After that, the class moves to the ballet barre to work the thighs, gluteal muscles and hamstrings.

With consistent barre workouts, class members can expect increased flexibility and muscle strength; toned arms, legs and bottom; and improved posture, according to Berry.

"The benefit to a barre class is that everyone works with small movements and can limit or expand their range of motion to suit their specific needs," she adds. "There are always modifications, so every age and level can participate in class."

Bel Air Athletic Club's barre classes are open to nonmembers for a fee. Members and nonmembers alike will benefit from the small class sizes, which allow more one-on-one interaction between the instructor and students.

Kim Menges of Fallston has been taking the barre class at the Bel Air Athletic Club for about a year.

"[I was] previously a cardio junkie and still am, but I am now addicted to barre twice a week and would give up running on any day to squeeze in those two classes," she wrote in an email. "I can say that while I have not changed my weight, my jean size dropped by two sizes."

Becki Robinson of Forest Hill also praised the class, which she has been attending since January. Robinson enjoys the low-impact exercises, as well as the upbeat music and class environment.

"I love taking the barre class because it is a whole-body workout, and you can feel the effects of the workout for days afterward," she says. "The classes are always different with a great amount of variety."  

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