(first, start with cute workout pants 😉 )
I know most of you don’t come here for the Pure Barre posts, but it’s a HUGE part of my life, so bear with me for a sec. Or skip over this one if you’d rather…
I’m a perfectionist, always trying to improve my Pure Barre practice. In the beginning, I remember just trying to get through it; staying in it, and then taking a deep breath when class was over! Then later, as I was more comfortable with the movements and what my body could do, I started paying more attention to proper form, and pushing myself as hard as I could to do it RIGHT and be as effective as I could with my practice.
Now, after three years and about 600 Pure Barre classes, I might have it down. Just about. There are always new things to learn and ways to be better, but even as a beginner, you can do better, and advance quicker in your practice, to see results even faster. Which is why I wrote this.
These are just a few things I’ve learned myself over the years that I’ve thought were helpful. Please note that I’m not an instructor, or affiliated with Pure Barre in any way, I’ve just been doing it for 3 years, on average 4-5 days per week. I’m an addict, plain and simple. But I’ve picked up on a lot of tips & tricks that have helped me out a lot…maybe they’ll help you too?
Buy the $100 unlimited month package to start
You may never want to see a ballet barre again after your first class, but if you make an initial commitment to try it for a month, I promise you won’t regret it. That’s what I did – and believe me, I NEVER just jump into something head first, I wade in very slowly! But with Pure Barre, I took a giant leap, and have never looked back.
During and after your first class you’ll be confused, and thinking WTF? a lot, but after a few classes you’ll understand the flow a lot better, and after 10, you’ll start to see/feel changes in your body. Stick with it for a month and you’ll be hooked.
Pure Barre is pretty expensive, I know, but if you go to a studio that’s been open a while (more than a year or so), they’ll usually offer more deals and discounts to take advantage of than new studios. I always buy monthly packages and contracts because I get a better cost-per-class that way, and then take advantage of any deals or specials the studio offers during the year and stack them onto the end of my contract.
Once you’ve decided to stick with it a while, go ahead and buy the year-long monthly contract to get the best price. I do this, and although not every studio will do it, I was able to cancel my contract when we moved from Austin to Dallas, and even suspend it for a couple of weeks while we went on vacation. It helps if you’re in the studio frequently and you’re friendly with the staff!
What to wear/Bring
Wear leggings, NOT SHORTS, and a fitted top. During warm-up and stretching we raise our arms, and do some bent-over work, and if you’re just wearing a loose top and sports bra, your top will rise or fall exposing your midriff, or more. I like to layer with a full length fitted cami and loose top often, but most of the time, I’m wearing long leggings and a fitted cami with built in bra top.
- Sticky socks are your friend: Sticky socks are not necessary, but boy, they’re helpful in the beginning. Now, I could take them or leave them, but early on, they really help you keep your form in plank and stay up on your tippy toes in thigh work until you build up your core strength. And the studio has some really cute ones now, in lots of colors.
- BRING WATER. You’ll want it after thigh work, I promise you.
- Come early to class so you can fill out paperwork, get your sticky socks and get set up at your spot.
- DO NOT WEAR SHOES IN THE STUDIO. Also, put your socks on outside the studio. Not all studios are so strict about this, but it’s much cleaner in my opinion. My first studio was VERY strict about nothing but sticky socks in the studio and now I cringe whenever I see someone walk in with shoes or barefoot!
- Put your phone away in a cubby during class, don’t keep it by your side. It’s distracting, and in my opinion dis-respectful to those of us who came to class for uninterrupted me time.
- Regulars always have “spots” – and although we always joke about it, we can be flexible (If we’re REALLY serious about reserving our spot, we’ll get there super-early..). Don’t worry so much about getting someone else’s spot, just be mindful.
- Don’t by shy! Talk to your fellow students and look for someone to watch: During the warm up and arm work you can usually spot the people who seem to know what they’re doing because they’re familiar with the routine. WATCH THEM for the rest of class. If there are any other instructors in class, watch them. Don’t compare yourself, this isn’t a competition, but do watch them, and then check yourself in the mirror to make sure you’re doing it right.
- Set yourself up by a mirror: Beginners never want to do this. I didn’t do this as a beginner; I wanted to be as far back as possible and (hopefully) invisible. But it really makes such a big difference in your form and practice if you can actually see what you’re doing in thigh and seat work. I prefer now to be in the front left of the class where the mirrors come together so I can see my form at every angle (because I’m a perfectionist when it comes to form) but being just at the front barre with the mirror is good enough. Try it. Don’t be scared of the mirror!
Form is more important than weight/height: When the instructor tells you to straighten your legs, REALLY straighten them. That usually means they’ll drop lower, but that’s okay. If you’re working with flexed feet, you should be pushing all your energy out your heels, and in pointed toes, push all your energy out your toes – naturally your leg will straighten if you are. Your form is ALWAYS more important than how high you can get your leg. It’s not a competition to see who can get highest…
In arm work, it’s more important to keep your arms raised for the duration and use a smaller weight, than use a heavier weight and keep dropping to take a break. If you can’t complete the work without dropping your arms, you’re using too much weight. Period. Start with 2 pound weights or no weights at all, and move up to heavier over time. There is NO SHAME in using light weights; I still do all of my arm work with 2 pound weights, although I am trying to work my way up to 3 pounds (I do NOT have strong arms + I don’t want to look like a linebacker…).
