Saturday, December 7, 2013

Not All Barre is Created Equal: My 10 Best Barre DVDs

I've been getting emails from readers wanting to know about barre DVDs, which are my faves, which ones I didn't like, which are the 'best,' etc. So I've compiled a list.

I should start out by telling you that, in my experience, there are two kinds of barre lovers: the ones who like it a little faster-paced, a little peppier with some cardio effect, and those who prefer a slower, calmer, more meditative workout. Both can be wicked hard and very effective, it's really just a matter of taste. I'll come clean and tell you that I am a member of the former camp and my list reflects that. I like my barre with a kick... sometimes literally. The slower, tiny movement, mind-body type of barre usually doesn't keep my interest, but that's just me. You might have to go on a few barre crawls to find your favorite watering hole.

Alright, with disclaimers out of the way, here we go:

1 & 2 Physique 57 Classic 57 Minute Vols. 1 & 2.  I really can't decide between these two. As I told someone in an email, choosing my favorite would be like asking me which of my children I love more. Can't do it. Love them both. I definitely find Vol. 2 to be a little more cardiovascular, and it features one of my favorite lower body floor exercises of all time: the hairpin.
You lie on your side in an L-shape and lift the top leg in various ways so as to cause a fabulous burning sensation in the saddlebag region. Ahhh.... love it.

On the other hand, Vol. 1 has a great upper body section that really fires you up from the beginning... and it has the dreaded pretzel move, which is another great bum burner.
I suppose if you were to go all Sophie's Choice on me and force me to make a decision, I might have to say Vol. 2, but I'll probably have to see a therapist for a while and I'm sending you the bill.

Cons: One of the things I love about Physique 57 is that they use heavier weights than most barre workouts. Not that the other barre people don't seriously hurt you with those 3 pounders, but I think it's good to go a little heavier from time to time. Still, I find I like to supplement with a little more upper body work, and while they recommend two sets of weights, I usually use three sets because my biceps and my lats can't be sufficiently challenged by the same 'heavy' weight. (Lats are a bigger muscle and need heavier weights than biceps.)

P57 Classic 1 & 2 are led by Tanya Becker, whom I adore. I find her very funny, and I can tell you that she is particularly motivating in a live-class setting. Personally, I appreciate it when I'm struggling through a tough seat exercise and Tanya tells me it's 'a party for my bottom.' Others find Tanya's exuberance to be a bit... shall we say, overwhelming? Also, there's a fair bit of how-sexy-you're-going-to-look talk and I really don't like that. I can tune it out for myself, but I really don't like the small people hearing all of that. I want them to know the many benefits of exercise that have nothing to do with daddy wanting to grab mommy's bum. (Not that she says that in the videos, but I'll just say it's a natural by-product of the workout.) So, FYI.

3. Physique 57 Thigh and Seat Booster
Oh Lord. Have mercy. If this workout doesn't completely slay you, you aren't doing it right. Shelley Knight hurts you so good in this one that clocks in at 30 minutes. Your heart is pumping, your legs are burning, it's a doozy, but in that crazy Physique 57 fashion, you're actually kind of enjoying yourself at the same time. The only reason this one isn't #1 is that it isn't total body. There is a little bit of upper body work in the beginning (a few pushups), but it's 90% well.... thigh and seat. duh.

Cons: Hmmm... let me think.... Shelley is very chatty and talks a mile a minute. Again, I don't mind this, but some people might. Oh yeah, and Shelley tells you that you can eat whatever you want for dinner, which is a lie. I've mentioned this before so I won't beat a dead horse.

4. Ballet Physique Amped Up.
This one is a great little gem out of a boutique studio in Colorado. I love the Ballet Physiques so much I'm going to give them their own post soon. It runs about 50 minutes and it's a great one. There are some really creative moves and Amped Up has an awesome floor seat section. LOVE IT. Also, it uses some heavier weights (and when I talk about 'heavier' weights when referring to barre, I mean 8-10 pounders. You can leave the really big boys in the rack, if you're that kind of lifter.)

