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Woman doing barre exercise in studio with arms in air and leg on barre

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Barre Tips for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know About This Ballet-Inspired Workout

Plus, five equipment-free exercises to try.

By Alyssa ShafferMarch 15, 2024


Even if you’re a beginner with zero dance training, there's something extremely gratifying about doing a barre workout. Maybe it’s the sensation of engaging your muscles with precise, small-range movements. Or, it could be the confidence boost that comes from holding your head high (after all, posture is key in barre classes).

Plus, this ballet-inspired workout is convenient and effective. You don’t need a ton of equipment, most of the moves are beginner-friendly, and the classes work your full body in a relatively short amount of time. “Barre is low impact but high energy,” Peloton instructor Hannah Corbin says. "It will leave your whole body feeling strengthened, energized, and balanced.”

Below, we discuss everything you need to know to feel confident during your first barre class, including tips on how to prepare, what to wear for maximum comfort, and step-by-step instructions on how to do basic barre exercises.

What Is Barre?

Barre is a type of workout that blends cardio, strength training, flexibility, and balance using high-rep, low-weight (or bodyweight) movements designed to fatigue your muscles. Most classes feature ballet-inspired movements that incorporate light weights, small inflatable balls, and resistance bands, as well as bodyweight exercises that target specific muscles.

“We combine lifting, lowering, pulsing, and isometric holds that challenge us in all of the right ways,” Hannah says. Barre has less of a focus on how intensely you’re working and more of an emphasis on proper alignment and feeling the right muscles engage, adds Michele Olson, PhD, a senior clinical professor in the Department of Sport Science and Physical Education at Huntingdon College.

The Benefits of Barre Workouts

“Barre workouts will improve your balance and flexibility while also developing strength and muscular endurance, all of which translates really well into daily life,” Olson says. Here’s a list of some of the benefits you can expect from regularly doing barre workouts:

  • Increased full body strength and endurance

  • Improved balance

  • Increased flexibility and range of motion

  • Strengthened and stabilized core

  • Improved posture and alignment

Barre workouts focus on posture, strength, and core stability, so expect to do a lot of exercises that engage your glutes, quads, hamstrings, inner and outer thighs, low back, hips, and abdominals, Olson says.  

Consistent barre training can also help you feel better as you power through daily life. Many barre exercises require you to move in a lot of different directions, which is great for daily functions such as twisting and reaching. Plus, doing high-rep movements increases muscular endurance, which makes it easier to do just about any daily movement, from lifting heavy grocery bags to sitting up and down in a chair.

Barre can also boost your mood and mental state, regardless of how experienced you are. In fact, beginners might surprise themselves in class by actually enjoying the low-impact movements. “Everything is challenging yet completely achievable,” Hannah says. “It truly is one of those workouts where you can step back and measure your success by how much fun you’re having.”

Although barre classes can benefit people of all fitness levels, from beginner to advanced,  those with pre-existing neck or low back issues should pay close attention to how their body feels throughout the workout. “Many barre exercises use a tucked pelvis position that can strain the muscles if your form is off,” Olson says. “If it hurts or doesn’t feel right, stop what you’re doing and talk to your doctor to be sure you aren’t aggravating any pre-existing injuries.”

Common Myths About Barre Workouts

Before we dive deeper into what barre is, let’s clarify what it’s not. Here, we dispel three of the most pervasive myths about this type of exercise.

Myth 1: You Need a Ballet Background to Get the Most Out of Barre

False! Barre is beginner-friendly, so even if you've never danced before, you can still enjoy it and get a lot out of it. In addition to all the aforementioned benefits, “it’s good to get out of your comfort zone and try something new,” Olson says. “Different types of movements and experiences allow your body and your brain to work in different ways.”

Myth 2: If It Doesn’t "Burn," You’re Not Working Hard Enough

There’s often talk of “feeling the burn” in barre workouts. That’s because the burning sensation we feel in our muscles is especially common with high-rep, low-weight resistance training, like barre.

“[The burn] happens when your muscles run out of their energy source and build up lactic acid,” Olson explains. The longer it takes to get to that burn, the more muscular endurance you’ll develop, she explains. 

