Tucks, pulses and pliés are some of the many signature moves you’ll do once you step up to the barre. If those terms are foreign to you, don’t sweat it. Many barre programs, like Daily Burn’s Barre Harmony, are designed for beginners. The six-week Barre Harmony program even includes a five-minute tutorial that introduces you to the different positions and dancer terms. Soon enough, these barre basics will come as naturally as knowing what a burpee and squat is.
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Barre Basics: Making Each Rep Count
Before we dive into the lingo, first a quick overview. Barre exercises are known for their high reps and subtle, isometric movements. But don’t expect them to be easy. You’ll feel the burn even when the range of motion is small.
Becca Pace, certified personal trainer, bodyART instructor and head trainer of Barre Harmony, says, “The subtle movements of barre target smaller, hard-to-reach muscles, like the obliques or your inner thighs.”
If — or rather, when — your muscles start to shake, it’s a sign you’re doing it right. Your muscles are working at their highest capacity, which can help improve muscular endurance down the line. Need to take a minute to breathe or reset? Do you. “Stopping for four to five seconds doesn’t seem like a lot, but taking that break can help your body get back into proper form. I care more about proper form and quality reps,” Pace says.
While you’ll be at the barre for most of the workout, you’ll also use light hand weights to light up your shoulders, triceps and biceps, and do mat work (hello, abdominals!). Since many barre exercises stem from the core, it’s important to keep your abs active with each move, Pace says. “Think about a string on top of your head bringing you up, and a laser beam on your tailbone pointing you down so you get the impression that you’re getting taller,” she notes.
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8 Essential Barre Terms You Need to Know
Even if you took years of ballet back in the day, the basics might be hazy. Here’s a quick cheat sheet on the most common barre terms you’ll hear in class.
1. First Position
This is a standing position at the barre (or chair if you’re at home). Stand tall with one hand on the barre and the other one down by your side. Your heels are together while your toes are turned out to the sides at 45 degrees. Pace notes, “The turnout should be coming from the hips, not ankles. I think 45 degrees is a good reference, but for some that could be smaller.” As long as your knees are in line with the toes it’s a good place to be, Pace says. “If the knees start to fall in, the feet are turned out too far.”
2. Second Position
Here you’ll place one hand on the barre and the other one down by your side. Then step your feet slightly wider than your hips with your toes turned out at 45 degrees, if you can. From here, demi pliés and grand pliés are sure to follow. (See below.)
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Pliés are the bending of the knees. At the beginning of most barre workouts, you might do a series of pliés in first and second positions to help warm up your muscles and joints. For demi pliés, you’ll lower into a half bend in your knees, and for grand pliés, a full bend in your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. “Think about the lines from your hip to your big toe, and the shape that you’re making between your knees when you’re in plié. First position plié is a diamond,” Pace explains.
For second position grand plié, you’ll squat down low enough so that your knees are just over your toes (similar to sumo squat). Pace says, “If you were leaning up against a wall, your hips would be perfectly aligned with your spine, and the outside edges of your feet are pressing down.”
4. The Tuck
Mastering the tuck comes from engaging your abs. You want to point your tailbone down and scoop your hips so that they tilt slightly forward. According to Pace, this enables your lower lumbar (spine) to straighten out as much as possible. To help you visualize it, Pace says, “Imagine that there’s a rope tied to your tailbone, and someone is pulling it down.”
The “R” in this term gives it away — raise your heels off the ground. Whether you’re in first or second position, you’ll raise your heels off the ground, keeping a slight bend in your knees. Be sure to roll off the ball of your foot to help you maintain balance. When your calves and thighs start to burn, you’re in the zone.
This is where the magic happens. Pulses are a partial range of motion where you repeat quick, explosive moves to test your muscular endurance. For example, with a bicep curl, you might normally lift the dumbbell from down by your side up toward your shoulder for a full range of motion. But with a pulse, you would identify a smaller range of motion (say, two to three inches), and burn through your set at a quickened pace.
In French, this term literally means to cut. But in barre terminology, it’s when one foot cuts into another. Pace explains, “Standing on your left leg, bend your right leg and clip your right pinky toe to your left shin or your left knee cap.” This position challenges your balance and forces you to find support on your standing leg. Think of this pose as another variation of tree pose in yoga.
If you’re a fan of the ballet, you’ve probably seen this one on the grand stage. Here, you balance on one leg, while the other is extended behind you, turned out and bent at the knee to form a 90-degree angle. “When lifting the back leg, aim to lift from the outer knee and pinky toe,” Pace says. Beginners can have a slight bend in the knee of the supporting leg to help with balance.
Now put your knowledge to the test! For six weeks of barre workouts, sign up for Daily Burn Barre Harmony here. (It’s free for 30 days!)
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