Barre So Hard

First up: some of you asked me where I got the paper map flowers we used at my wedding reception! Fear not, I certainly did not make them myself (ain’t nobody got time for that) and I bought them here on Etsy. They were fabulous and I’m keeping them forever!


I received an email/comment/facebook message/some form of communication that I’m forgetting from a reader awhile ago asking me to talk more in detail about what barre is and what a typical class is like, so I’ll be walking you through the minute by minute hellscape fitness funfest that I attend three times a week with the hope of showing you why I love it so much but the reality of probably scaring you away from it forever. Sound good? Great.

So first thing’s first: barre classes are founded around athletic movements that utilize a ballet barre but are not dance related. I attend a Barre3 studio here in Columbia, SC that is absolutely fabulous. I have taken barre classes from a number of different places, both chains and independent instructors, in multiple cities and states, so I like to think I am not speaking from an overly biased perspective here. What attracted me to Barre3 initially is that they offer an online membership for $15 a month where you can do online workouts in the privacy of your own home. Before the studio came to Columbia last fall, that was a big deal. One of the things I love most about Barre3 (as opposed to other studios I have visited) is that there is a huge emphasis on inclusivity and finding what works best for you. I’ll speak more on that in a moment.

Pre-Class: Show up and throw your crap in a cubby. The classes are taught in a studio with a hard floor, and grippy socks are not required but some people wear them (I don’t for reasons I will explain in a moment). Standard attire is capris or leggings and a tank, and while there is some Lululemon floating around, it isn’t ubiquitous at my studio. Everyone grabs a spot at the barre, which is conveniently marked out with different stations so people don’t get too crowded. Most of us have “our spots” and it’s hard not to feel a little discombobulated if a new person walks in and grabs “yours,” so I try to get there early because I’m high maintenance like that, but it’s not necessary.

Me when you take my spot

Warm-Up: Your incredibly enthusiastic and peppy instructor walks in and starts talking in a voice that is so upbeat that you think this might just be easy and fun. One thing I like about my studio is that while all our instructors are in shape, they aren’t Barbies, and the participants aren’t either, which was not the case at some studios I’ve been to. The music starts and the 10 minute warm-up begins, which consists of some basic cardio movements (drop-taps, plies) and yoga poses like crescent lunge to stretch out and warm up the muscles. Although every warm-up is different, there are some similar elements that you’ll see repeated in different combinations if you go to class regularly. It’s not an intimidating warm-up, unlike some barre studios, and you feel ready to go when it’s over. This is gonna be easy!

Leg Work: Your instructor now says something about “Power Leg” or “Carousel Horse” or “Water Skier”  and you find yourself with your hands on the barre, standing on your toes with your knees bent and your quads instantly burning. Ok, it isn’t always Power Leg, but it’s always some sort of position that immediately gets the quads firing. The sequence involves an isometric hold, then a series of very small movements, then a large range of motion exercise, and you repeat that for about 10 minutes in a variety of positions. Literally, you’ll be in Power Leg holding right where you are, then your teacher will say something like “down an inch, up an inch” and you start moving…literally down one inch and up one inch. The movements are intentionally small because apparently that’s what Satan wants that’s the best way to quickly fatigue your muscles. I don’t know, I just know my legs shake really quickly and it’s hard as hell. To give your quivering muscles a break, you then work in a large range of motion and then start back over. FEEL THE BURN. At this point, I am already boiling lava hot and remembering why I don’t wear the grippy socks. Sometimes, the instructor is nice and lets you stretch for 30 seconds after leg work, sometimes not.

“I want those heels AS HIGH AS YOU CAN GET THEM!”

