Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pull Up A Chair: How to Create the Barre Studio Experience at Home

Before I launch into (what I hope will be) a very informative post, I would like to mention a few changes to A Mom Walks into a Barre:

We're now on Facebook! 

Yes, faithful readers, you can keep up with the blog and post comments, questions, or vehement (but  respectful) counterpoints on Facebook, and you don't even need to be my friend. Isn't that nice? Click here for the the link to 'like' the page.

Also, blog posts now have labels! You can search topics that interest you, or you can pop some popcorn, sit back and read your favorite rants. 


Ok, back to the topic at hand. Several readers have written asking about barre workouts at home, which workouts I like, what do I use for a ball or a barre, etc. Until very recently, I've exclusively been a home exerciser. While I still recommend taking some live classes with a good, trained instructor, nothing beats the convenience and cost-effectiveness of getting your lalas in the comfort of your own home. I love my classes, but they can be pricey and time-consuming, so I supplement with workouts at home. Here's how you can, too.

The Workout

A few months ago, I compiled a list of my favorite barre DVDs. Several readers added their faves in the comments section, so check out this link for the skinny on DVDs.

If you prefer online streaming workouts, Suzanne Bowen Fitness and Barre3 offer large libraries of workouts at very reasonable monthly rates. Both have free trials, too. The Bar Method has launched a streaming service with a variety of subscription options. Jessica Smith also has a wide selection of FREE workouts on Youtube, some of which are barre-focused.

If you need a book workout, The Physique 57 Solution is great, and the paperback edition comes with a 30-minute compilation DVD. I used the book when that mean girl storm Sandy knocked out our power for days. It gives detailed instructions of different exercises and suggested sequencing. The Bar Method blog recently posted these suggestions for making your own music playlist.

The Barre

In a class, participants use a wall-mounted barre. It provides light stability for some moves, or you can pull off the barre for certain exercises. Home workouts do not require a super-stable type barre, because obviously most people don't have one. They all say, 'you can just use a chair!' and often show someone doing the workout with a regular dining room chair.

I don't like using a chair.Your support should ideally be hip-height and most chairs are not high enough for me. They're also not very sturdy. You can put weights on the seat to stabilize it, but I'd suggest using something else. A counter top can work nicely, as well as a stair railing. That's what I usually use here at home:

My railing can support my weight AND Darling Son #2's. This is definitely an advanced variation.

If you don't have any suitable surface, you might want to invest in a barre. Here are a few options:

  • The best barre I can recommend is Fluidity.

Yes, it's that's sturdy, though anyone over 30lbs. should not try this move. 
Like other barre brands, Fluidity is based on Lotte Berk's original method. Creator Michelle Austin launched a set of DVDs and this barre for home use in 2006. The workouts are dull as dry toast, with mind-numbing music on loop, but the barre is a tank. It was designed by MIT engineers and simulates a wall-mounted barre.

Pros: It's VERY sturdy. If set up properly, you can do all the same moves you'd do in a class with a wall-mounted barre--chair, waterski, flat- and round-back abs, you name it. You can adjust the height, and it folds up for storage. The whole set comes with other toys--a ball, attached mat, resistance bands, and the boring DVDs.

Cons: It's expensive. The whole set is almost $500 retail. I got mine on Craig's List for a lot less. There's one for sale right now in my area for only $50. It's also wicked heavy, so even though it folds up and has wheels to maneuver it around, it's a pain to set up and take down everyday. Mine lives under the guest bed because I just don't have room to leave it up. But if you have the space for it, it's awesome.

  • The Portable Ballet Barre is also a good option. It's priced around $100. There are a number of different types. I found a whole website devoted to portable barres,

Pros: Adjustable height, pretty stable and easy to move around. This is the barre you see used most often in  videos.

Cons: I don't have one, but it doesn't look like it folds up or comes apart very easily, so you'd need to have space to leave it up. You also can't do moves that involve pulling off the barre, but again, those are not usually included in home workouts.

  • I've also heard good things about the Cardio Barre. I'm not a fan of the workouts, but I'm told the barre is good.

Pros: It's lightweight, comes apart easily for storage, and it's priced around $90.

Cons: Maybe $90 is still more than you'd like to spend?

In which case, you can always go the DIY route:

  • You can make a barre using PVC pipingHere's a link for instructions.

Pros: CHEAP. Really, the materials would cost just a few dollars. It's also very lightweight and easy to move around.

Cons: It's very lightweight and easy to move around. I used one in a community class I took and the instructors used sandbags to stabilize the base for us. That may not be entirely necessary, but you might find it not quite sturdy enough on it's own. FIY. Also, you need space to leave it up because it wouldn't come apart after using the sealant.

Now moving on to BALLS.

Most barre workouts use a ball. A ball can recruit more muscles in an exercise and can help stabilize your joints in certain moves.
A ball between the inner thighs uses more lower body muscles and recruits the core.
Instructors typically refer to them as 'playground balls' because they're just like the balls small people use in gym class. Most big name studios have balls for sale with their logo printed on it, but you can skip the high-price studio balls and just buy one at any toy shop or general merchandise retailer like Target.

Here are a few from my collection:

My fave is my Physique 57 ball... and not just because it's Physique 57. It's about 27" in circumference, the size used in most workouts. The material is not as thick as other ones I've used, and it has some springyness to it (I'm sure that's a real word.) If you order a Physique 57 DVD set, however, this is not the ball that comes with it anymore (though you can still buy the original in the NYC studios.) The new balls they use are more like the one on the left.

The advantage is that it's easy to inflate with a straw, rather than having to use a needle pump. You can inflate it easily with the straw, and it packs well for travel. This ball was a gift, so I don't know exactly where to buy it, but I believe it's similar to this one.

You can use a ball between the knees in c-curve abs and another behind the lower back for support.
Six-year-old under the knees is optional.

The smallest ball (16" in circumference) is closer to the size that's used at Pure Barre studios. It can be handy for certain exercises in other videos, too. For example, it's easier to keep behind your knee in certain seat exercises:

The last thing I'll say about balls is that you don't need to inflate them a whole lot. Ideally, you want your ball to have some give to it.


Most barre workouts use light dumbbells--and by 'light' I mean 2-5lbs. Physique 57 workouts go slightly heavier (8-10lbs.) but that's about as heavy as you'll need. Before you get all smug and think you're going to be such a badass, let me take a moment to warn you that barre people can seriously hurt you with those little weights, so pace yourself.

You can find very cheap light weights all over the place. I see them for a very little at discount shops, so you don't need to pay much. Honestly, my weights are the best fitness investment I have ever made. I've had my 5 and 8 pounders for over 20 years and have gotten more use out of them than any other piece of equipment I own.


Depending on the workout and your environment, you might need a few other odds and ends. A mat is useful, unless you have very cushy carpeting. Some workouts employ a strap for stretching (you can just use a bathrobe tie), thick cushions (I use patio furniture pads) or pillows. But really, that's about it. One of the reasons barre is such a great home workout is how little stuff you really need. Barre mostly uses your body weight for resistance, so it's also great for travel.

Lastly, I'm going to suggest a full-length mirror. Oh, a mirror... so helpful. In class, I try to get a spot in the corner with two mirrors, so I can check my form from more than one angle. Sometimes I think my posture is good, but a glance in the mirror tells me otherwise. You can find really cheap full-length mirrors at Target. A mirror will change your life. Get a mirror.

As you see, it's very easy to set up for barre at home. Have fun! (And by 'fun' I mean burning, shaking, lalas, etc.)


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