Sunday, May 29, 2011

Barre Fitness: It's Not Ballet

Of all the fitness trends that have popped up in the last few years (Zumba, Crossfit, P90X) none have been more intriguing to me than barre fitness classes. I thought it would take me back to the days when I'd put on tights and a leotard and practiced twirling and stuff (I took ballet when I was about 5-7 so twirling around and dressing up for recitals is really all I remember).

If you had the same perception about barre classes that I did... be warned! This is not like the ballet class you remembered from your childhood. No, no, no. It involves squeezing a ball between your thighs for hours--it seems like hours, anyway. And there are weights! (For the record, I don't do weights.) It gets worse. No one wears a tutu or even a leotard. I did NOT feel like Natalie Portman in Black Swan... but that's probably a good thing.

When I got past the shock that this was indeed a fitness class that would kick my ass, I learned a few things about myself and (of course) my yoga practice.

It's OK to focus on your exterior sometimes. They were shameless about the fact that they were doing this to look better in their bikinis. You never hear, "I hope the instructor is feeling fat today," prior to a yoga class. Nor would a yoga teacher ever say to you, "You're so tiny! I'm sure you'll be just fine in this class." Hmm... I often get the impression that people go to yoga classes because they want to look better in a bikini, but they'd never say that. It was strangely refreshing to be surrounded by women who were totally honest with themselves and each other about their motives. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look good and working toward that goal.

You use totally different muscles to "pulse" than you use to hold yourself in one position. It was interesting to look around the studio and see that other people in class seemed to struggle with the parts of class that involved holding yourself in one position--Plank, Utkatasana, etc. That part was no problem for me, since that's my practice.. but all the lifting and lowering by one inch had me shaking like a leaf within just a couple of seconds. It became very clear to me that my muscles were not accustomed to working in that way.

My back is kind of awesome. This studio had mirrors everywhere. I think the idea is that if you can watch yourself you can correct your own form and get a better work out. I've been practicing yoga for the better part off a decade and have never actually SEEN my back body working (few yoga studios have mirrors). This class changed that. I liked what I saw -- I had no idea that my back looks so strong and defined! I know I have my yoga practice to thank for that.

Next, I think I'll try Zumba.

Have you ever tried a ballet barre fitness class? Did you reach any of the same conclusions I did?