Barre fitness. What’s that all about?

Magnolia Barre class

Looking for a high-intensity, low-impact total body workout? Try a barre class — like this one at Magnolia Fitness in Portland, Maine. A barre is the horizontal bar ballet dancers use for support when they’re training or doing warm-up exercises. It serves the same purpose in a barre class.

Barre fitness classes are inspired by ballet, as well as other forms of movement. At Magnolia, owners Jessica Little and Anne Davis developed a barre routine they call — what else? Magnolia.

Jessica Little/Magnolia Barre

Jessica, who has been a fitness instructor for years, says she tried barre on the advice of some friends and was hooked. “It’s a great combination of strength training and stretching that also incorporates some of the philosophies of yoga, pilates, and traditional ballet,” she says.

Lisa Allen/Magnolia barre

Some of the moves are traditional ballet positions. For instance, the feet may be turned out and you may come up on your toes as if doing a relevé or get down into a squat similar to a plié.

But if you’re worried that you need to have a ballet background, don’t be. Lisa Allen, who’s been doing barre at Magnolia since 2016 can vouch for that. “You don’t have to have been a ballerina, that’s not part of it,” she said. “I’m an old cardio junkie. I loved step aerobics but it wasn’t the best thing for my health. I needed a balance. This is a way of building muscle and I also sweat. A great combo. I also recommend partnering it with some kind of walking.”

Mat exercises at Magnolia Barre

The workout at Magnolia begins with mat exercises that include planks and push-ups. Next are a series of exercises that involve small movements and lots of repetitions.

The real promise of barre is digging deep into the muscles. “We work the muscles to fatigue or exhaustion in a safe way and really work a lot on the muscles that support our joints,” said Jessica. “We really get into a lot of the muscles that stabilize our hips, our shoulders, muscles into our core, some of the deep core muscles, pelvic floor muscles, etc. They’re often not targeted in other forms of exercise.”

Shaking muscles Magnolia barre

With some of the exercises, I noticed a lot of shaking muscles, especially when participants were trying to hold a ball between their legs. That’s the goal, said Jordan Rowe. She’s been taking barre classes at Magnolia for several years and is now an instructor. “The shaking means that we’re really getting into those muscles,” she explained. “It’s not big movements, like doing aerobics or something like that. It’s  holding a position for so long that your muscles are fatigued. It’s really, really effective. It gets right in there.”

Class at Magnolia Barre

Although barre is an intense form of exercise, it’s low-impact. “Barre can accommodate anybody,” said Jessica. “It’s a safe and effective workout for all levels. Our instructors modify based on student’s needs. We provide a variety of ways to perform the same exercise so students can really meet their body where it’s at and still be challenged.”

“I’ve been in a lot of gym boot camps and it doesn’t have that kind of fervor and aggression,” said Lisa. “Barre is a gentler physical challenge. But I am absolutely challenging myself. You work harder and get more flexibility, more muscle strength, more confidence. You push the envelope of your muscles a little more each time.”

Jordan said she noticed changes almost immediately. “Within a week I noticed changes in my body, in my legs,” she said. “I felt stronger. I’d find myself randomly touching my legs, and thinking oh, that’s kind of toned and I noticed that clothes were fitting differently. It’s a really nice contrast to cardio. I would just run or go on the elliptical, but barre gets your whole body.”

Lisa Allen/Magnolia Barre

And the great thing said Lisa is that it’s not at all competitive. It doesn’t matter if someone moves farther or gets lower than you. Everyone is getting a workout. The goal is simply to challenge yourself.

There are several barre classes throughout the country, including in Maine. If you’re interested in Magnolia Barre, check out the website. And if you’re interested in becoming an instructor, you’ll also find information about a Magnolia Barre Teacher Training at the studio this spring.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.