Cons: No cons. I love this workout. I mean, I still have two Physique 57s farther down on the list, so if you can top anything by P57, you're a keeper in my book.

5. Ballet Physique Signature Sculpt
This is the sister video to Amped Up. I did it at 8.30 last night because I had a craving for it. It's kind of long, a little over an hour, but it's worth it because it really leaves no muscle unshaken. It uses one set of light weights and includes an awesome standing seat section.

Cons: it's a little on the long side. Not that it's really a con, exactly, just more of an FYI.

6. Physique 57 Advanced Express 30 Minute
It's hard, but it's short. Tanya really puts you through your paces. It's great when you have some energy to burn but don't have a lot of time. Honestly, the only reason this and the other Express are on the second half of the list is because they're short and I finish wanting more, more, more! Of course, short is the point. We don't always have a full hour, so it was kind of Tanya to give us something shorter. Here I am being so ungrateful about it. I'm sorry, Tanya. I'm very thankful for Express.

Cons: None that I can think of.

7. Ballet Body Upper Body.
This is one of Leah Sarago's Ballet Body DVDs. Leah also has a couple of other DVDs that are kind of yoga-ish and about a hundred thousand downloads. Upper Body is a super creative and *uber* challenging 45ish minute workout that involves a lot of interesting moves in plank and some very fluid light weight work. Leah will HURT you. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Cons: So, so, so much plank. I mean really, you feel like you're never going to get up off the floor and you're going to live for the rest of your life in plank. Consequently, I found it very strenuous on my wrists. You can modify by doing the exercises on your forearms, and I would strongly recommend this your first time through. Leah promises your wrists will get stronger, and she's right, but even holding a book the day after I first slogged through Upper Body was painful. I need to haul small people in and out of car seats, so this was a problem for me. Also, it's a little dry, but the music is good.

8. Ballet Body Total Body.
Another one of Leah's. This is the only one of the four in the set in which Leah is instructing directly. The other three (Upper Body, Core and Lower Body) are all voice-over. I really prefer direct instruction. Leah is a great instructor and provides excellent cueing either way, but I find voice-overs to be a little stiff. Total Body includes three 20-minute segments of upper body, core and lower body, so it's a nice introduction to Leah and a great way to get your feet wet without committing to the other three longer and more grueling parts-specific workouts.

Cons: The production quality isn't the best. The sound is a little echo-y, but I found I was able to get over that. And the set is just big and white. Again, not a deal-breaker, but leaves me a little 'meh.' I can get over it, though. It's a good workout.

9. Physique 57 Express 30 Minute
Another from Tanya. Both the Express workouts are awesome because they require very little equipment--just a playground ball, a mat and a barre or other support (a heavy chair works fine.) Therefore, they make great travel workouts. You can even substitute a throw pillow for a ball if you need to, but having one is nice. I actually have a little ball that someone gave to Darling Son #1 that I use for travel. It inflates with a straw and deflates easily. I've co-opted it as my travel ball. I gave him life; he can give me a ball.

Cons: No cons. Awesome.

10. Pure Barre, the original with Pure Bare founder Carrie Rezabek Dorr.
This is the first of many DVDs by PB, and it's actually the only one I've done. (I entered a contest to win Studio Series, the latest ones. If I win, I'll let you know what I think.) I like it, it's a good workout that hits everything, especially a fine floor seat section. Though I couldn't find it with any of the usual sellers... I'm actually wondering if it might be out-of-print?

Cons: The production quality isn't the best. The set is dark and Carrie is wearing a black outfit, so it can be hard to see the moves.

Barre DVDs I tried and particularly didn't like:

Pop Physique: a Southern California studio that put out three DVDs last year. They were fine, I just couldn't warm up to them. Their style is very young and trendy... maybe I'm just too old? Or too from New England? They also shouted a lot. I don't like shouters.

The Bar Method: Designer Sculpting and Fat Free led by Bar Method founder Burr Leonard were the first barre DVDs I tried and they nearly completely soured me to barre. Burr is an institution in the barre world and is a great instructor, but they were so slow, I nearly fell asleep. Burr does a great job setting you up, but then says, 'Ok.... Are you ready? We're going to start now.... Let's go!' This leaves me yelling, 'For the love of God and all that is holy, would you get on with it, please?? Nap time is FINITE and PRECIOUS.' So no, as much as I respect Burr and highly recommend her blog, I just can't get into the DVDs.

