[image via Flickr/StudioBarre]
If I ate a cupcake for every time someone had asked me if I’d ever taken a Barre class over the past year or so, well (if it’s even possible) I’d be REALLY sick of cupcakes by now. What was even more annoying than constantly being questioned about the exercise fad, though, was the fact that I had never given it a go. I had no opinion to offer those who were questioning curiously.
Thanks to my membership at the NYC Reebok Sports Club (courtesy of FitFluential) and my new exercise schedule that makes group ex classes ideal, I no longer have to answer The Barre Question with a “no.” I’ve finally boarded the Barre bandwagon and if you ask me if I’ve ever tried it and what I think of it, I’ll happily throw some thoughts at you. Including the following lists of reasons why Barre is a particularly great exercise for runners.
1. Barre exercises target specific small muscles that aren’t frequently exercised.
The act of running is an extremely repetitive motion. When you run, you use the same muscles (particularly the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes) over and over and over again. For many runners the smaller muscle groups of the lower body (like the hip abductor muscles, the tibialis, and the dorsiflexors) get neglected. Because there’s so much constant focus on the larger muscle groups, the smaller ones may be weaker. But all of the muscles in our legs from the hips all the way down to our toes are connected. It’s like a chain, and when one link is weakened it can throw everything off. You know the saying about a chain and its weakest link.
Barre is great for strengthening the minor muscles that tend to be weak in runners. Exercises like plié squats target the inner thighs and glute kickbacks performed with an externally rotated hip work the smaller glute muscles.
In her review of a Barre class, the author of Books and Body summed this idea up beautifully when she wrote,
“…barre is almost all about isolated movements to build strength. (Warning: You will shake holding some of those positions!) Barre feels like a laserlike workout to strengthen the areas that are least likely to get a workout any other way…”
2. Barre improves coordination.
If you’re like me, one of the reasons that running probably appeals to you is because it doesn’t require the same kind of coordination that hand-eye or hand-foot type sports rely on. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require any coordination at all.
During the class that I took, Blayne (our instructor) had the class perform exercise sequences at different paces. For example we stood facing the mirror with our hands on the bar, raised up onto our calves, lowered into a squat, lowered our heals, and then returned back to the starting raised-calf position. At first we did the sequence slowly and held each position for about two seconds. After a few slow repetitions, and after we had a feel for the movement, she instructed us to pick up the pace and we finished the rest of the reps at a quicker pace. Fast or slow, the act of pacing this exercise sequence required my mind’s full attention and a lot of coordination. Plus, with coordination also comes balance and agility, and runners definitely need all three. This exercise and a few others performed during the class certainly helped improve these skills.
Also, at one point Blayne kept rhythmically and enthusiastically repeating the words “bend and stretch,” at which point I couldn’t help but think of Elle’s “bend and SNAP” scene from Legally Blonde. Which made the workout that much more enjoyable, because Elle Wood’s is awesome and so his her stance on exercise.
3. Barre improves the mind-muscle connection.
So, remember that time I rambled on about how it’s so important for runners to listen to their bodies? Well this is another chance for me to remind you all of that same sentiment. During this class we did an exercise that went like this: Facing the mirror with our arms extended all the way out and our hands on the bar, we folded forward at the hips (like this). We were then instructed to raise the right leg, bend the knee, and rotate the foot externally (picture a dog peeing on a fire hydrant). From there we pulsed our legs up and down.
Not only did this exercise really hone in on the glute muscles (oh, I felt the burn!), but it also helped me gauge my hip flexibility. When we switched legs to perform the exercise on the left side, I realized that I couldn’t fully rotate my left foot to the same degree I was able to on my right side, which indicated that my body was a bit out of balance and my left hip flexors were probably a little tighter than on my right side.
A mind-muscle connection like this— where you’re moving your body in different directions and paying attention to the way it feels and what muscles you’re using— is really important for runners because it helps you to pay closer attention to your body. If something gets thrown out of whack, you’ll recognize it sooner and will hopefully be able to correct it before it leads to a full-blown injury.
Now, it’s time for the GIVEAWAY!
This week, I’m teaming up with Skirt Sports to help promote their Fuel Your Fitness Sweepstakes. I was introduced to Skirt Sports at the Fit Social Conference in Colorado back in September and not only do I love their story and their workout gear, but I also knew that you all would LOVE this giveaway, so it was a no-brainer when they reached out to me and asked if I wanted to participate. There are tons of awesome prizes (including lots of healthy snacks!) up for grabs. So make sure you click the image above and enter for your chance to win. There will be a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner and you have until midnight on November 1st, 2013 to enter, so don’t wait!
Stay healthy, happy, and hungry! xx