Friday, September 19, 2014

Ten Tips for Your First Trip to the Barre

The main reason I started A Mom Walks into a Barre was to share my love for this most wonderful and effective form of exercise. For me, barre is the workout holy grail, and I love it when readers tell me they're getting into it, too. Yay! Love to share the barre love!

Sometimes people send me messages along the lines of 'I'm going to my first class and I'm terrified.' Oh dear. Let's not quite think of it that way. It's your first trip to the barre! Have someone take a picture. What a rite of passage! You'll never forget it.

But I can relate to the terrified. I remember my first class... A beginner level with Ashley Yeater at Physique 57 in New York. Even though I had been doing barre videos for months and months, I was still, honestly, kind of scared. What were they going to do to me? How badly was this going to hurt? Were they all going to be total babes? It sort of felt like my first day of middle school.

And I was afraid I might look a little like Lucy:

But it was OK. I did fine, and so will you. Here are a few tips for newbies:

1. Dress the part.

PLEASE NOTE: This does NOT mean you need to spend two month's salary at Lululemon. Yes, barre tends to cater to an upscale crowd and that will be reflected in workout wear, but you can absolutely get by with something from the clearance rack at TJMaxx.

Form follows function: wear something comfortable and ideally fitted so your instructor can see the positioning of your limbs. This is not the time for baggy sweats and a t-shirt you got at a fraternity party in 1987. It's also not the best time for shorts and a sports bra. Yes, you'll be hot, but you want to use that heat to your advantage. Covering your midriff and thighs will keep those muscles nice and warm. You want them to be warm because trust me--you'll be making good use of them.

And wear grippy socks. You need grippy socks. Plank, flat-back chair, they're hard places to be. You don't need to make them harder by sliding all over the place. And you don't necessarily need the studio branded socks, though they make for a nice keepsake.

2. Get there early.

Plan to arrive a good ten to fifteen minutes early. You'll probably have a release form to sign, and you want to scope out the place. Find a spot by a mirror. You need to see yourself. Lots of novices tell me they don't like to look at themselves. PLEASE. Look at yourself. A glimpse of your reflection is invaluable! Take the time to get your equipment ready and...

3. Talk to the instructor.

Tell her (or him, but it will usually be a her) that you're a first-timer. Even if you're not new to barre, each studio has it's own schtick, and it's good to give the instructor a head's up that you may not be down with their lingo.

Also, be sure to tell the instructor if you have any injuries or wonky parts. That way she can offer you modifications for exercises that might be problematic for you.

4. Don't worry about how you look, or that everyone is looking at you.

Really. They're probably not looking at you. Everyone is in her (or his) own zone at the barre. Most of us are looking at our own reflections and just trying to get through the set. If you notice someone seems to be looking at you, it's probably just that she spaced out and missed the cue and is trying to figure out what's going on.

5. Try not to space out and miss the cues.

Really listen to what the instructor is saying. If she tells you to move an inch, she means... an inch. It's tempting to think if one is good, two must be better, but no. It isn't. Movements in barre are very precise. Moving your body in a very slightly different angle works different muscles, so try to stay focused.

6. Control all your movements and extend your limbs on every move.

Barre is all about really carefully controlling your muscles. It is not the place to be flailing around. This is not Zumba. (I'm not picking on Zumba, I'm just saying this is different.) Even in a really fast-paced class like Physique 57, you should not be bobbing up and down and flinging your limbs around. Keep everything really controlled. This is important.

Also, unless your instructor cues otherwise, you're going for extension. Fully extend your limbs on every move. Try to get your arms and legs as straight as you can. Usually extension is more important than height. I guarantee you will feel the difference when you focus on this.

7. The shaking? It's totally normal.

Instructor Suzanne Bowen of Suzanne Bowen Fitness uses the hashtag #shaketochange. Working your muscles to the point that they quiver is what you want to see. At my new studio crush, The Bar Method, they tell you to work to the point that you're shaking. If you're not, they'll tell you to get down lower. You don't need to back off from the shaking. It means you're doing it right. Those delicious endorphins I call the la-las? They live just beyond the shakes... #shakeforlalas.

8. Don't be intimidated by form corrections.

Welcome them! That's why you're here. We all need form corrections. They are not only for newbies. We all need form corrections. Can I say that again? Well, it's true.

Even the most experienced students need form tweaks. When you're fatigued at the end of a set, it is totally normal that your body tries to shift the work to muscles other than the ones being used in the exercise. Our bodies are always looking for the path of least resistance, and that's why we're in class. As wonderful as home videos can be, the advantage of a class is a trained instructor looking out for you, helping you through those moments when you start to cheat--even if you don't mean to.

A wise barre-ista despiseth not correction. 

9. Expect to be sore.

Even if you're a total badass at whatever form of exercise you usually do, barre is different, and different activities usually make you sore. Stretch, foam roll, rest. And...

10. Go back.

You need to shake more than once to change. The best way to deal with your soreness is to just get back on the barre.

Not literally *on* the barre, but you know what I mean. 

Lastly, have fun! You've done it! You've found the holy grail! Yay!
He doesn't look like the lalas have kicked in yet...
Image: Lucasfilm


  1. These are such great tips Stephanie! I totally agree with them. Grippy socks change your life and definitely expect to get a lot of corrections!

    1. Yeah, the grippy socks fall into the 'learn from my mistake' category. I was slip/sliding away during my first class!