Inspired by Black Swan and hit dance show So You Think You Can Dance, Jess Harding digs her toes into Hollywood’s hottest new fitness trend

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Inspired by Black Swan and hit dance show So You Think You Can Dance, Jess Harding digs her toes into Hollywood’s hottest new fitness trend

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When I was a little girl, I dreamt of being a ballet dancer. Intoxicated by a mystical world of swans and sugar plum fairies, I wanted to wear pink tutus and pointe shoes. I dreamt of stepping out into the spotlight as the music swelled and pirouetting across the stage as the theatre filled with thunderous applause. And then I woke up and decided writing might be easier on my feet.


But when I heard about a hot new workout that combined the graceful moves of ballet with the intense core conditioning exercises of Pilates, I jumped (toes pointed elegantly) at the suggestion.


Promised 55 minutes of total-body toning at a ballet barre, I sceptically read the rave reviews and got ready to revisit my ballet days — sans shiny leotard and beige tights. What’s not to want about a dancer’s body - long lithe limbs, perfectly toned muscles, regal posture and taut tummies... where do I sign?

Time to raise the barre


The strings of Tchaikovksy’s soundtrack were nowhere to be found as the Xtend Barre workout swung into action.  A class of smiling faces stood in their socks as the instructor at CorPilates took us into a fast and flowing warm-up to a fun soundtrack. It seemed even lumbering two-left-footers could let their inner ballerinas loose.

 

The sequences were rhythmic, energetic and easy to follow. It took about seven minutes before the penny dropped; making the body of a Black Swan was no walk in the park. If this was the warm-up, we could be in serious trouble.

 

Moving through arm exercises using small hand weights, we found our way to the barre, where we pulsed through plies, tendus, leg lifts, jumps, ball squeezes and arabesques until the whole class was quivering around on shaky legs like human jellies.

 

Who knew we even had muscles there to shake? It was fantastic. For the final act, we hit the floor mats for a gruelling ab workout before, shaky and sweating but completely energised, we finished with a series of graceful stretches.

Pilates-plus


Xtend Barre is the brainchild of professional dancer and Pilates aficionado Andrea Rogers, whose desire for a well-rounded dance and Pilates-based barre workout inspired her to develop her own new program.

 

“We offer a workout that equally combines strength, cardio and flexibility,” she says. “Xtend Barre provides an opportunity for non-dancers to feel strong, elegant and to move with fluidity and power. Our goal is to help each person find their best dancer body, and with consistent practice the results are impressive.” Think lifted buttocks, taut tummy, leaner legs, toned arms and improved posture.

A play on proven principles


Xtend Barre is the most recent of a number of hybrid Pilates workouts to make their mark on the fitness industry. But what makes the principles of Pilates so popular as a basis for fresh workouts? According to the Australian Pilates Method Association (APMA), the Pilates exercise system includes over 500 conditioning exercises that blend regulated breathing techniques and mental exercise into an integrated program designed to deliver holistic benefits.

 

As exercise science is increasingly applied to the development of the method, that list of benefits seems to grow daily. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that Pilates was more effective than traditional care in decreasing chronic lower back pain and disability.  

Putting the X-factor in Xtend


“It’s the Pilates principles of concentration, control, centring, flow, breath and precision that are the basis of Xtend Barre, albeit in a vertical instead of horizontal position,“ says Rogers.

 

Having dazzled its way into the limelight as an excellent low impact exercise option, an estimated 12 million people worldwide are happily scooping their belly buttons towards their spines and pushing the Pilates bandwagon to a stronger, leaner body.

 

A recent study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that women who swapped their usual routine for two 60 minute Pilates sessions a week noticed significant increases in abdominal endurance, upper body muscular endurance and hamstring flexibility.


The secret? If Pilates is practised with correct technique, it puts your muscles under constant tension over a large range of motion to create that enviable long, lean look. So now we finally know what Joseph Pilates figured out in the 1920s.  

No tutus required


So if heading to the barre with your friends is about to take on a whole new meaning, what is it about this workout that women love so much? It’s not a complicated formula — Xtend Barre is an intense, results-driven conditioning class that still manages to be a lot of fun.

 

A space to let loose the inner ballerina we’ve all harboured since childhood doesn’t go astray either. By moving from standing to barre work to a floor mat, every muscle group is challenged. “In a 55-minute class, Xtend Barre sculpts and chisels every angle of the body, and it’s a perk that you have fun and feel graceful at the same time,” says Rogers. And if you end up with the lovely, long, lean dancer’s legs you’ve always deserved, well that’s just another bonus. Sounds good to me.


What is it?
Xtend Barre is a fresh, fun and fast-paced 55-minute total body workout that fuses the principles of Pilates and ballet into an intense body conditioning class at the ballet barre.

Can I, should I?
No experience required — or tutus! Forget sugar plum fairies and pirouettes and prepare for a pulsing cardio workout that uses the best bits of Pilates and ballet to target and tone different zones of your body as you seriously sweat it out.

WIFM? (What’s In It For Me?)

“Xtend Barre is designed to engage all the small muscles of your body instead of focusing on the big ones, using tiny and precise movements to challenge your core and create a lean strong body,” says Xtend Barre’s international director Rockell Williamson-Rudder, a Moulin Rouge dancer-turned-Pilates instructor.

Who’s there?
Everyone! Not just for dancers or fitness fanatics, Xtend Barre is big with beginners and has its fair share of Hollywood’s A-Listers hooked. As ballet makes an uber-cool comeback, Xtend Barre has become one of the hottest exercise routines in the United States and having recently landed on our shores, is spreading quickly. 

Star power
Madonna, Denise Richards, Drew Barrymore, Kelly Osbourne, Anna Paquin and Ginnifer Goodwin...

Our verdict

Ditch your doubts and find your way to a class. Pronto. The results are fantastic and the class is seriously a lot of fun. This is one workout that definitely deserves its hype.

Where to try it
Try it at CorPilates in Melbourne or visit the Xtend Barre Australia website at www.xtendbarreaustralia.com.au to find a class near you.

 

Ditch the gym, just dance
Sick of the gym? Just dance. Dance and dance-inspired classes like Xtend Barre, Zumba and Body Jam are popping up on every corner, with no end to the trend in sight. In fact, in a survey published by the American Council on Exercise, health and fitness specialists predict dance-based workouts will gain momentum as people search for ways to make exercise an enjoyable lifestyle choice, rather than a chore. Of course, other incentives for would-be exercisers are achieving a dancer’s body and the social nature of classes. What’s not to love about workouts that literally have you dancing away those unwanted kilos?

 

Fit tip: Core promise

You’ve heard the phrase but do you really know what it means? Your core is actually a set of deep postural muscles that provide strength and support to your body. These are your pelvic floor, transverse abdominus (TVA), diaphragm and multifidus. Forget focusing on crunching the superficial muscles of the torso, the key to flat Pilates abs is activating this deep abdominal layer, often referred to as the powerhouse.  Think of scooping your belly button towards your spine.


Benefits and results

  • Visibly transform your body; sculpt and strengthen your muscles without bulking up
  • Target trouble spots with a fun approach to toning your arms, stomach, hips, thighs and butt
  • Dramatically boost your core strength
  • Improve posture, coordination and flexibility
  • Increase endurance
  • Beat boredom; each class challenges you with a different set of basic dance moves and sculpting exercises