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Invest In A Pair of Light Weights
Barre may not seem like the most obvious form of resistance training, but that’s the beauty of it – you’re building strength in a low-impact way, says barre instructor Rod Buchanan, and it all comes down to using light weights. “Barre is focused on toning and sculpting using low weights combined with lots of reps,” he tells SL. “This causes the muscle fibres to break down, building your slow twitch muscle fibres and endurance as opposed to less reps with heavy weights, which tears the muscle fibres and builds mass. A set of light weights – no heavier than 1kg – is a must.” Karen Aspinall, trainer at Barrecore, agrees. “A ballet body is athletic, strong, toned and lean, and this all comes down to lighter weights and more reps – this creates those trademark long, lean muscles. The muscles become fatigued by doing extra reps, which exhausts the muscle, burns lots of calories and tones without bulking.”
Scale Things Up With Accessories
When you’re ready to level things up, a few additional accessories can keep the body challenged, Rod adds. “A soft Pilates ball is great for both the upper and lower body, while small resistance bands and gliders can also elevate simple moves.” Kiri Jones, master Pilates and barre trainer, says that if you add on anything, try a ball. “The beauty of barre is that the equipment is minimal, but if you want to add intensity, they can add something to leg and glute work. My favourite prop is a small Pilates ball – place it between your thighs for an extra squeeze. You can also place it under your back to support and intensify abdominal work and while standing, wedge it under your heels to make moves more advanced.”
Keep The Movements Small
It can be tempting to throw yourself into a ballet-style workout, but instructors agree it’s the moves that look insignificant that burn the most energy, so keep things small and controlled for best results. “The most common mistake beginners make when doing barre is making the movements too big and misunderstanding the subtleties of the technique,” Karen tells us. “Often, the smaller the movement, the more effective. This keeps the body ‘in the muscle’ throughout the exercise and keeps the body challenged.”
Prepare To Work The Whole Body
Unlike traditional resistance training, which often works one muscle group at a time, a large part of barre’s efficacy comes down to the fact it works multiple muscles at any given time. “There are countless moves in barre that provide a full-body workout,” says Rod. “A classic is the flat back chair position, which is performed by pulling off the barre, taking your body into a seated position with your feet just under the barre. Holding this position and adding in various choreography works the arms, chest back and abs – it’s an intense posture that provides a full-body workout.”
Stick With It
Like any workout, you’ll need to commit to doing barre-style workouts regularly to see results. “You’ll start to see results within a couple of weeks, but like anything, consistency is key,” says Kiri. “If you can commit to three or four sessions a week, interspersed with gentle cardio and stretching, you’ll see real changes. But even one barre class a week amongst other training methods is great and will keep the body guessing.” When it comes to the signs that your sessions are paying off, Karen says you’ll start by feeling more supple and flexible, and then a little firmer, particularly around the thighs and bum.
Always Stretch Post-Workout
“Stretching as many muscles as possible is always recommended after a ballet-style workout,” says Rod. “Foam rolling is a fantastic way to release tension from the muscles. It works by breaking down adhesions in the muscles, allowing for blood and oxygen to run smoothly to the muscles, which enhances muscle repair.” Kiri is also a fan of a post-workout stretch. “Barre pushes muscles to the point of fatigue, so ensuring a decent cool-down goes a long way. The best stretch is a ‘figure 4’ or butterfly stretch for the deep glutes. Barre also uses a lot of external rotation in the hips (think turned-out ballet positions), which works the muscles on the outside of your bum and thighs, so be sure to stretch here, too. It’s not the most obvious part of the body to stretch, so it’s wise to spend a couple of minutes here for enhanced recovery and reduced muscle pain.”
Refuel With Protein
Combining stretching with small movements to build lean muscle, the experts recommend eating some form of protein post-workout to kickstart recovery. “The muscle fatigue during barre creates micro tears in your muscle fibres, so it’s vital to encourage new, healthy growth from high-quality nutrition,” says Kiri. “You can’t go wrong with a protein shake – it’s easy and quick to make, and you can drink it on the go, too. Plus, a shake gives you scope to add in additional nutrients, such as coconut water, which is great to replenish electrolytes after an intense session.” Give your body a further helping hand with a good-quality supplement, advises Rod. “Using the right supplements can enhance muscle repair and recovery. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) can increase muscle growth, glucosamine can support healthy joints; and magnesium is a fantastic nutrient to support recovery and enhance muscle function.”
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