Even if you don’t feel a burning sensation during barre class, it doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time. As long as you feel challenged and work your muscles close to fatigue—meaning it feels like you could only manage two or three more reps by the end of a set—you’re benefiting your body.

Myth 3: You’ll Build "Long, Lean" Muscles

People often associate “long, lean muscles” with a dancer’s body—and, subsequently, barre workouts. But here’s the thing: “Once you’re fully grown, the actual length of your muscles isn’t going to change,” Olson explains. So no type of workout can truly lengthen your muscles.

What you can change, according to Olson, is your flexibility, lean muscle mass, strength, and posture—all of which can help you stand taller, get stronger, and feel more confident.

Beginner Barre Tips

Before taking your first barre class on the Peloton App or heading to an in-person studio, consider these tips to show up feeling confident and prepared:

  • Dress to move. We recommend wearing comfortable clothes that allow you to move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion without getting in your way. So, baggy sweats probably aren’t the best choice for this type of movement. Wear whatever you feel most comfortable in, but standard barre attire for women includes leggings, a tank top, a sports bra, and no shoes. 

  • Spring for the grippy socks. Socks with a bit of traction on the bottom can help you find your footing and avoid slipping if you’re doing barre exercises on a hard floor, Olson says.

  • Set up your space. If you’re doing a barre workout at home, you’ll need either a chair with a high back or a hip-height counter to grasp. Find a space where you can move freely without crashing into furniture. Many barre classes also feature exercises that incorporate light dumbbells and small inflatable balls, especially as you get more advanced, so consider eventually investing in this basic equipment. 

  • Prioritize posture. As you move through different barre exercises, be mindful of your posture. It can help to do the exercises in front of a mirror or window so you can check your reflection.

  • Don't be afraid to embrace short workouts. One of the great things about a barre workout is that you can accomplish a lot in a little time. Regularly doing five or 10 minutes of barre can be enough to improve your flexibility and build strength. Try this 10-Minute Barre Class or this 15-Minute Barre Class, both led by Hannah.

  • Don’t let your ego get in the way. "Barre is like anything else; if you let your ego get in the way, it’s less enjoyable," Hannah says. Go at your own pace and take breaks whenever you need them.

  • Celebrate yourself. Simply showing up for yourself is worth celebrating. Plus, we're willing to bet that you'll finish class feeling better than you did when you started. Peloton barre is one of those magical experiences that leaves you feeling fabulous with your muscles burning in all of the right ways,” Hannah says.

Fundamental Barre Exercises to Try at Home

Ready to try some barre exercises on your own? Here are some fundamental movements you’re likely to encounter in a beginner-friendly barre class.

1. Roll Down

This dynamic stretch wakes up your muscles and increases your range of motion, helping you prepare for the rest of the workout.

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width distance apart, knees slightly bent, toes pointing forward, and hands at your sides. Take a deep inhale.

  2. As you exhale, drop your head and roll down one vertebra at a time, engaging your abdominals and keeping your knees slightly bent with your arms hanging in front of you. Bring your hands to the floor (or as close to the ground as you comfortably can).

  3. Slowly roll back up one vertebra at a time, lifting your head last. As you get to the top, take a deep breath in again. Repeat this movement three or four more times.

Muscles worked: Back, hamstrings, core

Hannah Corbin doing Grand Plie Barre GIF

2. Grand Plié

This classic barre exercise can be both a dynamic warm-up and a strength move for your low body and core.

  1. Begin in a wide stance, with your toes pointing toward the corners of the room and your torso tall. You can place your hands on your hips or lightly touch a barre, chair, or table for balance.

  2. Bend your knees for two counts, lowering your hips toward the floor. Keep your head up, shoulder blades back and down, and knees tracking over your ankles (not caving in or out).

  3. Press through your feet to lift back up for two counts, gently squeezing your glutes at the top.

  4. Immediately repeat this movement, lowering and lifting for two counts each, until you’ve done eight reps.

  5. Repeat for another eight reps, this time taking one count to lower and one count to lift. After the eighth rep, hold at the bottom, continuing to keep your upper body tall with your knees bent at about 90 degrees.

