While I was visiting my best friend in New York City, she treated me to her favourite barre class. I teach yoga, do CrossFit, and love working out and getting stronger. But I actually had never done barre in my life, so I slipped on the grippy socks and was excited to have at it!
In the small carpeted room, three walls had ballet bars attached, and there were mirrors on two of the walls. The very friendly instructor introduced herself, and said, "You've done barre before, right?" My friend answered yes for me, then whispered to me that this was not a beginner class, but that I'd be fine. That was my first indication that I, in fact, was not going to be fine.
Everyone in the room was younger than me, wearing adorable matching sports bras with leggings — I felt like I was in a barre commercial! And they all clearly had done barre before because they all seemed to know exactly what to do when the instructor called out exercises and equipment. It was inspirational to see them all moving so gracefully with soft smiles on their faces. And then there was me. I felt like I was struggling the entire hour-long class!
What Was the Workout Like?
The very first thing we were told to do was grab a set of dumbbells. All right! Starting off with something I was familiar with! I was surprised to see that the dumbbells only went up to six pounds. I thought, hmmm, I better grab some five-pounders, because from my two-class SoulCycle experiences, I had a notion there was going to be a lot of reps in my future. We faced the mirror for a series of fast-paced arm exercises. It was weird to see myself — there are no mirrors in CrossFit! But truthfully, I felt pretty pumped seeing my muscles working, and I had no trouble doing the thousands of bicep curls in the arm series (thank you, CrossFit!). Boom! I'm a barre master!
Then we moved over to the barre. There we put a large, squishy ball between our knees. The instructor had us bring our heels together, then raise them off the floor, then do a million small squats. Holy hell! I thought my legs were strong from weighted squats, deadlifts, and sled drags, but man — I could not keep up! I had to take breaks every couple of reps while everyone else was still going strong! I cursed that frickin' ball.
After putting the ball away, we then did some squats and awkward (for me, at least) leg lifts/kicks while holding onto the bar. I had to look around the entire time since I couldn't get the thought, "What the heck am I supposed to be doing?" out if my head. As a visual person, I needed someone to follow. The instructor could tell, and she sweetly kept coming over to me, moving my limbs where they needed to go like a puppeteer, saying, "Sugar, you're doing great!"
We then grabbed mats and moved on to the floor. "Sweet relief," I thought, but I was sorely wrong (ha, pun intended!). On all fours, we did a bunch of isolated booty lifts, followed by plank holds, and then core work. After two minutes of stretching, the instructor said, "Have a great day, barre-tenders!" ushering us out and welcoming the next group in. Phew!
How Did Barre Compare to CrossFit?
It was quite the whirlwind experience! I mean, I wasn't bored at all, so that was a bonus! But the floor work was probably the hardest part for me, emotionally and physically. This is the moment I saw the instructor demonstrate some move — we were on all fours and she lifted her leg back to do some lifts and I saw it, and my first thought was — holy magnificent marshmallow! She had this perfectly round, plump, firm, marshmallow pom-pom of a glute. I mean this in the most loving way possible.
I just couldn't believe my eyes, but it made me realise that CrossFit and barre were like polar opposites. CrossFit is all about building strength through functional movements — picking up barbells translates to an easier time picking up your kids or carrying groceries. Box jumps make climbing stairs (or mountains) easier. Suffering through burpees not only makes you appreciate life, but they build speed and agility in case you had to get up and run away from an attacker or a bear (hey, it could happen!).
Now barre? To me, it seemed like all the exercises we did were purely for aesthetic purposes. I mean when I was leaning on the barre lifting my extended leg up behind me, bending my knee so I could target a section of my glutes, which I had no idea I was engageing until the next day when I felt it aching on the aeroplane ride home, I knew that barre must be the reason butts are called peaches. I felt like barre was all about making you look good, while not necessarily feel good, which is what CrossFit does for me. The class didn't make me feel confident and strong the way CrossFit does; it made me feel the opposite.
I definitely felt worked by the end of barre, but it wasn't as intense or competitive as CrossFit — two things I love about that workout. There's an element of always trying to lift more, move faster, or improve in some way, and that's what drives me to go back again and again. CrossFit is exciting and even though the workouts push me to the point of feeling like I may puke or cry (or both), that's what sets CrossFit apart from anything else. I just didn't feel that same exhilaration and joy after barre.
Will I Go Back?
After the class I looked at my friend and thought, "I don't know if she loves me or hates me!" I've been doing CrossFit for almost three years and I'm no weakling! But that barre class completely humbled me. I felt uncomfortable not knowing if I was doing the exercises correctly, and my muscles were shaking — I couldn't believe a barre class could be that hard!
As a yoga instructor and an avid CrossFitter, I actually enjoyed being put in the position where I was a newbie. It made me appreciate how far I've come in my fitness journey and how good it is to try new things. Sweating it out, balancing on the balls of my feet, feeling my inner thighs incinerating in barre made me realise just how much I love CrossFit, and that realisation made the experience worth it. I don't see myself seeking out a barre class on my own, but if a friend invites me to go, I definitely won't pass up the opportunity to feel humbled again at the barre.