Yoga gets all the stretchy-mobility-cross-training option love from most runners, but I have a love-hate relationship with yoga.
I’ve found yoga to be super-teacher specific. Over the years, I’ve had amazing teachers that made me want to go to yoga class every day. However, I’ve also had amazingly bad teachers that left me detesting yoga with a passion. Hell, I’ve been mocked (mocked!) by two different yoga instructors for my form (I may have tight runner’s muscles, but my form isn’t that bad, I swear).
There are also so many different styles of yoga, taking a class is always a bit of a crap shoot. I’ve been burned one too many times by a class that is 80% sun salutations (I hate sun salutations. I know they are good for me physically, but I am bored to tears by classes that are mostly endless repetitions of the same eight moves).
I want to love yoga, and it will always have a place in my cross training, but I’ve accepted it really just isn’t my thing.
But I still need to fill that stretchy-mobility-cross-training slot in my training calendar with something.
Enter: barre workouts.
I recently started using Openfit, an app with many live and on-demand fitness classes. My first few months on Openfit I’ve been taking, almost exclusively, Xtend Barre classes.
These classes have reminded me of how much I enjoy barre.
Barre classes are inspired by ballet, but mix in elements of Pilates, yoga, and strength-training. The classes (when done regularly) result in a stronger body, better posture, more flexibility, and a stronger core.
Barre classes do super-small, super-focused muscle movements, focusing on a single muscle group while the rest of the body remains still (‘isometric exercises’ is the fancy term for it).
It’s shocking how difficult lifting a 1-pound weight 1 inch can be.
BTW- barre classes designed to be done at home (like those on Openfit) don’t require an actual ballet barre. You only need a thing to help you balance and orient your body. The back of a kitchen chair works for me.
The Benefits of Barre Workouts for Runners
It Is Low Impact
As runners, our joints already take enough pounding.
But don’t assume ‘low-impact’ means easy.
Barre classes, if you’ve never done them, can look deceptively easy.
Balance and Stability
Here’s a funny thing to think about – running is basically a one-legged activity. You land on one leg and push off with one leg and repeat on the other side.
All that one-legged activity requires a fair bit of balance and core stability to readjust and realign your body effectively and efficiently.
Many barre moves are done on one leg at a time, increasing your strength, balance, and stability.
Many one legged moves are also done of tip-toes, increasing (even more!) the balance and focus required.
Strength Work (often in disguise)
I know I should do strength work to improve my running, but I often struggle to get it done. I don’t belong to a gym and I don’t have many dumbbells or other equipment at home. Plus traditional strength moves like bicep curls bore me.
Barre may not look like strength work.
After all, many moves are done with 1-pound weights (if they are done with any weights at all).
In a 30-minute class, there are many lunges and squats, but since they are often called by fancy dancer names like pliés, you don’t always recognize them as squats. And I promise you your arms will burn just as much after a barre class as they do after lifting much heavier weights in a more traditional workout.
Good Practice Focusing on Form and Mindset
Running requires that you constantly check in with your form and your thinking.
The same thing is true with barre. Form is all-important to barre workouts. A tiny, nearly imperceptible form tweak can make all the difference to the effectiveness of a move.
And barre classes are often great mental workouts. You’ll do a move with a super light weight. At first it will seem really easy. Then you keep going and keep going.
You think you can’t keep going or your arms are going to explode.
But then you do 10 seconds more, even when you were sure you couldn’t.
If that isn’t a metaphor (and good practice) for what happens during a marathon training long run, I don’t know what is.
It Gets at All Those Often-Neglected Muscles
How often do you strengthen your feet? Or your butt?
Barre movements focus on the big-muscle groups you’d expect to hit during a workout, but also those harder to focus on muscles in your hips and butt.
Your feet get attention too.
Barre classes are done barefoot (or in socks), so you’ll be constantly working out and strengthening your feet as you work to balance your body.
Strong feet and ankles are a runner’s secret weapon.
No Sun Salutations or Down Dogs
OK, I know this one may only apply to me since I hate sun salutations and down dogs so much, but still…
In yoga, there is an 80-90% chance I’ll have to do a sun salutation series (or a dozen).
In barre? All the mobility and strength benefits, but basically 0% chance of sun salutations.
It’s a little thing, but if it gets anyone else over a fear or hesitation to workout, I say work with it.
How to Work Barre Into Your Running
If you are new to barre, I recommend starting with an in-person class to learn the moves and proper form.
Classes are available at most gyms, specialized barre studios (like the aforementioned Dailey Method and Bar Method), and streaming online. I’ve been using the Openfit app for barre workouts recently, but have also taken Barre3 online classes.
Add a class into your training calendar once or twice a week in place of a strength training workout or yoga class.