Acclimating with Leah: Shaking muscles at barre
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — I was about 10 seconds into the class, my right foot was doing calf raises on a block as I held onto a bar with my left hand.
Instructor Jamie Boeri called out instructions to the tune of what was probably supposed to be uplifting workout music.
“Now, Up, Up! Down, Down!”
“Hold for 10!”
By the time she called out the last command, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
I felt a burning sensation in my muscles that I had never felt before, and then, it was time to switch legs. It was going to be a long class.
“It’s a focus on isometric contractions using different ranges of motion, usually small ranges of motion and staying in that contraction for as long as you can,” Boeri said about her barre class. “Rather than doing a big range of motion and release, you stay in a small range of motion and really isolate the muscle so you really see that benefit, that change from the muscle.”
Boeri’s Bella Barre class is offered at Sundance Studio and welcomes all levels. With her background as a professional dancer for Disney, Boeri also offers dance classes. It means the studio has a gigantic mirror to watch yourself suffer through a workout while other people seem to hold every position just perfectly.
I won’t blame the fact I was sore from my first two days back on the fitness grind; I’ll just tell you that barre is one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had as an athlete.
The class starts with some light stretching before advancing to the bar for a series of exercises. We started with calf raises, then moved off the bar to the floor, where we held a lunge position for what seemed like an eternity while also doing a series of bicep curls. We’d progress back to the bar for more leg work.
This was where the multi-tasking went into overdrive. We stood on blocks with our heels pressed together, our thighs held by a resistance band. The idea is to keep your legs in a quivering motion, while also pulling the thighs apart, keeping your hips stable and chin up. While in this position, we’d also squat up and down.
The idea with the shaking and contracting muscles is to ultimately elongate them. If you’re recovering from injury, barre is good for isolating muscles that need to be strengthened around the injury. Because many of the movements involve holding a particular position for long periods of time, your muscles start to quiver, or you can purposely shake those muscles to increase contraction, depending on the exercise.
For me, there really wasn’t a difference. I felt like I was always shaking.
“Barre never gets easier,” Boeri said. “It gets harder because you find these different layers where you can stay in that shake zone longer.”
I left the class still feeling a burning sensation throughout the muscles on my body. This meant that I also was still burning calories long after the class, which helped me justify that pint of ice cream I enjoyed last night.
What I liked about Boeri’s class is her attention to detail, which is essential to some of these complex positions. She’d walk around the class carefully adjusting our posture in the slightest ways. Her background as a professional dancer helps her identify the smallest tweaks she can make to adjust your posture.
“I really try to go around and give tactile feedback, make adjustments with my hands and really fine-tune their form so they feel the contraction even more.” Boeri said.
There’s nothing more humbling than walking into a class, being handed a set of five-pound free weights and getting your butt absolutely kicked. That’s a sign of a good workout.
“I hope people have that lightbulb moment of, ‘Oh my gosh, I thought I was in such great shape and this is so hard,’ or ‘Oh my gosh, I’m working without pain and feel like I’m building strength.’ It’s a safe and effective workout for all levels.” Boeri said.
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