  6. Pulse down and up about one inch for another eight counts before returning to the starting position.

Muscle worked: Inner thighs, hamstrings, quads, glutes, core

3. Bent Knee Parallel

This exercise is great for working both the legs and glutes one side at a time. Remember to keep your pelvis slightly tucked and engage your glutes as you push your raised leg back.

  1. Stand facing the barre or the back of your chair with your feet together. Bend both knees slightly.

  2. Shift your weight into your left foot and step your right leg behind you, touching the ball of your right foot to the floor. Tuck your pelvis (so you’re not arching your back) and lightly hold onto a barre or chair.

  3. Keeping your front knee slightly bent, lift your right (back) foot until your right knee is bent to about 90 degrees. As you flex your foot, you should feel your hamstring engage. 

  4. From here, imagine there’s a wall about six inches behind you. Press your right heel back as if you’re trying to touch that wall. You’ll feel this movement in your glutes, not just your hamstrings. Press for eight to 10 counts, then bring your right foot down next to your left and repeat this movement on the other side.

Muscles worked: Thighs, glutes

Hannah Corbin Fifth Position Arm Raises Barre GIF

4. Fifth-Position Arm Raises

Another nod to a ballet position, this bodyweight exercise sculpts your arms and shoulders. Focus on keeping your core engaged as you move your upper body.

  1. Stand tall with your heels together, toes turned out, and legs straight. Bring your arms in front of your torso with your elbows bent slightly to create a large circle (imagine you’re holding a big beach ball). This is known as low fifth position. 

  2. Lift your arms until your hands are in front of your belly button (also known as first position), then open them to the sides, keeping a slight bend in your elbows (also known as second position).

  3. Bring your hands back together to return to first position (holding that beach ball in front of you) and then lift them overhead into high fifth position. Keep your shoulders down away from your ears and your chest lifted.

  4. Lower your arms back to low fifth and repeat the full movement. Do eight to 10 reps total, moving fluidly the entire time. Try not to pause in any position.

Muscles worked: Arms, shoulders, upper back

Hannah Corbin Shoulder Circles GIF Barre Exercise

5. Shoulder Circles and Rotation

Like many barre exercises, this one is much more challenging than it looks. If your form starts breaking down, drop your arms and shake them out. Once you feel ready, try again.

  1. Stand tall with your heels together, toes turned out, and legs straight. Lift your arms out to the sides or just below shoulder height with your palms facing the floor and elbows straight.

  2. Make small circles with your arms, moving them up and back for eight counts. Reverse the circles for another eight counts.

  3. Now, it’s time for the rotation: Keeping your arms extended, rotate so that your palms face up and then down. Continue alternating in a smooth motion for eight to 10 counts.

  4. After the final rotation, lower your arms to your sides. If you’re feeling good, you can repeat the sequence again with a bit more speed. 

Muscles worked: Arms, shoulders, upper back

Barre vs. Pilates: What’s the Difference?

Barre and Pilates are both effective low-impact workouts designed to improve strength, muscle endurance, and mobility. They share an emphasis on alignment, proper form, and muscle engagement through high-rep, low-weight exercises. But the two training styles have some key differences, including:

  • Equipment: Pilates can be done with just your body and a mat (like you’ll find in Pilates classes on the Peloton App), but it can also incorporate unique equipment, such as a reformer or tower, to provide added resistance. On the other hand, all barre workouts can be done with something sturdy to hold onto, some small weights, and maybe an inflatable ball.

  • Muscle focus: Most Pilates exercises stem from the core while also working the entire body. Many barre exercises incorporate the core, but there are also moves designed to isolate specific body parts with small, repetitive movements.

  • Breathing: Each Pilates move coordinates with a breathing technique, which is unique to this type of exercise and isn’t as much of a focus in barre (that said, it’s still important to monitor your breath during these workouts). 

The bottom line: Both barre and Pilates are excellent ways to challenge your muscles and improve your overall fitness level. You can choose the one that most appeals to you or try both. As Olson says, “Pilates can be a great complement to barre exercises and vice versa.”


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