I am definitely biased, buuuuuuut barre is just the best! Aside from the sense of camaraderie and community, the upbeat music, and the indescribable “barre high,” your body is challenged in a totally unique way. It’s low impact, but definitely not low intensity! No matter who you are or how fit you are, it is a shockingly challenging workout. Barre is full of tiny, isometric movements and contractions which generate a big burn and epic shake in your muscles regardless of how strong you are. Seriously – even professional athletes and Olympians (recently witnessed at Flex in the City firsthand – with our special guest Derval O’Rourke!) experience that tremble in their muscles not long into a workout at the barre. And the “barre shake,” although a very good thing, can be a little disconcerting at first. Self magazine recently published a great article which describes more in more detail why the barre shake happens and why it is a sign that your muscles are in fact changing for the better. But the long story short is that because barre focuses on “isometric contractions and high-rep, low weight endurance exercises [it] activates type 1, or slow-twitch, fibers, which provide a low force output but can keep working for an extended period of time… since you perform many reps of the same movement involving specific muscles… you’re working those muscles to exhaustion.” The shake happens as you push past your comfort zone and into fatigue. According Jacques Crockford, exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, “pushing through this trembling, within reason, is a type of muscle overload…this is what your muscles need to enact change, so basically, it means you’re making progress.”
Ok so hopefully you’re becoming convinced of the fact that we are not lying when we tell you that “shaking muscles are changing muscles” and that you should indeed push past the uncomfortable burning and that little deeper into that barre shake. Note: I didn’t say that it makes the experience any easier, but it does make it better! Getting into that shake as often and quickly as possible during class is one of the best ways to make the most out of your barre class. Here are some of my top tips to do just that:
First things first:
Make sure your position relative to the barre and within your body is correct. We go through step-by-step details of how exactly you should set yourself up to make the most of the exercise and each instruction builds on one another. Start by figuring out which way you should be facing and distance to the barre, then focus on your feet (turnout, parallel, wide second, etc.), find a neutral spine/tuck and then focus on the specific details. For example, if you are intended to flex your foot, you’ll feel something less or at least different if your foot is pointed or just relaxed.
In just about every barre exercise, we advise you to get into a neutral spine with your tailbone headed down towards the floor and your goal should be to sink as deep into the position (ideally seat in line with your knees) as possible without changing the shape of the rest of your body. You want to keep your back long and flat, head lifted and shoulders stacked over those ribs and hips, but as long as your form is “en pointe,” get as low and deep into the work as you can!
Make it smaller:
Since the objective of barre is to work in Type 1 muscles to exhaustion, you want to limit the range of your movement to keep the work precisely in that working zone for the target muscle. You shouldn’t usually see too much movement or momentum. Focus on the contraction and keep it controlled and tiny.
Take out the bouncing or rebound:
Again focus on staying in a smaller range of motion which allows for sharp, precise, and controlled movement. Think contraction over momentum. If you are instructed to “hold” something for 4 counts (or otherwise), genuinely FREEZE the position in the deepest, most challenging point, hold the contraction and then race to the next one. Keep the working muscle under pressure – this applies to all of the various sections of class.
There is a lot going on in class and sometimes each individual exercise, but find the main the focus of the exercise and drive as much energy into that particular muscle group as possible – remembering to breathe!
Don’t give up. Although it is intense and burning is real, the shaking is only temporary and it is working. Try your best to stay in position, working as deeply as possible for as long as possible. A lot of barre is mind over matter and it will not only improve your physical strength and stamina, but also your mental. Which can have n amazing spillover effect into various other aspects of your life.
As you get stronger, it may take longer or require you to work even deeper into the shake, but that’s the goal and one of the reasons I love barre so much. You get better, but it doesn’t necessarily get easier. No matter if you have one class or one million classes under your belt, dig deeper and get into that barre shake! I hope you’ll do just that soon and I would love to hear any other tips you may have or about your first experiences shaking at the barre.