Let’s Challenge 3 Common Barre Fitness Class Beliefs

As has been discussed in various GXunited posts, Barre fitness classes are packed right now. This is fabulous because the classes are inspiring students to new levels of fitness. However, before you jump on board to get certified and teach this popular format, it is important to be educated versus just listening to the popular fads of the moment. You can make a huge impact on your class participants if you can identify false information.

Typically, these 3 common barre misconceptions cause problems or injuries in the general population.

Misconception #1: Pulsing is the Best thing EVER for Spot Reduction.

Pulsing and focusing on one area for over 7 minutes will spot reduce because of the burn.

Truth: All of these words are hot terms in the barre industry. People are naming their classes with the terms pulse, spot reduce, or burn to maximize on this popularity. As typical in the industry, we have taken these words and over exaggerated them in our fitness classes.

According to Michelle Olsen, PHD, professor of exercise science  at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, the muscle burn is primarily caused by anaerobic glycoses fueling contractions; the strength increase only occurs at the precise range where pulsing occurs. This pulsing action should only be performed for 10 seconds, not 7 minutes. There are many injuries coming out of this method of training due to it over usage at a joint (read more in my article on feet issues in Barre Fitness classes). Instead of pulsing with muscular contractions, the general public begin to bounce the joint, therefore using momentum and not muscle.

Solution:  Love pulsing? Shorten the amount of repetitions, slow down the movement, and make sure your clients are contracting with each pulse.

Misconception #2: The abdominals have an upper and lower region.

Separate your upper and lower abs.

Truth: This is one big myth, as discussed in this article, the abs are one large unit, not two separate regions! Unfortunately, this is a very common cue in barre classes (and other GX formats). That intense burning sensation that students feel during certain front core work is their hip flexors on fire, not the anterior core muscles. The core works as an entire unit. You cannot separate a section of the core by requesting for it to work alone.

Solution: Educate yourself on human anatomy so that you may properly cue your students. For example, let’s look more in depth at the internal oblique, which performs two major functions.

First, it’s an accessory muscle of respiration. It acts as an antagonist to the diaphragm; it helps to reduce the volume of the thoracic (chest) cavity during exhalation.

  • When the diaphragm contracts, it pulls the lower wall of the chest cavity down. This increases the volume of the lungs, which then fill with air.
  • Conversely, when the internal obliques contract, they compress the organs of the abdomen. This pushes them up into the diaphragm, which intrudes back into the chest cavity, reducing the volume of the air filled lungs.
  • All of this then produces an exhalation.

Second, the internal oblique contraction rotates and side-bends the trunk by pulling the rib cage towards the hip and lower back.

  • It acts with the external oblique muscle of the opposite side to achieve this torsional movement of the trunk.
  • For example, the right internal oblique and the left external oblique contract as the torso flexes and rotates to bring the left shoulder towards the right hip. For this reason, the internal obliques are referred to as “same side rotators”.
  • The external oblique functions to pull the chest downwards and compress the abdominal cavity, which increases the intra-abdominal pressure. It also limits the actions in both flexion and rotation of the vertebral column.
  • When one side of the obliques contracts, it can create lateral flexion.

Finally, the transverse abdominus is primarily a respiratory muscle and acts as a major stabilizer of the spine.

Notice a trend of these core muscles having to work together in unison and harmony?

Misconception #3: Arching the foot is AWESOME!

A forced foot arch should be used often and frequently in your barre class.

Truth : I asked Jenn Hall, a professional dancer and fitness professional, to help me explain the problems with students and forced arches in barre class. I think that her experience as a dancer as well as a fitness instructor allows her to speak to both audiences about this topic. Here is her incredible explanation and solution:

Though forced arch is beautiful in choreography and useful in pre-pointe and pointe classes, holding it for any extended period of time has no place in barre fitness classes. Forced arch is achieved when a person rises onto the balls of their feet and bend their knees, forcing a stretch in the metatarsal joints and creating the highest possible arch in their feet. It is often used in jazz and modern dance choreography and to help ballerinas increase the degree of their pointed foot position and learn to roll up onto pointe shoes.

Though it is very helpful to dancers to practice this position at the barre or during center practice, holding that position has very little use in classes created for the general fitness population, such as barre classes, as it dramatically increases the risk of foot, ankle and knee injury without much gain.

Barre fitness formats that ask participants to hold forced arch, and/or pulse in that position do so in the interest of increasing adductor strength – this is a misnomer as the joints carry the brunt of the weight versus the muscles- or to increase core strength, which can certainly be more safely and effectively achieved with other exercises.

Solution:  There are multiple exercises to substitute in the place of overusing the forced arch position. Try balancing on relevé (standing on the balls of the feet without bending the knees) or using it in combination with other motions that are safe and effective at recruiting the adductors and core muscles without compromising the joints. I recommend the following combination :

  • Plié,
  • Relevé,
  • Extend the knees
  • Then drop the heels without a pelvic tuck

 

Summary

Should you teach barre classes and jump into this fitness trend? For sure! But you need to understand how the body truly works to keep your students safe while leading an effective fitness class. Stay away from incorporating these 3 common barre misconceptions, take a barre certification (I recommend Barre Above, as you can imagine), and continue to educate yourself.


Barre Fitness Technique Faults

“I hope we make you challenge the status quo, rethink what you know, and discover new group fitness experiences”

-Summer Sides,
Founder of GXunited

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