What to know about the barre workout

Stick Pilates exercises instructed by Saloni
Stick Pilates exercises instructed by Saloni Kantaria (L) at Reform Cycling and Strength Studio, Westlands. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA 

To tone the hard-to-target muscles around the stomach, legs and arms, most people turn to intense workouts and long sessions in the gym. But there is a workaround that promises better results with little effort — barre workouts.

This is a specific workout tailored around a barre—a supportive stationary handrail used in ballet training and warm-ups.

Barre movements are easy to make and do not require prior knowledge or training. To get the dancer’s physique with barre exercising, you just concentrate and follow the trainer’s cues. The sessions are usually one-hour long.

The fitness trend was started in London more than half a century ago, and has gradually spread across the globe and was launched in Kenya four years ago. Taut Body, a fitness boutique studio at the Village Market first introduced it to Nairobi fitness lovers.

Women only

Reform Cycling and Strength Studio is another fitness centre offering barre classes.

Saloni Kantaria, the Reform Cycling and Strength Studio founder said the barre class is offered to women only and the instructors integrate ballet concepts, pilates and other forms of strength training.


Women are drawn to this workout because it enables them achieve strength, flexibility and co-ordination in a 60-minute workout, said Ms Kantaria. Most are drawn to barre because its strength training without the need for heavy weights and strenuous movements such as squats and shoulder presses.

Further, barre workouts are gaining popularity because one exercises various body muscles in one routine, making it easier to lose weight and tone the arms, legs and the core.

“Barre is its own workout methodology. Taut Body barre classes combine resistance training and cardio for a complete conditioning workout that builds muscle mass and burns fat,” said Taut Body founder Amy Selbach.

Isometric movements

In barre, trainees change positions in one-inch increments called isometric movements, which, Ms Kantaria says, are achieved through contracting muscles and making repetitive pulsing movements.

“Weights, the barre and an elastic ball are used to focus on specific muscle groups and sustaining the isometric movements. Such movements fire up the muscles and make them more elastic.”

Pilates stick used by the two studios is also known to challenge the body to greater levels- as the prop (when used effectively) is engages core muscles, improving body balance and strength in the end.

Ms. Selbach, said that it takes between six and nine consistent sessions to notice changes.

“Barre is made up of small targeted movements that build muscles but it is low impact and very easy on the joints so it is a great way to get an intense workout without injuring or harming your body. People notice results in as little as 10 days or three classes,” said Selbach, who is also a certified pilates, personal trainer and barre instructor from California.

Old gym goers

Ms Kantaria and Ms Selbach both said they have many barre devotees who are over 50 years old. The Reform Cycling and Strength Studio barre class has a 73-year-old former dancer.

Ms Kantaria, a barre devotee, said that the exercises target full body workout every session.

“The barre workout achieves an overall body workout, which means the upper body (shoulders, biceps, triceps, back muscles, chest), quadriceps, hamstrings, inner and outer thighs, and the core are all touched during the training,” she said.

The exercises are also combined with other workout props such as dumbbells, elastic balls, flexi-bands and glider discs.

The idea is to use one’s body weight in combination with the fitness “props” for maximum benefits. Barre workouts were first introduced by a German ballerina Lotte Berk who lived in London, and who came up with the idea to combine her dance conditioning routine with rehabilitative therapy after she injured her back.

Her first studio in 1959 in her basement, attracted celebrities who helped popularise the routine.

The workout regimen has now spread with introduction of variations and has grown to be a favourite for the likes of Madonna, a celebrated US musician.