Fluidity: I have the accompanying barre, which is a tank and is awesome because you can really simulate the moves you'd do in a class with a wall-mounted barre. I don't like the videos, though. The music is atrocious, plays continuously on loop and the instructor says the word 'pubis' far too often.

The New York City Ballet Workout. Boring. Totally ineffective. Watching the dancers is lovely, but really, I'd rather just pop popcorn and watch the dancers. I think I'd get about as much useful exercise lifting the popcorn to my mouth as I did doing this DVD.

Cardio Barre: I know, it sounds good, doesn't it? But it's not. Basically, it's a barre workout on speed. It goes so fast it's difficult to maintain any sort of decent form. I just felt like I was flailing around, which is not what barre is all about.

These days there are hundreds of barre DVDs out there. I certainly haven't tried them all. I feel like I've found my people and unless something really special comes across my radar screen, I stick to what I know. As a result, this is by no means an exhaustive list. I'm sure there are more, but I just need to put this epic post to bed. Feel free to add suggestions or ask questions below. Happy shaking!


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  2. Really, P57 is your favorite? Are you sure? I had no idea. ;) :p

  3. Stephanie, great reviews!
    I also love that hairpin move. As a lover of lower body floor work, you might like Ballet Beautiful! I only use the butt segments from her DVDs, and all make me shake really bad. (you can watch them for free if you are an Amazon Prime member)

    I love the BP Amped Up too! The lower body is killer!

    I'm have an awful time choosing a favorite from my Physique 57s. I like them all for many reasons, and each one of them is a workout that I can do three or four times in one week because it's so awesome! I don't have the Arms and Abs booster.

    If you get a chance, try V-Core Cardio Vusion. The lower body segment is similar to P57 in pace and moves. The cardio is unique, and the upper body and core is killer. I did the workout twice last week and want to do it again.
    I also enjoy the newest Booty Barre. It seems like Tracey slowed down some of the larger moves, making them more effective and less likely to pull something. My cranky hips and groin didn't complain, and neither did my wrists.

    I could go on and on talking about barre, but my daughter is hungry!

    1. Ruth, Arm and Ab is my least favorite P57. It's still awesome, but I decided to leave it off the list to give more opportunities for other DVDs to shine. :) The ab section is very hard.

      I'll have to try V-core. Thanks for the suggestion! A friend is giving me Ballet Beautiful. Thanks, R!

    2. That's one awesome friend, Stephanie!
      The two newer ones should be available on Amazon UK soon (if they aren't already), and I might buy them if they are in the "new year new you" sale.

  4. Have you tried the Express version from the CD in the paperback version of the P57 book? It's a compilation of favourites that, I think, is right up your alley ;)

    1. Why, yes I have! I actually already had the hardcover book, then they released the paperback with the compilation DVD which, of course, I just HAD to have. So I bought the paperback and gave the book itself to a friend.

      Yes, I'm a junkie. :)

  5. Fat Free and Designer Sculpting are the slowest (and most exasperating) of the Bar Method collection. You might like either of the Super Sculpting videos or the Advanced Dancer's Body DVD. I wanted to like Pop Physique, but they are so shouty and I can't take the "so good!" talk.

    If you like the original Pure Barre, you would probably like Pershing Square 2 (1 is beginner). You need only a ball so it's a great travel workout. I recently got the Studio series DVDs (I did one of them last week) and I'm not impressed; the original is better. She uses a towel for resistance but I subbed a theraband and a ball for the thigh work. If you decide to purchase another Pure Barre, I think that you would like Pershing Square 2 more than the others.

  6. Oooh, thanks for the tips! I'll keep my eye out for Pershing Square 2. Glad to know your thoughts on Studio Series. I love Pure Barre classes, but I've heard mixed reviews on the DVDs.

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  8. i see your lots of DVD's you have great work out in this DVD's.
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