If you want to tackle your bingo wings, saddlebags and the dreaded pooch then maybe barre classes are what you need. Don't panic if you are rhythmically challenged, even though the origins are in ballet, you don't need to be a budding Darcy Bussell to benefit from the wonders of the barre.
I became hooked nearly two years ago after looking for something different to add to my exercise repertoire. I had been a devotee of Pilates for 15 years and wanted to maintain a programme that focused on my core to combat a persistent lower back problem, but also incorporated more in the way of strengthening and toning.
I had always had strong legs from years of running, walking and climbing the four flights of stairs in our house on an endless basis but an old injury had left me with weak glute muscles and my arms lacked any definition. Spurred on by the New Year and the opening of a new Barre studio in our area I signed up for a taster and have been a fan ever since.
Each workout targets the major muscle groups over the course of an hour with a view to improving your posture and alignment. Your own bodyweight is used to provide resistance with the occasional use of hand weights, exercise bands and a soft exercise ball.
Divided into four bursts of 15 minutes, the first section raises your heart rate with leg lifts, lunges and arm raises. This is followed by a mat based series of planks, push ups and tricep dips.
After this it is time to move to the barre for a lower body section that targets your thighs and glutes. Typical exercises include a diamond waterski which involves putting your heels together to form a V shape with your toes touching the wall, holding the barre with arms outstretched and shoulder width apart, you then lean back and slice into the wall at an angle in slow precise movements.
A forearm foldover with your head on the barre is not an opportunity to have a quick 40 winks but instead with the supporting leg bent, the other is at a right angle behind you, an exercise ball firmly squeezed between your thigh and your butt as you alternate between flexing and pointing your foot towards the ceiling.
All the exercises use isometric movements "up an inch, down an inch" to isolate specific muscles with the emphasis on the hold at the end of the movement which is "where the change happens". In my case this usually involves shaking like a bowl of Jell-O but according to the instructor it is good to embrace the shakes as this shows that your muscles are feeling it.
The class concludes with a section devoted to your abs, many of which are traditional exercises, but some of which use a strap over the barre to work your shoulders and lats simultaneously. The focus is all on strengthening and toning the smaller muscle groups, it is not about weight loss. Generally it is said that you will notice a difference within 4-5 classes and for a significant change in your body the optimum number of classes is 4 per week. For me 3 classes a week is my limit in terms of time availability but like all exercise that you enjoy it is easily addictive.
I think what I love about barre classes is that you can do it at your own pace and level, there is always a moderated version of an exercise if you find one particularly tough. Also because of this it is an exercise routine that crosses all ages and there are no boundaries. My class has an age range of 18-60 year olds and everyone is encouraged to challenge their own body but within their own boundaries not those of the people around them.
I have the tightest hamstrings in the world after years of not stretching properly after a run and still cannot do a standing split without holding onto the barre for support. But it is not about learning to be a ballerina it is about focusing your mind and connecting your body so that it is better able to cope with everyday life and the constant strain we put it under.
There are many studios in London dedicated to just barre classes and I attend Barrecore, which is local to me, but many gyms are also beginning to include barre classes in their repertoire too, so if you haven't tried it yet and fancy something different do give it a go.
Since taking it up I have certainly noticed a difference. I can happily report that my butt is firmer and more lifted. My range of movement has increased giving me more flexibility and a nagging shoulder pain from carrying heavy tote bags for years, has disappeared as my upper body has become stronger. Yes I still have my bug bears about my aging body but at 49 I am still under 9 stone and can generally fit into a size 10. More important though if I feel better about myself I look better and that is half the battle with getting older.