Combo Work: You’re probably sweating up a storm by now, even though it might look to an outsider like you are doing nothing. If anyone in your household dares suggest you are doing nothing, you have the right to punch them, I promise. Combo work involves the use of light handheld weights, ranging in size from 1 – 5 pounds, and it lasts for 10 minutes. I have never seen anyone use the 5 pound weights – I usually use 3, and most people in class use 2 or 1. The motions are repetitive and your shoulders get fatigued really quickly. Some instructors up the cardio aspect a lot more than others and will have you doing what seems like acrobatics while you fling those weights around. By this point, I am drenched in sweat and am asking myself why I keep coming back to this place. I am cursing every time the instructor says “8 more!…Oops, I lost count!” Things like “Jesus take the wheel” go through my head a lot. Bonus points if the instructor LOVES the look of misery on your faces and just cheerfully yells louder at you, as our Monday afternoon instructor loves to do.


Seat Work: Better known as glute work, seat work is my favorite part of barre. I think I love it the most because this is the point in the workout where the instructor finally agrees to turn the fans on and I stop feeling quite so much like I’m about to die. Seat work is also 10 minutes long and is done either standing, on a mat, or, if your instructor feels especially mean, with your back on the mat and your feet on the barre.  I just realized that sentence sounds really dirty and laughed for like 5 minutes straight, please excuse me. Standing seat work can be kind of hard on my lower back, so I have to take modifications sometimes. Oh, that reminds me – modifications! One thing I love about Barre3 is that modifications are wholeheartedly encouraged. Our instructors are always telling us to “make it your own” and giving us ways to modify the basic movements to be either more or less challenging, or to accommodate injuries, pregnancies, etc. You are never made to feel bad for using a modification or taking a break, and I love that. I also love the buns of steel I have developed from this class.

I don’t know how they look so damn peaceful because I usually look like my face it going to explode.

Core Work: Ah, the moment you’ve been praying for since 2 minutes into the leg work – it’s core time! That means you get to lay on your mat for 10 minutes and do exercises, and although it always sounds fun to me before I start, I’m quickly reminded of how hard it is once I start. The core work includes exercises that target all the different areas and layers of the abdominals and lower back, but each class varies. The sequence still follows the hold-small movements-large movements pattern. Again, lots of modifications are offered and there are different exercises for pregnant women.

I’m actually kind of good at boat pose. So, that’s one.

Cool Down: Sweet, sweet stretching for about 5 minutes, give or take. There are often short stretches incorporated after each section of the workout, but it depends on the instructor and the day. The cool down is a nice relaxing period where the instructor will usually say something brief (think the ending statement in a yoga class, but less flowery) and everyone claps. I always feel good and am glad I came to class during cool down, even though I swear profusely in my head during most classes.

I have to say that Barre3 has been an incredible experience for me. The instructors know us all by name, and they encourage us to be our best selves. Although there is some mention of burning calories occasionally, most of the talk is very body-positive and more focused on increasing strength and feeling confident. I love that there are all different sizes, shapes, ages, and races in our classes and it’s a very inclusive place. I also love how much stronger my whole body is, but especially my core and “seat.” I think it has really helped my running and my back. It’s the hardest workout I’ve ever done, but in a way that keeps me coming back for more. Barre never gets easier, which is also pretty cool. You can always find a new way to make it hurt more, so… hooray? I’d recommend it to anyone, male or female, who wants to improve their strength in a way that is low impact and hard as hell, because that pretty much sums up barre.

28 thoughts on “Barre So Hard

  1. I’ve done pure barre and have to agree with you. It’s the hardest workout ever. I’m asking myself the whole time why I’m there. I feel like it’s helped with hip issues. I’d love to check out the online service. Thanks for posting this. I laughed so hard. What do you use for a bar at home?

    1. Hey Christina! It IS hard and I question myself every second until the stretching at the end. It has helped my hip issues a lot! I use the back of a chair for a barre at home…or the back of my couch…or a desk in a hotel room…whatever! I don’t worry too much about the height of it if I don’t have a lot of options, I just try to find something to help myself stay balanced.

  2. First of all, I’m obsessed with your map flowers!

    Second, I was the commenter who asked for barre help. I feel better knowing that it’s hard for other runners too. It probably doesn’t help that everyone else who does it in Boston appears to be a rail thin dancer…two things I am not! I guess I’ll just keep pushing thru!

