The hottest barre these days is not some downtown watering hole, but rather one of several installed at elite studios around the country that promise to tone, strengthen, and lengthen muscles using exercises borrowed from ballet.
As instructors at the cultish Physique 57 studios in New York and Los Angeles explained, barre-based classes use your "body weight for resistance, which corrects muscular imbalances and tones every inch of your body."
Mary Helen Bowers, whose online classes have guided more than one Victoria's Secret angel to the perfect plié, told ABC News that she designed her Ballet Beautiful regimen to target the same muscles that dance does. Her routines combine traditional positions, stretches, and unconventional exercises to achieve a sleeker, leaner physique.
And while the learning curve may seem steep, Figure 4 at Pure Yoga Creative Coordinator Madeline Day is quick to sooth nervous newbies: "Just like in yoga, it is a myth that you need to be flexible before starting barre classes. We structure our classes so that you work each muscle group to the max, then stretch it out, allowing for a deeper stretch than normal."
According to Day, Figure 4 enthusiasts report increased flexibility each time they attend class: "Muscles that are strong, toned, and still flexible--what more could you ask of your workout?"
Representatives from all three studios put together a series of poses to introduce you to their preferred methods. Are you feeling the burn? Physique 57 is offering ABC News readers one free online workout at physique57.com/videos through August. Use code: abcforp57 at checkout.
|Simple Hamstring Stretch|
To start, Ballet Beautiful founder Mary Helen Bowers recommends an easy, lengthening stretch to gain more flexibility and a better range of motion in your back and legs.
Begin seated on the mat with one leg extended in front of you and the other knee bent, with the toe touching the extended knee. Lean forward with the upper body towards the toe, opening up through the back of the leg, butt and hips as you extend down. Hold 10-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
|Abs with a Twist|
"A ballerina's strength begins with a strong center or core," Bowers explained. This sequence targets deep muscles through the obliques to sculpt a waist that is "lean and toned."
Bring the arms to first position--a circle in front of your belly button. As you twist and lower to one side, pull stomach muscles in and engage deep through the center and the core. Continue to engage the abs to help you lift back to center. Change sides. Repeat 2 sets of 8.
|One-Leg Bridge on Demi Pointe|
According to Bowers, ballet engages muscles on the inside and back of legs rather than the front of thighs and quads. This one-leg bridge is terrific for quickly toning and tightening the back of the legs and the butt.
Begin lying on the mat with both knees bent. Pull in with the stomach as you lift the hips up and the toes onto demi pointe. Pick one foot off of the ground, engaging through the center. Lower and lift the hips for 4 sets of 8, squeezing through the back of the leg and the butt. Release down, stretch the hamstrings and repeat on the other side.
|Tendu Plié Front|
"A tendu is one of the most basic positions in ballet," said Bowers. She cited this move as a great standing exercise for beginners.
"Begin standing with the right leg extended to the front. Pull in tight through the stomach as you bend the left arm and extend the right arm back. Bend the standing knee as you lean forward towards the right toe. Keeping the leg extended, stretch the standing knee. Repeat 2 sets of 8."
Bowers called these arabesque lifts "as challenging as they are graceful."
Begin standing with the left leg extended long behind. Pull in through the stomach and lower the arms. Lift the right arm up as you lift the left leg into the air behind you at about 45 degrees. Keep the knees straight and the stomach pulled in tight. Repeat 2 sets of 8. Change sides.
Bowers promised that you don't need "to be on the mat to get a killer ab workout!"
Extend the left leg into an arabesque and extend the left arm up and over as you bend the upper body to the right. Pull in and engage with the center, bending through the waist as you bend the standing knee. Maintain balance.
Emmy Rossum and Zooey Deschanel have frequented the core-strengthening classes at Physique 57. But while sessions are oriented around the barre, the program has little in common with the extracurricular activities of your youth. Here, studio experts walked us through some serious signature moves.
Start seated with your right leg at a 90 degree angle in front of you and your left leg at a 90 degree angle behind you. Bring your hands straight in line with the shin of your right leg. Bring your back thigh as far behind you as possible, making sure your back knee is behind your front hip bone so there is no crease in your pants and tilt your knee lower than your foot. Raise the left leg off the floor. Repeat on opposite leg. 30-60 lifts on each side.
Tip: While moving your leg, your abdominals should be pulled in so you are sitting as upright as possible.
To trim your waistline, try this "power" position.
Take a wide stance. Your feet should turn out naturally from your hips and be wide enough apart so that you can lower your hips to knee level. Begin to take mini-bends in the legs (pulses), keeping the butt at knee level and your spine straight. After 30-60 pulses, start to alternate your heels, lifting one heel and then the other high off the floor while pulsing your hips up and down.
|Curtsy with Arm Pulses|
To target your core and arms, grab 3-4 lb weights (optional) and start with feet in a small "V" position--heels glued together and toes 2 inches apart.
From there, incline your body forward at a 45-degree angle. Bend your knees and slide your right leg back about two feet behind you, crossing your body so that your right foot is on the floor lined up behind your left shoulder. Keep your back heel high and your front foot flat with your arms along the sides of your body and palms facing up. Lower your back knee towards the floor and lift up and down an inch from there. As your back knee lowers, pulse your arms up. Make sure to keep your hips and shoulders squared and the front knee stable over the ankle. Repeat for 30-60 reps on each leg.
Lie on your back and bring your legs straight up to the ceiling over your hips. Place your hands to your side and curl your head, neck and shoulders off the floor. Lower your right leg halfway down towards the floor and draw your right arm towards your left knee, twisting the upper body. Continue to alternate your legs and arms--opposite arm to incoming knee--while keeping your neck relaxed and twisting from your ribs.
Figure 4 instructor Heather Hamilton demonstrated three moves to round out your workout.
Lay on your back with hands behind your head and legs bent in tabletop. Curl your head up off the mat and twist the torso to the right while extending your left leg straight. Alternate sides, then repeat with 15 more sets. Try and keep both shoulder blades off the mat at all times and keep your elbows wide.
"This one is great for the abs, especially the obliques!" said Pure Yoga’s Figure 4 Creative Coordinator Madeline Day.
|Side Lying Leg Lifts|
"This one will fire up the sides of the butt and hips, which is great during bikini season," promised Day.
Lie on one side with your knees and hips bent at a 90 degree angle and your back flat. Lift and lower your top leg 15 times, then do 20 small pulses at the top.
Bonus challenge: Lie with your back against a wall or couch to ensure your hips stay stacked.
Day deemed this final simple move "fantastic for the core!"
Take your right forearm to the floor, tuck your toes and straighten your legs, then rotate to the left and lift your left hand straight in the air. Feet can be stacked or your top foot can be slightly in front of your bottom one. Hold for 30 seconds. Then switch to the other side and repeat.
Want an extra challenge? Pulse hips up to the ceiling 30 times while in the side plank. Need a modification? Bend your bottom knee and lay it down parallel to your right forearm.