Fitness Check-in: barre.[d]

Posted on February 20, 2015 by


A couple of years ago, when barre workouts started popping up in fitness magazines and on my Facebook news feed, I looked around the internet for an easy barre workout to do at home. I found one on Shape magazine’s website, and sometimes pulled a kitchen chair and a few small free weights into my den to work out when I couldn’t get to the gym or a yoga class.

“There’s no way I’d ever do this in front of other people,” I thought. “I’m all shaky and not graceful.” But… people kept singing the praises of the benefits of a barre workout. Muscle tone and elongation, better posture, graceful movements. The list goes on and on. I started to get curious.

I love boutique fitness studios – lots of one-on-one attention, helpful assists from instructors, the chance to talk to fellow students – and I jumped at the chance to test out a barre class at the new barre.[d] studio before it officially opened its doors.

And so it begins. Erin tries out a beginner class at barre.[d] studio with owner Hanna Dobbels.

And so it begins. Erin tries out a beginner class at barre.[d] studio with owner Hanna Dobbels.

I practice a lot of yoga and Pilates and consider my body to be strong and flexible, so I toyed around with the idea of taking a “classic barre” class. I wanted a challenge, I wanted to break a sweat. But after admitting to studio owner Hanna Dobbels that I was intimidated by the idea of a ballet-inspired workout [I’m no ballerina], I signed up for a “barre.[d] beginners” class to get used to the movements, postures and muscle activity required for each exercise. Dobbels promised that the beginner class would give me a good introduction to barre and I would break a sweat while doing it.

It was a good place for me [and you, dear reader] to start.

I broke a sweat before even stepping into the studio. Back in my days as a very enthusiastic but mediocre dance student at Dawn’s Dance Studio in Arlington, Mass., I was a tap kind of gal. While walking over to barre.[d] from the parking lot, I had visions of little old me and my short stems sidling up to the barre with a bunch of graceful former dancers looking to keep touch with their bodies. Would I feel out of place? Could I even do the workout?

No, and yes. There might have been former dancers in the class, but we were all there to plie and sweat together.

Dobbels and a few of the other students introduced themselves when I arrived at the studio. One woman told me that she was starting her teacher training with Dobbels over the weekend, and she couldn’t wait to get started. The enthusiasm for this new studio was palpable.

I grabbed some small weights, took a spot on a mat, and chatted with my neighbor for a moment before class started.

First, Dobbels explained the barre workout to us: the combination of techniques is derived from dance, Pilates, yoga, and physical therapy, and aims to provide a highly effective, low-impact workout. The exercises work the core, hips, thighs, and glutes—trouble spots for stability and strength—and helps create better posture in class and out by using isometric stretches to elongate the muscles. The combination works the body’s small muscle groups that in turn support the larger muscle groups [and thus prevent injury]. The movements are small, but when repeated over and over, they pack a punch.

Hanna makes a quick adjustment on Erin during parallel thigh strengthener at the barre.  "Personalized corrections are the beauty of boutique fitness classes."

Hanna makes a quick adjustment on Erin during parallel thigh strengthener at the barre.
“Personalized corrections are the beauty of boutique fitness classes.”

Dobbels promised to talk us through each exercise while demonstrating proper technique, and to correct us individually when need be. [Personalized corrections are the beauty of boutique fitness classes.] First, we’d work a muscle group, then we’d stretch it out.

We started off on our mats, with some light stretching and planking to warm up our bodies. [“Planks?,” I thought. “Psssh, I got this. Thanks, monkey gym Pilates!”] Next, we did some standing exercises that made me feel like the ballerina I never was—Dobbels instructed us through the turn-out and other foot positions, and we held small weights in our hands as we swept our arms in front of our bodies, overhead, out to the side, etc., all in time with upbeat music.

Once we were glistening with sweat, Dobbels moved us up to the barre to work our legs and glutes.

We started facing the barre, both arms out in front and slightly bent, hands on the barre and shoulders relaxed. We went for the turnout and a plie, and we pulsed there for a while, working through a variety of exercises, each one working a different muscle group. Here, we worked on pelvic tucks, proper engagement of the abdominals, all that juicy stuff.

After that first set of plies at the barre, my calves and quads started to burn. They burned, and burned, and burned some more, through the rest of the sets. I will confess that I dread leg work—when I was a baby, my legs resembled those of the Michelin Man, and as I grew and developed, those rolls somehow turned to muscle [I’m not sure how, because, aside from a weekly tap class and noisy at-home practices, I wasn’t a particularly athletic kid]. I can’t zip most boots over my calves. My legs are crazy powerful, but they’re really damn heavy.

Dobbels promised plenty of “quake” during the class—when you shake, you’re doing it right [this is what we say in Pilates, too]. My legs quaked and shaked through the leg work, the pelvic swivels, and my muscles tired quickly.

“Shaking is good…shaking is good…” I kept telling myself. “This is a workout! And stop making faces at the camera.”

“Shaking is good…shaking is good…” I kept telling myself. “This is a workout! And stop making faces at the camera.”

“Shaking is good…shaking is good…” I kept telling myself. “This is a workout! And stop making faces at the camera.”

