Core strength, bore strength. Powering up my midsection sounded good when I scrolled through Instagram, but I'd been putting it off in favor of long runs — and, let's be honest, pretty much anything else.
Then, in a stroke of luck and good timing, I won two weeks of barre classes in a raffle. Soon I was signed up for a new workout, but I considered it to be separate from my running training. Boy, was I wrong! Barre workouts draw from ballet, Pilates, and yoga moves to strengthen smaller muscles that are essential to supporting the core, as well as the upper and lower body.
After just a couple of weeks, muscles I'd neglected while logging miles in my running shoes were awakening from hibernation. I'm looking at you, obliques. Fast forward to 5K race day a month later, where I ran at least 30 seconds faster than any other race I'd run that year. Quick course? Optimal conditions? Perhaps, but my pace had been pretty steady in every other recent race. Plus, I'd run the same course a couple of years before a full 40 seconds slower.
Yes, there could be other variables, and no, I'm not guaranteeing a PR, but here are five reasons why I think barre classes gave me the push I needed to move off my running plateau and shave time off my race results.
Not a runner? These barre benefits translate to other activities, too, whether you are chasing your toddler around the yard, playing tennis, or taking a walking tour on holiday.
Lifting lighter weights and doing bodyweight exercises like planks and push-ups helped tone my whole body, and doing these moves regularly especially prepared my arms to pump hard while running.
Balancing at a barre or on a mat forces your entire body, and particularly your core, to work. Staying upright and maintaining good posture is crucial for good running form.
Barre classes typically focus on working a muscle group, then stretching that muscle. I never realised how much I was neglecting the stretching part. Like many runners, my hamstrings are perpetually tight, so barre classes are a good reminder that they need a little TLC.
Often at the barre, I don't think I can manage to lift my glute muscle two more times, much less eight or 10. But sticking with each exercise and knowing that the end is in sight helps me do the same when I'm running. One more mile, 2/10 of a mile, done.
I have always put off working on strength and flexibility. That's something I'll do after I run, or tomorrow, I tell myself. But signing up and showing up for barre classes forces me to do frequently the essential exercises I would otherwise neglect.
I realise that hitting the barre studio isn't going to make me an Olympic runner, but I've found it to be an effective addition to my overall fitness regime, and I encourage you to give it a try.
Now when I run, not only am I a few steps closer to the finish line than I used to be, but I also feel stronger along the way.