- Make sure to keep your shoulders down and your abs tucked in. You’ll want to lean forward or back as you get tired and make it easier to keep your arms up, but don’t. Straighten out your back, keep your shoulders over your hips, tuck your abs in, keep your shoulders down away from your ears, and drop your weight lower if you have to, but DO NOT DROP YOUR ARMS (or swing them). You can do it.
Your movements should be so small, you’ll hardly be able to see them:
The most significant thing I’ve learned that’s influenced my practice is that your movements in Pure Barre should be so small and focused that if someone is watching you from across the room, they wouldn’t be able to even notice you’re moving at all.
This is especially true in seat work, and it’s the hardest to master, because if you’ve done any other type of exercise your whole life, you’re probably used to wider ranges of motion. You want to really push your leg back in seat work, but rather, you should be focusing on moving just the crease of your seat.When I first started PB my instructor would come around and place her fingers just in the crease of my seat (yeah, it was shocking at first) to let me know that’s where I should be focusing my energy. When you concentrate on just moving that crease, the rest of your leg really doesn’t move much. You’ll see. And you’ll feel it MUCH more.
TUCK constantly: Keep your abs tucked in ALL THE TIME. Really. ALL THE TIME. Pull your hips up into your abdomen…That’s tucked. Now keep them there! I only just mastered this recently, but it’s made a world of difference. And everything much more challenging…
Hold – build on every movement, don’t ease up: You’ll notice after you’ve been going a while that the instructor will start just tucking, then she’ll say hold your tuck, and circle your hips, or hold your tuck and pulse. When she says “hold” she means to keep tucking or doing whatever it was you were just doing, and ADD on to that movement, not to come out of it. Each exercise is really just building on every movement up until the end. This is especially true when “pulsing” – ideally, you want to pulse down a cm, hold, and pulse down ANOTHER cm, try not to pulse up and down; always try to build on the down and go further down. Again, you should hardly be moving at all, and you will want to die because your thighs are burning so bad….
Shaking is changing: You’ll want to punch your instructor every time she says this, but it’s true. I used to shake like crazy, but now I have to REALLY push myself to get to a shaking point. I need to sink down lower, or get up higher on my tippy toes. But truly, if your legs are shaking, it means they’re working like they’re supposed to. DO NOT STOP NOW!
Tippy toes are REALLY high heels:
When I first started, and for quite a while, I gave up on getting up on my tippy toes. I really thought I wouldn’t ever be able to do it. But eventually I did, and it has truly elevated my practice. Once you’re up on your highest toes, STAY UP as high as you can for as long as you can – picture a ballerina up in toe shoes, that’s how high you should be up on YOUR toes. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a good instructor who will go around tapping your heels to bring them up higher, but even if you don’t, do it yourself. You should literally be just up on your toes, the rest of your foot should be perpendicular to the floor, when you’re doing anything at the barre that requires you to be up on your “highest toes.” And usually when you’re up on your tippy toes, your heels should be glued together, whether they’re turned out or parallel. PUSH your heels together as tight as they’ll go; you’re getting the most work that way.
Under the barre – this is one of the hardest movements to get used to in PB, because it’s so strange. I still don’t “get it” all the time, or feel like I’m really working my abs like I’m supposed to, but I try. Here, the most important tip is to NOT grasp so hard behind your calf that your bicep is flexed. If you are holding on tightly, lower your leg a bit and send your butt out further on your mat so you’re more slouched under the barre – it’s more important to have a straight leg than a high leg.
You should hold on to your leg very lightly, if at all (only let go of your leg if it’s COMPLETELY STRAIGHT). And never take the option to raise your leg off the ground an inch until you can keep both legs completely straight – it took me about a year to get there.
Abs on the mat- Try not to use the ball behind your back unless the instructor specifically uses it for the exercises (then you’ll really need it!!). I used the ball for a long time, until I realized how much of a crutch it was. Sure, it’s much easier to do sit ups with a ball behind your back, but you can modify a little so you won’t need it and get stronger at the same time: Keeping your feet on the floor, lengthening your legs a bit, and coming up a bit higher will help. For more of a challenge, bring your feet closer to your hips and sink lower. But all the time in ab work, your abs should be completely tucked under and your shoulders should hardly move.
That’s the hardest part to get, I think. Again, remember that your movements should be small, and barely perceptible, even in ab work. Your body should be relatively still, only your abs are moving up and back, never your shoulders. Hold on lightly behind your knees if you have to, even when the instructor isn’t. Don’t hold on for dear life though, if you’re doing that, come up a bit and send your legs out a bit longer. If your lower back HURTS, like really hurts, and isn’t just tired, then use the ball behind it. Don’t injure yourself…
Then, when you move on to the final stretch of ab-work, lower abs with your head down and your legs up, focus on JUST lifting your butt off the floor. Nothing should move except your lower abs and your butt, but just barely – your legs shouldn’t sway or move at all. I actually do better when I put my hands behind my head here; I can feel it more in my abs and not like I’m pushing so hard with my hands into the floor.
