Why Barre Fitness is as much a workout for your brain as your body

You know that barre fitness is amazing for your core, for your upper body strength, for toning your thighs, abs and butt, for helping with alignment and stability and just for generally having an awesome time sweating it out in the studio. But there’s another part of your body that is working hard during a barre class – you can see it and it’s not sweating, but it is firing on all cylinders. Your brain. That’s right. Because when we say full body work out we mean FULL body work out – brain included!

As a barre instructor you’ll see this wonderful mind-body connection in your students as much as you feel it in yourself. Yes, they are sweating and grimacing – but see that look of intense focus? That is the look of a mind that is connecting powerfully to the body so that they can work together to follow the choreography of the class, to respond to the sequences and flow of exercises, to adjust and improve as you, their barre instructor, prompt and guide them.

But hang on – I do barre fitness so I can switch off and have a break from thinking!

When doing complex, dance-style movements, our brains are fully engaged. “Dancing increases cognitive acuity in all ages,” says says Richard Powers who is an instructor at Standford University’s Dance Division. And that’s why it has been found to be a potent way to stay not only physically fit, but mentally agile as we get older.

So, yes - we totally understand that part of the attraction of coming to a barre fitness class is the physical release, the opportunity to disconnect from the demands of our everyday lives and have an hour of just sweating it out in the studio. But, whether you’re aware of it or not, your brain is working just about as hard as your booty in a barre class. Barre fitness requires body awareness and that means that your brain is tapping in to what your body is doing. As a barre instructor, you’ll get used to prompting students not to make certain errors like slouching over the barre, using the lower back rather than the glutes, letting the shoulders creep up, or losing alignment in the hips, knees and ankles. And all those adjustments are not just physical work – they involve the brain sending signals so that the correction can be not only made, but then maintained. This is mindful movement – a deep consciousness of and connection to your body.

I thought mindfulness meant sitting down quietly and meditating?

Sure, that’s one way to do it. But you don’t have be still to be mindful. In fact, being mindful is an essential part of practising your barre technique well. Remember, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in a moment, to be aware of where we are and what we are doing in a calm, connected way. Yes, you can practise mindfulness by sitting or lying down, but because being connected to the body is an essential ingredient of mindfulness, we think there’s no better way to practise it than by moving your body.

So is this why I get a bit confused sometimes about my lefts and rights in barre class?

Ha – we know the feeling! Choreography of any kind can be challenging and the dance or ballet element to barre fitness demands that your brain is really switched on so you can respond quickly and accurately to instructions. Because barre fitness is high energy and moves quickly, the mind needs to work hard to adapt and find position quickly. So yes, when the instruction is to extend the left leg and the right arm and the music is pumping and you’ve just done twenty burpees, it’s no wonder your brain momentarily confuses left with right, or hip with knee! Your brain has to work especially hard to get your body into positions that you can’t see – that’s the extraordinary link between the mind and, say, a leg that is pointed way out behind you in what you are hoping is a straight and stretched line!

Why am I always smiling after barre class even though I feel wrecked?

You know how after a barre class you feel simultaneously exhausted and elated? Your muscles are quivering with fatigue, but you also kinda feel like a bit of a superwoman? That euphoric feeling is thanks to another incredibly clever interaction between mind and body – the release of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that are released by the body during physical activity that interact with receptors in the brain, reducing your perception of pain and producing a positive feeling – a rush – in the body. It’s one of the things that has us coming back for more even though we know what are glutes are in for!

Barre Attack – your one stop shop to a perky booty and a perky brain!