Live Better

How barre workouts get you long and lean

Barre founder Cat Woods sits down for an interview to discuss how to prepare for her workouts.

Ballet-inspired workout classes are a fantastic way to get your heart racing, stretch out those muscles and tone up your whole body. Whether or not you consider yourself much of a dancer, there’s plenty to love about the barre – and your abs, legs, glutes, arms and back will all benefit.

One Melbourne barre class quickly gaining a loyal following is Ballet Sculpt. Created by pilates instructor Cat Woods, this workout focuses on small, controlled movements and challenging poses for full-body results, all in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

We asked Cat to share a little more about why Ballet Sculpt is the class everyone should try.

How did you come to create Ballet Sculpt?

I created Ballet Sculpt as a way to combine my passion for pilates with dance-style training, resistance training and yoga. I wanted it to be a class that could be done by the majority of women (and men) with modifications for the level of fitness and intensity desired.

I also needed to adapt it to be a class that could proceed without the actual ballet barre. Originally, I was teaching it in the gym crèche with chairs for support! I now teach it with a barre in most cases, ideally – but it isn’t strictly necessary.

What body parts does the class work?

Ballet Sculpt is a full-body workout. It isn’t a full-bore cardio workout, but the resistance training and intensity of holding challenging poses definitely raises the heart rate and builds and sculpts muscle.

The legs, glutes, abs, back and arms all get a thorough workout. It’s very much about balance and a focus on using our deep abdominal muscles to support ideal posture – not only for optimal training, but also to prevent injuries or even the hunched-shoulder posture that is typical of office workers.

What can people expect during a class?

We do a brief warm-up stretch to prepare the back and legs. I go through methods of engaging the core muscles and pelvic floor throughout class and basic safety and alignment techniques.

We then do series of pliés with heels together, in a wide-legged position, with or without a resistance ball (like a weightless softball).

This is followed by an arm and back session – really exhausting the triceps and biceps through small, pulsed movements combined with full-range kickbacks, curls and presses.

We then return to leg work before finally getting down to the mat to do core-focused work. This usually includes plank variations, pilates leg extensions and back extensions.

“The legs, glutes, abs, back and arms all get a thorough workout. It’s very much about balance and a focus on our deep abdominal muscles.”

What makes it challenging?

Mostly the fact that we hold the muscles under tension for prolonged periods and there is no break – we keep moving. The variety and moving from legs to arms, standing to kneeling to sitting and lying also keeps everyone mentally engaged and alert.

Depending on your pace and how deep you squat, plié and lunge, you can adjust the intensity to suit your level. That means those with a greater level of experience or fitness can advance their workout, while beginners can start off with shallow pliés and just allow their bodies to adapt to the turn-out position.

What if you’re “not a dancer”? Can you still enjoy this style of workout and get something out of it?

Of course! The majority of people who take my classes have done yoga, pilates or spin and are looking for a different way of working out, either to add to what they’re doing or as a replacement.

Some people come to my class having never done any form of group fitness before, and it’s a fantastic challenge for me as an instructor to cater to those different backgrounds and needs.

Most of all, it’s always a really fun environment. We work hard but it’s never competitive or aggressive. I have new class participants almost every week and they are always adopted by the group and encouraged.

“Depending on how deep you squat, plié and lunge, you can adjust the intensity to suit your level.”

How is Ballet Sculpt different from or similar to other barre-style classes?

Many barre classes are high-impact, with lots of kicks and lunges (and often plenty of ballet terminology thrown in for credibility). I don’t feel the need to do that. My background is in pilates and yoga, not ballet training, so it wouldn’t be authentic for me to talk that language.

I had a hip replacement as the result of osteoarthritis and a history of long-distance running in my teenage years that lead to irreversible damage. Since then, I’m back to lifting heavy weights and doing barre, pilates and yoga regularly. However, it taught me that high-impact, cardio-intensive workouts are not the only way to strengthen, feel good and look good. Small, controlled and challenging movements like a few minutes of plié pulses can strengthen the thighs and calves in a way that only hours of squats would rival.

What should people know before trying a class?

There are no leotards and tutus required – but certainly this will be celebrated if you do want to go the full Swan Lake outfit! Leggings and a tank top or t-shirt are ideal – anything you can stretch and move comfortably in. There are no shoes, though some people like to wear grippy pilates socks to keep their toes warm in winter.

Don’t be afraid to try a class you haven’t done before. Always tell the instructor that you’re new to their class and let them know if you have any injuries or conditions.

I have pregnant women in my class – some come for the first time when they are mid-pregnancy and others have been regulars long before they need to start modifying. This is a class that can be adapted, but do check with your GP that it’s appropriate if you have any concerns.

Find out more about Ballet Sculpt at Core Integrity With Cat.

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