Tips for not-so-beginners
If you’ve been doing Pure Barre for a while, here are a few things you can do to advance your practice even more:
- If you’re already staying up in plank for the full 90 seconds, instead of dropping down to your knees after the last ten count, stay and push up to straight arms. I did this after about 1.5 years and it has completely changed my practice, making everything else that comes after, much more challenging!
- In ab work under the barre, keep both hands pressed up under the barre instead of holding on behind your calf. ONLY take this option if you can keep your top leg COMPLETELY STRAIGHT and still feel the work in your abs. If you can’t, or you feel it in your hip flexors, hold back on. I have days where I can do this and days where I can’t, but it’s always something I work towards.
- Always take the “for a challenge” options when the instructor gives them, I promise, you’ll feel it! Rise up on your tippy toes at the end of some of the thigh exercises, or in seat work, and add in an extra tuck when you’re down on all fours in parallel seat work. Seriously. Try it.
- Sink even lower in thigh work. So low, you don’t think you can hold it any longer. And then hold it.
DO NOT GIVE UP:
My instructors in the beginning used to say during the last 20 seconds “you can do anything for 20 seconds” – and it’s true. IT doesn’t FEEL true in the beginning, when you’re shaking so bad you think you’ll fall, or your seat is cramping, but stick with it, and I promise you, it will change your body like nothing else. When you’re about to drop out of thigh work when you’re in the chair position (you know what I’m talking about!), figure out a creative way to stay in position: drop your feet down, come up a little, pull your arms in a teeny bit – anything but coming out of form all the way. It’s SOO much harder to get back into it once you’ve come out than it is to just keep going. Motto for life, that is. 🙂
Are you a Pure Barre beginner, or expert? Have anything to add? or questions?
More Pure Barre posts:
Three Years Later | How Pure Barre hasn’t changed my life
5 Things I learned about life after 500 Pure Barre Classes
What I Wear for Pure Barre
My Pure Barre Story
I’ve gone to one barre class (not Pure Barre but a similar method) and was so intimidated by the combination of not being able to follow along and all of the super-fit women in their stylish outfits that I didn’t go back. I’m pretty embarassed that I let that get to me, and will make a new resolution to go back this month and try again.
Grechen Reiter says
oh, i let that stuff get to me all the time…just not this time, actually. i had already made my mind up to just do it i guess, which as i said, is weird for me, cuz i chicken out all the time with stuff!!!
there are definitely some women in each class who are are decked out in lulu and full makeup and whatever, but honestly, most of the ladies i’ve taken class with are completely normal LOL
One word: ADMIRATION.
Thanks so much for this post. I’ve been toying with giving pure barre a shot, but I worry about the tippy toe part. My right foot has a metal bar and 7 screws where the big joint under the big toe should be. It’s set so that I can wear 1″-1.5″ heels, but it does not go any higher than that. Would love your thoughts on how much that will compromise the effectiveness. I haven’t been able to do much real exercise since the surgery 6 months ago, but I thought that everything about barre, except the toe stuff, sounded perfect for me.
Grechen Reiter says
what a great question! first, i’ll qualify again, by saying that i’m not an instructor…but there are always two parts to being up on tippy toes in thigh work: being up as high as you can on your toes, and sinking down as low as you can to your heels. so, if you can’t get up very high on your toes, you would just try to sink lower, as low as you possibly can, and you will STILL feel the work.
honestly, we only are up on our tippy toes for one or two exercises, all three if the instructor is really hard core, so i think you can do it. and the instructors are always happy to modify for you. but really, the exercises will still be very effective even if you’re not up high. remember, i couldn’t get up there for a long time! just try to compensate by sinking lower into your thighs, and making the things you CAN do even MORE challenging.
i hope you try it 🙂
Thanks, Grechen! I will give it a shot and try to remember to report back.
I hate to agree with Jen here. I have taken 2 friends as guests and they were both intimidated by the “Real Housewives” decked in LLMN, full makeup and hair. I think there are definitely some class issues and I wish was Pure Barre was more affordable and welcoming.
I’ve just past my 100 class mark and I really enjoy it. But I actually don’t think it’s for everyone. I go twice a week and try to run/walk twice a week.. It definitely has both physical and therapeutic value. I also gained confidence and ran my first 5K at 40 after i started Pure Barre.
But I took a friend who was a former-aerobic instructor and a friend who is a teacher, and neither of them went back. My friend that goes with me regularly is thin, upper-middle class and “attractive”.
I do think everyone should at least try the free class, and consider the 30 day pass if they can afford it 🙂
Thanks for this post Grechen! Hope to LBT with you one day.