As my legs burned, I got a bit lazy, and my lower back started to take over the work. My posture changed—this is not what you want in a workout where proper posture is key to injury prevention—and in what seemed like a matter of seconds, Dobbels was beside me, reminding me to re-tuck my pelvis, engage my core, and re-activate those tired muscles.

After the correction, I felt the exercise more intensely, but I got through it just fine. [Thanks, legs. I do love you.] The 90s jams on the stereo helped, and I started enjoying the dance element of the workout.

Applause! Erin did it!

Applause! Erin did it!

We finished out the class with some spinal extensions at the wall and leg stretches on our mats. We were all rosy-cheeked, and I was particularly sweaty (as usual), exhausted and pleased with my effort.

It was wonderful to have a Wednesday evening workout with a small group of smiling, friendly women, led by an enthusiastic instructor. But I had to wonder: Where are the men?

Barre, says Dobbels, is very popular among women. But barre isn’t just for chicks.

Dobbels has taught a variety of group fitness classes throughout her career, everything from boxing to spinning to barre, and she says that the method that she developed to teach at barre.[d] is geared towards “athletes of all kinds, shapes, sizes and genders.” The exercises taught in her classes, she says, work on balance, on toning the small muscle groups that stabilize and protect the larger muscles -muscles present in female and male bodies alike.

The morning after the class, I woke up feeling a bit sore, mostly in my shoulders and calves, and in my lower back (gotta pay attention to that core…). I took Dobbels’ advice to work out the next day, to get everything moving, and it helped – I didn’t feel at all tired during a 3-mile run; I felt surprisingly stronger.

The verdict? A very accessible class, perfect for anyone new to barre fitness. The most difficult thing for me wasn’t the exercises, but the pace. I’m used to long, deep breaths and slow, sweeping movements in my workouts. But, I was glad for the challenge, and am eager to step up to the barre once again. I’ll be going back to barre.[d] when  I can – it’ll be a great addition to my yoga/Pilates/occasional cardio rotation.

IMG_2150Q&A with Hanna Dobbels, owner of barre.[d]

What is barre.[d] and how is it different from other niche fitness gyms in Cville?

barre.[d] is a boutique dynamic fitness studio that offers various forms of barre classes, from barre.[d] cardio to classic barre. Its focus is stabilizing the core, working thighs, glutes, and upper body through isometric movements to bring the body to fatigue quickly and build muscle fast. It’s different from many of the studios in that it offers a specific type of class which is geared towards every body, from the athlete, to the mom, to someone who just loves working out. barre.[d] is a total body workout.

How did barre.d get its start?

barre.[d] has been in the works for more than two years. I’ve been developing the methodology for quite some time and wanted my own studio to start it and begin teaching classes with the choreography I wanted.

What is your (fitness) background? How did it lead you to becoming a barre teacher and opening the studio?

I used to teach all sorts of fitness classes, from boxing to spinning. My fitness background is personal training and group fitness. I love teaching. However, I hadn’t found a “workout” that I could do consistently and not get bored…until I tried barre in a studio. I’ve done barre workouts online and enjoyed them, but being in a studio changed everything! i fell in love. barre started transforming my body and it was FUN at the same time. I found a wonderful small studio to train at up in DC and began teaching and learning everything I could about barre so I could start my own thing!

Describe barre.[d] in 10 words or less.

Barre.[d] studio is community focused isometric athletics.

What are the benefits of this type of workout? 

Barre is all low impact, so it’s easy on joints and works out muscles. It’s geared towards strengthening the whole body, lengthening, and really works to elongate the body and improve posture. Barre also focuses on a lot of weaker muscles that other workouts may neglect, glutes, thighs, core work.

For someone who has never tried a barre workout, is barre.[d] a good place to start? Why?

Barre.[d] is a great place to learn barre. We offer a lot of beginner classes to get a good handle on the workout.

How should someone prepare for a class? How should someone recover from a class?

The hardest part of going to a class is showing up. Once you’re there, the instructor will guide you through the class! Barre.[d] is big on modifications, adjustments, and making sure each student is working in their own body. So whether you have prior injuries, if you are pregnant, etc., you will gain so much from taking a class at barre.[d]. One more note, on recovery: drink lots of water. I like to suggest going for a walk or run the next day to keep the muscles moving and active. You may be sore, but don’t “do nothing”—keep moving!

When you’re not at the studio, what are your favorite things to do in and around Charlottesville?

My boyfriend and I hike and backpack all the time. If I’m not in the studio, I’m either hiking up a mountain or planning my next hike up a mountain! Cville has amazing spots everywhere and close, it’s so great!

What’s your favorite spot to grab a bite? A drink?

I’m IN love with Bizou…it’s close, tasty, and French inspired! For drinks, I had the best lemony gin cocktail over at The Whiskey Jar, maybe it was only because it was in a mason jar…. it was magical!

What are you excited about for barre.[d] this year? (There’s that whole studio opening thing, for one…!)

The studio opening for sure! But also, I’m excited about the community it has already started to create; it’s been so inspiring meeting and training the new instructors, meeting students and being in an amazing city. Simply, setting the tone of a community oriented studio, with amazing teachers, great students, and a love for fitness. I’m excited to see where this studio can go!