Whether you’ve never pointed your toes before or have been pulsing and plié-ing for a while, barre is a workout that includes unfamiliar positions (and a ton of muscles you might ignore in other workouts) making it challenging to master.
“You don’t have to be a dancer to take a barre class,” says Tanya Becker, who was trained at the original Lotte Berk barre studio and is the co-founder of Physique 57, the fashion world’s barre workout of choice. “But good technique is important whatever fitness program you’re doing.”
Yes, it can help you avoid injury, but if your form is off, Becker explains, the workout can also be less efficient and effective, so you may not get the results you want.
To help make all of that thigh-quaking action worth it, Becker identified seven common mistakes she sees barre mavens make all the time and explains how to avoid or correct them.
1. Gripping, or “white knuckling,” the barre during thigh work
Holding on tight is not going to save you. “In general, if you’re gripping the barre, you’re [using] your forearms and shoulders, creating tension that doesn’t serve the movement,” says Becker. So while it may work your biceps, “you’re taking some of the work out of your core or glutes or tops of thighs that you actually want to delegate to,” and that’s what you came for, right?
2. Pushing your abs out during core work
During Pilates-based ab work, especially when you’re curling forward, Becker says people have a tendency to push the abdominal wall out instead of engaging it properly. “There’s can sometimes be a moment when clients are getting tired and instead of feeling like the abs are pressing down, it feels like they’re pushing up a bit. You want to lengthen down into the abs,” she explains. Check yourself by simply looking down at your belly and observing.
3. Wearing the wrong socks
It turns out studios are not selling those grippy socks just so you’ll promote the brand via the soles of your feet. They help provide stability and correct form. Physique uses carpet but some studios have wood floors. Either way, if your feet are sliding, says Becker, you’ll likely end up in the wrong position, with your hips placed improperly or your knees too far forward. In addition to P57 cute ones, Becker also likes Reebok’s True Studio Slippers for this.
4. Holding your breath
“We tend to hold our breath when things get challenging,” Becker says. Instead, focus on deep breathing especially in the most intense moments, and it will boost your energy and help you push further.
5. Using weights that are too light
Barre studios have different takes on weights. At one, your instructor may suggest one to three pounds, whereas Physique may have you go as high as eight or ten. But Becker says no matter the class, you should choose weights that push you outside of your comfort zone, so the workout continues to challenge you, which will lead to better results. “If you want to make the jump, play around with it,” she advises, saying you can always grab a couple of different sets, start with the heavy, and drop down if it becomes too intense.
6. Skipping stretch time
Depending on the class you take, stretching may be incorporated throughout, but if there’s a segment to really go deep at the end, you should really make the time to stick around for it. Lotte Berk, in fact, Becker remembers, would lock the doors of her famous studio and not allow clients to leave without finishing their hamstring stretches. Of course, she’s not suggesting that now and understands that you’ve got to get to work, but it’s crucial for your muscles and also your state of mind. “It’s like dessert. Why would you want to miss dessert?” she says. “You’re going to be way more relaxed and ready to take on the rest of your day.”
7. Worrying about people watching (and judging!) you
“It’s a mistake to think everyone is looking at you,” Becker promises, even though most can probably relate to the feeling. “It feels that way, but my experience is if you’re in a tough workout, everyone is just trying to survive.” The class is supposed to be difficult and is designed to overload your muscles, she says, so if you’re constantly trying to look good or complete every rep to keep up with the person next to you, it’s going to mess with your form and ability to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Remember, she says, “the instructor and most of the others are rooting for you.”
Want to get a leg up before your first class? Check out these common barre moves for beginners and scout this out for something to wear. And here’s a thought: Why you should bring your boyfriend to barre class, too.