Barre workouts are influenced by ballet, yoga, Pilates, and, of course, Jane Fonda. The influences of such varied disciplines allows us great freedom to pick and choose the most effective exercises from each of these disciplines. For example, I absolutely love Pilates based ab exercises (“C” shape curve of the lower spine), while I prefer yoga stretches (flat back). Feel free to mix and match exercises from all disciplines, keeping in mind the outcome for each stretch or exercise. Instructors should be free to use the language they are most comfortable with, while challenging herself to learn new ways of performing and cuing exercises.
While we trust our instructors to know which exercises and cues will achieve their outcomes, we do hold a hard line when it comes to the format of our classes and the types of movements we perform. We use light weights, high repetition, and small movements to lengthen and strengthen the body.
Don’t get stuck in a “Classical Pilates or Contemporary Pilates” type of debate. They are both great. They both have benefits. The story is similar in barre.
Tuck v. Neutral Spine – Our Official Stance
Both working with a tucked pelvis and a neutral spine have benefits and we encourage using both positions to accomplish different outcomes. For instance, when performing “Attitude Derriere”, tucking the tailbone under creates resistance for the glutes, particularly the gluteus maximus, and abductors. Because of the position of the pelvis, the student would be unable to lift the leg far from the ground. Performing the same exercise from a neutral position would allow the client to lift the leg much higher and place emphasis on the glute medius and obliques. In general, when working the thighs, we tuck the pelvis slightly, some would call this a neutral spine. While working the glutes and hamstrings we often encourage a slightly larger tuck of the pelvis, still far from flattening the lower back, to lift and shape the butt and back of the legs.
During standing exercises, such as “Diamond” and “Classic Chair”, we encourage clients to tuck the pelvis slightly under, shy of a flattening the lower back completely. This position protects the lower back, engages abs, lengthens and strengthens the quadriceps, and firms the glutes.
Both working abdominals with a flat back and rounded lower back have benefits. Sometimes we work the abs from “Boat” often performed in yoga classes. We also work abs with a “C” shaped lower back, aka, “tucked” pelvis.
When exercising the glutes and hamstrings from a prone position, we encourage tucking the pelvis under and lengthening from spine to the crown of the head. When “untucked”, clients often dump into the lower back. The “untucked” position also encourages movement from the lower back, rather than from the glute and hamstring. The more intensely the pelvis is tucked, the harder it will be to lift the leg and the more difficult and more effective the exercise will become for strengthening and shaping the leg and seat.
We encourage clients to flatten their lower back to the mat. Only allowing their legs to lower as far as they can maintain their flat back. Once the back pulls away from the floor, the abs disengage and the lower back starts to share the workload. Simply holding your knees in “Table Top”, with back flat to floor, provides serious work for the abdominals. We should never encourage clients to lower their legs at the expenses of the abs and low back.
So What Now?
Do the hard work of learning the nuances each exercise and stretch you will perform and cue. When in doubt, ask a mentor and then ask another mentor. Take into consideration both opinions and decide how you will both challenge and keep your clients safe when instructing your class. We can all agree that keeping the spine long and the core engaged is important for any exercise, and any discipline.