What makes Barre so challenging?

Updated: Mar 9

Low impact but high intensity, you’re shaking but not sweating, the weights are light but at the same time couldn’t feel heavier...what exactly is it that makes barre so challenging but yet at the same time so enjoyable? (Honestly, people say this!)

Regardless of where you are with your own fitness journey, you will almost definitely underestimate your first Barre class! From afar you’d be forgiven for thinking these workouts couldn’t possibly be as demanding as a HIIT class or as exhausting as a spin session however, one more set of the teeniest of tiny pulses can feel like one hell of a challenge.

What makes Barre different?

There are some key differences between these types of workouts that help to explain why the effect feels so different. In traditional strength and resistance training, the focus is on activating your fast-twitch muscles. These muscles contract quickly and are used for powerful and dynamic movements to increase muscle size. In contrast, Barre workouts recruit slow-twitch muscles. These muscles are used all day, every day during normal life to maintain posture and joint position. They take longer to activate during a workout and are not as easily fatigued as fast-twitch muscle fibres.

During a Barre workout, we’ll focus on activating these muscles, with the addition of some light weights and resistance bands with the focus being on working each muscle group from all angles, contracting, extending and working isometric holds in there too. The result of this is that we’ll work the muscles until the point of exhaustion and you’ll start to feel the ‘Barre burn’ as we come to the peak of each sequence.

What is the infamous 'Barre burn'?

Luckily the burning sensation isn’t your muscles tearing (hurrah) and is actually a by-product that’s released as your body breaks down fuel (glucose) to use it as energy, without the use of oxygen. During this process, hydrogen ions are produced and spread into the muscle cells, turning them acidic and giving the sensation of burning in the working muscle. It’s this anaerobic glycolysis (the process of converting glucose to energy, without the use of oxygen), that is specific to workouts like Barre and Pilates, testing your endurance by making your body tap into its energy reserves.

Remember to breathe!

Taking time to control your breathing during your Barre workout can help lessen the burning sensation by allowing more free-flowing oxygen into the body. When it comes to breathing (and breezing) your way through a Barre workout there are a couple of things to remember; 1. Breathe! Don’t hold your breath, especially when things get tough! You want to get into a proper rhythm with your breath and let it help you work through each movement. 2. As a general rule, you want to exhale on exertions, giving your body the best possible chance of achieving that last set of 8 pulses…which have a habit of turning into just another 8! More on breathwork in Barre in next week’s blog!

After your first few sessions, you’ll get to grips with all the new positions you’re putting your body in, your balance and stability will improve and the moves won’t feel quite as hard over time. This isn’t the moves getting easier, it’s you getting stronger. This is where the variety of different exercises in each class comes into play. With a new barre challenge ready for you every class, you’ll consistently get stronger but never plateau. The ‘Barre burn’ is something you’ll start to look for as a signal that you’ve worked that muscle to the point of triggering changes. So regardless of how many classes you do, the Barre burn will never go away, but you will learn to love it!

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