Fitness Lessons From My First (And Also Last) Day at Barre Class

updated May 25, 2019
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(Image credit: Satyrenko)

Did you know that when you take a barre class, your entire body—especially your thighs—just shakes uncontrollably the entire time and that’s supposed to be normal?

Barre class, if you’re unfamiliar, is like a combination of ballet, Pilates and yoga—and in it, you use a ballet barre and hand weights, and do mat exercises as well. And by “supposed to,” what I really mean is that it is normal, but if you don’t know that going in and have never experienced it before, you will spend the entire class wondering what’s wrong with you and if you’re going to collapse. You won’t—even though it feels weird—and there’s nothing wrong with you. You will also somehow feel the most graceful you’ve ever been in your life, and the most clumsy at the same time. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s part of the charm.

All that is to say that I learned this the hard way during my first ever (and only, but I’ll get to that later) barre class. I went in with an open—but still terrified—mind and I left feeling totally elated and like I could do absolutely anything…that is, until I sat down.

As it turns out, the key to surviving your first barre class is to not stop moving for two whole days afterwards, because the second you sit down, your entire body will stop working, and who knows when it will start back up again. You’ll tell your brain to tell your legs to move so you can get up, but you’ll find yourself still sitting on the couch and questioning every decision you’ve ever made in your life.

For context, here is an exclusive look at my first day of life after barre:

But—and here’s where it gets weird—the strangest part of it all isn’t the shakes or the inability to move afterwards. It’s the fact that despite it all, you will want nothing more than to go back and do it all over again. I spent two days on the couch (and another four after that still sore) and it hurt to breathe, but I couldn’t stop talking about how great the class was. Mostly because I learned so much about my body and what it can (and can’t) do in the process—not to mention, what I should be paying more attention to when I am working out.

Posture is important!

This is something that I already knew, but not something that I experienced all that much until my barre class. Full disclosure: I grew up with a mom who used to bodybuild, so I’ve been thoroughly schooled in how important it is to use the correct posture when using weights or any sort of machines at the gym—the wrong positioning at best won’t fully get you the results you want, and at worst can get you injured. But I didn’t feel the effects of even the smallest changes in posture until I was at the barre and my instructor was shifting my body into the correct positions. With each little correction, every movement felt totally different.

What I learned: One, it is really, really hard to bend every part of your body in a different direction at the same time while one of your legs is up above your waist resting on a bar, and two, being even the littlest bit out of place really can affect your workout, so it’s really important to pay attention to your body while you exercise.

…And so is stretching.

In all honesty, I have never really been much of a stretcher. It’s one of those things that everyone always says you’re supposed to do, but I just never made it a part of my routine. I would stretch sometimes when I was feeling particularly stiff or sore, but not in any sort of regular manner. In my barre class, however, the very first thing we did was stretch. And the very last thing we did? Stretch again. I definitely felt more flexible and limber throughout the workout because of the beginning stretch sesh, and I felt even better after the cool-down mat stretching at the end. I’m now a total stretch convert—I don’t always do it still, but I try to make time for it in my fitness routine as much as possible because the difference is definitely noticeable.

Switching up your routine helps.

I have had the same gym routine for years, and it consists of weights, various arm/ab/leg/etc. machines and cardio (usually either the stationery bike or the elliptical). While I’ll change up how much I push myself—as in with weight levels or distance and time—I never did anything else. I am definitely not a fitness class kind of person, and workouts are usually my alone time. Even when I go to the gym with a friend, I have to go off and do my own thing. And as a result, I never made it a point to try anything new. Eventually it just got boring and I stopped wanting to go to the gym as much.

Because of that, I signed up for a ClassPass trial and wound up at that fateful barre class the next morning. And while there were a lot of parts about the barre workout that I hated (I’m never going to just voluntarily do a pushup and I’m not sorry about it), there were others that I had never done before but really loved—and they were things I could easily incorporate into my existing fitness routine. Between that, and my stretching and posture revelations, I have been able to make my workouts more interesting, energizing and successful.

You have to listen to your body.

So, I made an executive decision not to go back to another barre class despite my desire to do it again, because while a little post-workout soreness is normal—and while I’m sure that my body would adapt to barre after a few more classes—I honestly just couldn’t deal with it. I could tell during the class that I pushed myself too hard to keep up with the instructor when there were points that I should’ve just paused and drank some water and then gotten back into the swing of things. After my barre experience, I took a few other fitness classes (mat Pilates and aqua cycling, to name a few) and I took this lesson to heart—when I felt like I couldn’t do something, I gave it a try but didn’t force myself to go through with it if it didn’t feel right, and my body was much happier with me afterwards. The point is, now I have a better understanding of my limits.

Even though I won’t be going back for round two at the ballet barre, I’m still glad I challenged myself and went. That one shaky, pain-inducing barre class taught me that I’m way more coordinated than I thought I was and changed the way I exercise for the better.