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Raising the bar with the Barreworks workout

Courtesy of barreworks.ca
Courtesy of barreworks.ca

Just last week, I set foot in a Barreworks studio downtown Toronto for the first time. I slipped off my shoes and socks for the barefoot hour-long session. As someone interested in fitness, I had been hearing about Barreworks for some time and I knew it involved using a ballet barre and props during a workout that blended dance, strengthening, cardio and yoga. As a runner, I’m confident with cardio. But dance, not so much. I was a little nervous I’d make a fool of myself.

What is it?

The Barreworks workout has hit Toronto after it gained popularity in New York and L.A. Right now there are two Barreworks locations in Toronto but many gyms and fitness centres across Canada are picking up on the trend. Designers of Barreworks describe it as “workouts that blend fitness training, core conditioning, yoga and pilates into one dynamic class.” I think that’s an accurate description. Think fat burning, muscle sculpting, cardio and STRENGTH. That last one is important for runners as we so often push muscle work to the back burner to favour endurance workouts.

Courtesy of barreworks.ca
Courtesy of barreworks.ca

What to expect

Before walking into the studio I was told to grab a mat, rubber ball, a resistance band, and two small weighted balls (you get to choose between one pound or two). If you have done any basic strength workout, none of these will be foreign to you. Before we began, I was asked if I had any injuries that the instructor should be aware of. I made her aware of a knee issue I have. I went to my place on the barre expecting to be stumped by confusing ballet moves. Instead, I found out that many of the moves were quite similar to ones I already knew from yoga or from toning after a workout on the track. Plus, there’s always the advantage of having an instructor showing the poses from the front of the room.

The instructor

While the moves were familiar, I didn’t execute them flawlessly every time. My instructor, Lina, was mindful of the knee problem I told her about. I found that she was attentive and not shy to correct. She came over to adjust the grips on my band and told me when I wasn’t squatting low enough. Once or twice I had the pose completely wrong: my back was arched when it shouldn’t have been, I was putting stress in the wrong spots. As a runner, I don’t do nearly enough upper body work so while I found glutes and leg work easier, the arm section of the workout was another story. I slacked a little, making the exercises easier. Lina caught me and told me how to correct it. I have to say, if you pay for a class, or are learning a new type of workout, you need an instructor who is going to be honest when you’re doing it wrong rather than letting you continue and not get the full benefits. I appreciated how sharp she was. That’s a sign it’s worth going back. 

I broke more of a sweat than I thought I would. That’s a sure sign I was working. I had expected a crash course in choreography with a bit of yoga. What I got was an organized full-body toning workout. I became mindful of weak spots to improve. I wasn’t completely lost. It was easy enough to follow along which is encouraging for a first-timer intimidated by trying something new.

Is it good for runners?

Yes. Runners need strong legs, glutes, and core muscles. Many injuries come from not having a strong enough foundation and Barreworks will help you keep up that strength work that runners (like me) are notorious for neglecting. Participating in one of the “mixed level” classes is a good place to start. They also offer classes more focused on cardio or toning. Beginners can take advantage of new client specials or look for an appropriate package.

I often get overwhelmed trying to figure out which exercises to include and I have a hard time setting a routine that will target all of my muscle groups. Barreworks is definitely not too hard for a runner to partake in. Because you’re doing full body strengthening, you can expect to be a little sore the next day so I wouldn’t recommend slotting it in the day before a big workout. Doing a tough session every day may take from running but once or twice weekly will give runners the strengthening boost they need.

I give Barreworks a thumbs up. I walked out of that studio inspired to stay on top of strengthening. In case you’re wondering, I totally plan on going back.