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
|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|
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?
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.
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.
“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?
Can I, should I?
Where to try it
Ditch the gym, just dance
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