    1. Yay! Thanks so much for the suggestion. I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile! I have been to barre studios where everyone was a rail thin dancer and that was very hard for me to deal with. I felt like everyone was judging me even though they probably weren’t! One of the things I love most about my studio is how diverse it is. Keep pushing! You’re not the only runner out there who struggles with it 🙂

  3. Whenever I hear the words “Carousel Horse” I cringe. Seriously. I also totally relate to your feelings when it’s time for core work even though it’s not actually easy.

    I’ve only been doing barre3 online workouts for about a month but I’m definitely enjoying it and I love that stretching is incorporated throughout. Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. I normally hate Power Leg the most (I have a problem with my right big toe so it is pretty painful for me) but man, we did Carousel Horse twice this week for leg work and I was super sore! I’m so glad you’re liking the online workouts. I do them when I travel for work and it is such a great way to get in strength training on the road with very little equipment!

  4. My gym offers some barre classes for a premium, and I’m kinda curious now, wanting to try it out. I know it’s gotta be hard if you say it’s hard, you run marathons and run a lot ;). I am thinking it might help with some of my glute/hip issues when running and strengthen/stretch some muscles.

    1. I think you will find as you try different things, that being a runner means you are a good runner. and while that might help with cardio-I find it does not equate good at anything/everything else! 🙂 I think I am gonna look up the on line barre classes-I dislike when my gym charges extra for anything, since I pay a lot every month

      1. I agree, Bobbi! I’ve had that same experience. I actually found that the muscles I don’t use for running were incredibly weak, so this is a great way to strengthen those as well.

    2. Every class is different, and I have gone to some that were premiums at other gyms – just depends on the instructor! At the very least, it is a GREAT way to strengthen the glutes and hips – that has been the biggest difference I’ve seen.

  5. Thanks for the laugh this morning! I’ve still only tried Barre the one time I went with you. I might try Barre3 if they have it here. I need the glute work!

  6. Love it, Danielle! and the flowers are pretty too. Did they just make map ones or other things? menus might be fun…:)

  7. I actually took my first barre class this week and really loved it! I think for runners, all that glute activation is great stuff. And my instructor was this beautiful, smiling, zen-like creature that I instantly envied. But that’s ok!

    1. I’m so glad you loved it! I agree, I think the glute work is especially important. My hips and glutes used to get really fatigued at the end of long runs and races, and I’m noticing that a lot less now. It’s a great total body workout!

  8. Thanks so much for mentioning the online classes available through Barre3; I’ve been wanting to try barre for awhile now but we only have one studio in my town and I’m not quite ready to go public with my beautiful lithe I mean chunky monkey can’t touch my toes self. Being able to start out in the comfort of my own home is perfect! It hadn’t even occurred to me to see if there was an online option. Day made. Thanks!

    1. Laura, that is great!! I’m so glad that you’re going to give it a try! I totally understand wanting to become comfortable with the moves first. I am super inflexible and can’t do a lot of the positions other people seem to do easily, and it frustrates me, but I just keep trying! Let me know how you like it!

  9. HA! I just went to my first barre class today. I had no clue what it was, but told everyone that a blogger I read talks about it all the time. I wish I read your post earlier so I would have know what to expect! I was sweating after the warmup :-).

  10. I tried Barre3 once and it was pretty cool but the one studio in our area is kind of far away for regular workouts so I decided to go with a different studio that combines barre, pilates, cheerleading moves & high intensity cardio with some other stuff (pushups, burpees, etc) and it really kicks my butt and helped strengthen my running. If you are ever in Philly try a Lithe Method class. They even do some dance steps which is ridiculous when I first started out, I was a hot mess with 2 left feet but it kept me busy enough not to realize how tired I was til the end. Glad you found something you enjoy!

    1. Oh wow, that sounds intense! I will have to check out Lithe Method if I’m ever up that way, or if we get a studio in SC. I love trying new fitness classes and mixing things up!

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