We are often quick to dismiss the magnitude of small, but consistent progress in the right direction. However, as nearly anyone who has achieved something great (I’m talking anything from inventing a truly disruptive product to just making it through the day without losing your cool and everything in between) will attest, it’s all about the little steps forward which over time have a cumulative effect. C.S. Lewis said it well: “isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different,” – a truth I am constantly reminding myself of when I fail to recognize growth or become discouraged with my pace of change. And it’s a great source of encouragement for anyone who is committed to continual improvement. And I like to think that in many ways, I am one of said individuals, which is why I have recently been contemplating how this concept applies to maximizing the results of my workouts at the barre. Although an inch is not necessarily what comes to mind when you think “big,” when it comes to barre – the impact of an inch is phenomenal. With so much of its work in isometric contractions, barre is proof that every little bit adds up.
If you’ve taken a barre class, you will have very likely heard the words “tiny,” “small,” or “microscopic” a time or two! Since cuing “an inch” 4507935 times per class would probably become annoying and definitely lead to some tuning out, we try to mix it up with a few synonyms. All that to say, it’s hard to overstate the fact that when we cue an inch, we really do mean one inch, or 2.5 centimeters! No smaller, and certainly no bigger! When it comes to barre, the smaller the movement, the bigger the results.
As I wrote previously, barre is effective because it is designed to work your muscles to exhaustion via isometric contractions, which is exactly what is happening when you experience the infamous “barre shake.” Since the objective of barre is to work your 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. We do this by staying within just an inch range. Here’s how to fine tune your technique and learn to control your range of movement so you can kick it up a notch (but just a notch!) at the barre:
Try to find ways to visually check in
If you can, check yourself out periodically in a mirror and pay attention to how much your body is actually moving. From across the room, it should be barely perceptible. Think literally about half the size of your thumb.
Precision and purpose in movement
Throughout each and every exercise, when you hear “an inch” or one of its many alter egos, keep that visual in your mind as you make the movements as sharp and precise as possible. Try not to allow for any bouncing or momentum. Focus on the contraction and keep it controlled and tiny. Got it? It sounds a lot easier than it really is – especially when your legs are already shaking like crazy. And there is always room for improvement (one of my favorite things about barre!) so I’d suggest being intentional about making this an area to focus on specifically no matter if you’re a barre newbie or old pro.
Better under pressure
Once you find your range, make it just a little more intense by keeping the muscle under tension and contracted the whole time. Eliminate any flailing or bouncing and don’t sacrifice your form to get your leg one inch higher; instead keep the target muscle under pressure and everything else in good alignment. In every exercise, limit your range so you stay right in the work zone the whole time with no breaks at either end (top/bottom, front/back or side/side).
Get in the shake zone
I am sorry to say, but if you plateau with barre, it’s probably because you are not pushing past the burn and into the shake. None of the exercises should be easy – if you find it so, it’s time to push yourself to the next level! Perfect your posture from top to bottom, realign the angle of your hips, make sure your arms are engaged and properly placed and that your core is activated. And remember – burning muscles are good, but shaking muscles are even better. Although you may already been feeling the work and your muscles are tense, you can and should push just that little bit further (dare I say – an inch?!) into the shake, because the change that results is disproportionately big. So sink an inch lower or lift that leg just that last inch higher and stay there.