Pilates Barre: Train Like a Ballet Dancer at Any Age

Pilates Barre enhances your posture, core strength, alignment of the joints and improves balance.

For many of us, the introduction to Pilates is a life-changing event. If you come from a background of typical gym workouts that center on strength and cardio training, the Pilates focus on bodyweight training and micro-movements comes as a surprise. Pilates enables you to focus on specific muscles to move fluidly at a controlled, disciplined pace while building that invigorating burn in the muscles that results from a challenging workout.

Maybe you're thinking: I get a total body workout from Pilates; can it possibly get any more challenging? The answer is Barre Pilates.

Pilates Barre (sometimes called "Barre Fusion") introduces signature moves that are informed by ballet conditioning and dance movements. Isometric contractions, where we hold the body in challenging poses such as Plank or single-leg balances, are ideal, functional moves for men and women, at every age. These moves improve balance, our sense of mind to muscle connection, proprioception (where the body is in space), and coordination. These skills and strengths enable strong, lean, healthy bodies at every age - for life.

“What is most important to me is that the students discover a quality of elegance in their posture and a grace in their movements,” says Pilates Anytime teacher and former professional ballet dancer, Diane Diefenderfer.

Diane Diefenderfer teaching Barre Fusion on Pilates Anytime.

What is Pilates Barre?

Pilates Barre classes are not your typical ballet classes. These classes take the basic foundations of Pilates and combine them with ballet-inspired moves, like pliés and attitudes, as well as incorporating elements of dance, yoga, and strength training.

"I base my classes on the basic fundamentals of both Pilates and classical ballet - the use of breath, correct spinal alignment, a neutral pelvic placement, and constant awareness of the core as stabilizer," says Diefenderfer.

Just like Pilates, Barre classes commonly involve high-repetition, bodyweight exercises that hold the muscles of the legs, abdominals, glutes, and arms under tension for extended periods. This type of training leads to enhanced cardio fitness. It also strengthens the muscles that are required to maintain posture, stability through the joints, and enduring balance.

What to Expect from Pilates Barre Exercises

For those of us who have watched or attended Pilates Barre class, it's likely you've observed the trembling legs that are common in these classes. This is a result of putting the muscles under load as you build strength. This trembling is a sign of muscle fatigue and certainly not a sign of weakness. In fact, even the strongest of us are likely to experience this "shake" as the muscles use up the available glycogen (energy) stores.

Even though Pilates Barre classes are tough on the muscles, they are gentle on the joints. By maintaining controlled, smaller movements, there is less pressure on your joints, tendons, ligaments and spine. Ultimately, this prevents and reduces injuries and leads to a taller, more graceful posture.

What equipment do I need?

If you’re attending a Pilates Barre class in a studio, it’s likely you’ll use a ballet barre either attached to the wall or free-standing. It’s not necessary to have a barre if you want to practice at home though. We’ll come to that soon. You may also use an Overball, elastic resistance bands, Magic Circle, a Mat, and light Hand Weights. Different studios and teachers embrace various methods of training, which means that through trying different classes, you will find the teachers and methods that most appeal to you.

Deborah Mendoza teaching at the ballet barre.

What Are the Benefits of Pilates Barre?

Just like Pilates, Pilates Barre enhances your posture through focusing on core strength, optimal alignment of the joints, and improved balance. Pilates Barre can be practiced alongside traditional Pilates, yoga, dance, and any other physical training you do. It’s designed to be a full-body workout that prepares your body for all strength and cardio challenges.

“I incorporate a lot of spinal articulation throughout the class: forward flexion, rotational moments of the spine, and hyperextension,” says Diefenderfer. “Correct use of external rotation of the legs, or turn-out, is of paramount importance in ballet and I use it in the barre class to facilitate many of the exercises. This allows for greater movements of the legs from the hip. Inner thigh work is constantly emphasized as well.”

How Does Pilates Barre Build Core Strength?

Pilates Barre is based on awareness of the core stabilizing muscles that support long, balanced posture and enduring energy and strength. These are your abdominals, pelvic muscles, back, glutes and hips. Pilates Barre classes require you to balance on one leg, to externally rotate from the hips, to move forward, back, laterally and in rotation so that you are working the muscles from all angles. This develops a harmonious and balanced body, one that is able to move with confidence and mindfulness. No two classes are identical either, so by maintaining a regular Pilates Barre practice, you will progress over time to be able to maintain your form under pressure with more ease, reach further, plié lower, and lift higher.

What Should I Expect in My First Class?

As with most classes, there will be a warm-up that introduces the sorts of moves and muscle actions that you will rely on in class. From there, depending on the type of Pilates Barre class, and whether it’s more classical or energetic (as in Tracey Mallett’s Bootybarre classes), you will do some standing work, balance, pliés, and lunges which coordinate with graceful, strong arm moves. You may use dumbbells, elastics, weighted balls or no equipment at all.

Expect to find it challenging as your body adapts to these new methods of movement, but also expect to learn a lot from your teacher and to have fun. Really!

What Effect Does Pilates Barre Have on My Body Shape and Size?

The larger the muscles you're working, the more calories you burn. Since Pilates Barre works your thighs, glutes, and abdominals to fatigue, you'll definitely be burning through some serious energy during and after your workout. As you continue to do Pilates Barre classes, you'll build long, lean muscle. This increase in lean muscle means you'll be burning up calories even at rest because your resting metabolic rate increases. More importantly than weight loss, though, are the improvements you will see in your posture and muscle tone. This will enable you to both feel and look longer, leaner and more confident.

What Are Some Tips for Beginning Pilates Barre?

When it comes to footwear, Diefenderfer believes that practicing barefoot is okay, although a ballet slipper can offer a little more support to the ball of the foot. "Jazz shoes or dance sneakers are good too. Some older students would probably be most comfortable with some kind of a support instead of bare feet." Beware of socks as slippage can be a problem. "They also do not allow for the best articulation of the foot if the student is sliding on a hardwood floor," she adds.

Tons of repetitions are not recommended, nor are they necessary if the class is structured correctly. According to Diefenderfer, "A variety of exercises can target the inner thighs, for example, without repeating the same exercise 100 times."

Lastly, she suggests finding a good instructor who addresses the WHOLE body throughout the class. "And please no quick, out of control 'squats,'" she adds.

So, you’ve decided to give Pilates Barre a go. Find your plié and feel the shake. You're a ballerina already.

Cat Woods
About the Author

Cat Woods

Cat Woods is the Australian founder of Ballet Sculpt, a barre, yoga and Pilates instructor and writer. She has written on fitness, food, travel and beauty for various media and her own blog, Core Integrity for over a decade. She is a self-confessed daily user of Pilates Anytime, with a particular dedication to Meredith Rogers' Mat classes.


1 person likes this.
Thank you Cat, I'm now inspired to try out Barre Pilates.
Rebecca U
I am excited to try this. I just love your articles.
Fabulous article which has inspired me to start a barre class 

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