Fitness: It's no holds barred, but Barre is on point

Intense workout that builds muscle strength and endurance fast gaining traction in S'pore

Barre2Barre's co-founder Jessica Felicia (front) and student Cheryl Koh engaging in a barre session. Barre is a ballet-inspired workout, incorporating moves from ballet, yoga and pilates.
Barre2Barre's co-founder Jessica Felicia (front) and student Cheryl Koh engaging in a barre session. Barre is a ballet-inspired workout, incorporating moves from ballet, yoga and pilates. ST PHOTO: ALVIN HO

Beata Justkowiak is into her final trimester and is constantly lying on her back. Being eight months pregnant is not the only reason though; she is usually busy flawlessly executing glute bridges and plies.

These exercises are part of her hour-long barre class, a hybrid workout that combines elements of ballet, yoga and pilates.

"I did yoga and pilates after I got pregnant, but they weren't intense enough for me," said the 31-year-old psychologist, who used to do high-intensity interval training before pregnancy.

"I was struggling to find a workout that was kicking my ass," added the Poland native, who is a Singapore permanent resident.

Barre has since upped the fitness ante for Justkowiak, as she could "feel the burn" although the exercises are low-impact.

She attends prenatal barre classes thrice a week at WeBarre, which has studios in Tanjong Pagar and Telok Ayer. A barre class lasts from 40 minutes to an hour.

Participants engage in controlled, isometric movements that build strength, endurance and flexibility. Light hand weights, ballet barres and mini exercise balls are common equipment used during a session, which is often choreographed to upbeat music.

Each exercise has "layering options", making it suitable for all fitness levels and body types, said Anabel Chew, co-founder of WeBarre.

From marathon runners to septuagenarian retirees, the 30-year old has seen a diverse mix of clients.

"Everyone can do it because the movements are so easily modifiable," added Chew.

Barre was originally conceived by German dancer Lotte Berk when she suffered a severe spinal injury in the 1950s. She combined her dance exercises with rehabilitative therapy to strengthen her spine.

It has only recently gained traction in Singapore, with boutique barre studios springing up around the island and big-chain gyms like Virgin Active offering classes.

Established in 2016, WeBarre is slated to open its third studio next month while Barre2Barre, a studio in Clarke Quay, saw their number of clients triple from about 300 to 900 last year.

Barre has also made a foray into the heartland, with classes offered at the Singapore Sports Hub and selected community centres.

SPH Brightcove Video
Train like a ballerina with a barre workout, which helps develop lean muscles while improving balance, flexibility and range of motion.

"Barre classes are usually held at boutique studios so we want to bring it to the heartland at a more affordable price," said freelance Primary Group X instructor Sophia Soh, 37, who teaches bootybarre at ACE The Place, a community centre in Woodlands, and Virgin Active gyms.

At boutique studios, prices generally start from $35 for group classes and $90 for private sessions. A pilates barre class at the Sports Hub costs $20.

There are many variations to a barre workout as each studio puts its own spin on the method. Some classes feature more cardio elements, while others focus on toning up specific muscle groups.

Bootybarre, for example, incorporates techniques that largely target the muscles in the lower body, such as the glutes and hamstrings.

Hints of creativity are also evident in some classes.

Known as BarreAmped Bounce, this class at Barre2Barre is conducted on trampolines.

"It's super fun but also higher level because it's harder to balance on the trampoline," said Jolin Ma, 27, a holistic health coach who attended the class.

Novelty aside, doing barre exercises on the trampoline is also ideal for those with knee problems as it is "tough on the muscles but easy on the joints", said Jessica Felicia, 29, co-founder of Barre2Barre.

While barre appears graceful because of its ballet origins, it is nowhere as easy as it looks.

Student Cheryl Koh said her first barre class was a humbling experience. She opted for the heavier weights as she was used to lifting weights at the gym.

"When we were halfway through the arm exercises, I finally got why people use the 1kg weights," said the 22-year-old with a laugh.

Beginners often find themselves shaking uncontrollably during the session, added Soh. This is because of the isometric movements in barre that trains muscle endurance.

"It looks graceful, but you're still burning like crazy," she said.

"If you feel like you're dying from the workout, at least you'll look like you're dying gracefully."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 14, 2018, with the headline Fitness: It's no holds barred, but Barre is on point. Subscribe