The below is the first entry in a series about Pure Barre and the endurance athlete. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more data and feedback about the incorporation of PB into my training routine.
While I was at home in Michigan for Christmas, I was invited to try a class that centered around the ballet barre. My friend Heather Mertz invited me to attend the class after having raved about how good of a workout it was for runners (and anyone else for that matter). I was nervous but a little bit intrigued. Heather is a fitness buff and avid runner so I trusted it would at least be a good adventure.
The hour class was one of the most challenging classes I have ever taken (and this is coming from a woman who has taught and taken fitness classes for YEARS). What I loved about the class was that it was so different. I felt like I had activated muscles that have been lying dormant for years in my ‘big muscle movement’ sport of triathlon. The most shocking thing I noticed was that the next day, my piriformis/sciatic pain/discomfort that I normally experience was gone.
I decided that when I came home from Christmas that I needed to find a studio that offered a similar class. I found it at Pure Barre – Dublin. My intention was to take 2-3 classes a week for a month and see how my triathlon training either worsened, stayed the same, or was enhanced by the classes. No real research was available for me to know otherwise. So began my journey to determine what the heck this whole Pure Barre thing was about and if indeed it was something that an endurance athlete could benefit from long term.
THE “INFORMAL” STUDY
Before I prescribe anything to my clients and athletes I want to be sure that I understand and have experienced said prescription. So, I’ve decided to make myself a guinea pig. No real data has been collected other than personal testimony about the benefit of Pure Barre for an endurance athlete. So, I’m going to test it out. For the next two months I will continue to take a minimum of 2 class a week, monitor my cycling power, running pace/hr, and swim times. I will check back in over the course of the weeks to provide some more insight and hopefully some more useful data as to how to incorporate Pure Barre into an endurance athlete’s training plan. Ready or not…here’s my experience so far…
For readers who have no clue what Pure Barre technique is, Emily Johnson, Pure Barre Dublin Owner, defines it as “a total body workout that focuses on four core areas: arms, thighs, abs, and seat. Utilizing small, isometric movements on the ballet barre…it is the safest, most effective and fastest way to change your body.”
Many of the movements seem harmless and even insignificant from the onset. If you just watched the class I’m sure you’d probably not seem too impressed. However, the minute you lift your heels off of the ground, tuck your hips, and drop your seat to the ground your thighs will start to scream for a break. In my experience taking class we always do at least 2 sets that are focused on one leg at a time. By balancing on one leg you must utilize your glute medius, a typically weak muscle in runners. The first class I took my balancing leg was screaming about 20 seconds into the set. I’ll save more of this whole application to endurance sports for the next section…
Typically the class is mostly women. That should not discourage men from trying class. Johnson shares that “While our clientele is composed primarily of women, we do have both male students and instructors. One of our male clients recently described his first Pure Barre class as a cross between a very tough workout and a physical therapy session. The benefits of small, low-impact movements and the lengthening and strengthening of muscle is key for both the male and female body.” I took my husband to a class and he felt the small movements and focus on form actually helped his flexibility. When I asked would he come back he said yes.
QUESTIONS FOR THE “PRO”
Johnson took the time to chat with me about some deeper questions I had about endurance training and how Pure Barre either works (or doesn’t) with the physiological demands of triathlon. Here’s what she had to say…
BASE: In my short time taking class, small isolated movements are the core of the workout. In triathlon and running, we utilize large muscle groups to produce power over extended periods of time, the idea of specificity doesn’t necessary apply between barre and endurance sports – so how can it help us endurance athletes?
JOHNSON: Pure Barre can be extremely beneficial for endurance athletes because the foundation of Pure Barre is working the muscles to fatigue with the isometric movements. Working the muscles to the point of fatigue will increase both endurance and strength. Some of our clients who are also endurance athletes have noticed that Pure Barre has been extremely effective in strengthening the muscles in their ankles, which has aided them with their stability and balance while training and competing. These clients have also noted that the focus on increasing flexibility and abdominal work has been very helpful during the biking portion of races – every athlete can benefit from more stretching and a stronger core! Additionally, the fact that Pure Barre is a safe, non-impact workout makes it the ideal strength-building compliment to running, biking and swimming – the last thing you want before a big race is to sustain an injury.
BASE: What if an athlete trains 15 hours a week and already does traditional strength training 2 times per week, how would you suggest incorporating a barre class? Supplement? Replace?
JOHNSON: For an athlete completing this type of training, we would recommend adding Pure Barre as a supplement to their fitness regimen. The beauty of Pure Barre that turns clients into addicts is that it is intelligent exercise – it is low impact yet highly effective. We are confident that endurance athletes will notice a difference in their performance quickly because working muscles to fatigue is extremely beneficial in terms of strength and endurance.
BASE: If one is going to do a barre class and they have cardio workouts to do as well, what do you recommend doing first? (If it were me I would tell my athletes to do the core training first so swim or run then do the barre)
JOHNSON: We would recommend completing the cardio workout before Pure Barre. The goal of a Pure Barre class is to have our clients’ muscles shaking and burning, so it is better to round out your workout with PB rather than go into cardio immediately following class. Additionally, Pure Barre provides fantastic mental health benefits, so it would be a great cap for a hard day of training to take one hour to really focus on yourself and your fitness goals.
BASE: One thing I personally have felt in the few classes I have taken is that the tightness in my glute/sciatic area is completely relieved, my lower back is also not as irritated as it normally is, and my calf muscles are not as fatigued as in a run: have you had clients say that barre is therapeutic?
JOHNSON: Our clients absolutely find Pure Barre to be therapeutic – this is one of the many things that gets our clients hooked on PB after just a handful of classes! A major focus of a Pure Barre class is on stretching out the muscles after they are worked to the point of fatigue. Our instructors are also expertly trained to ensure that every client is completing each movement in the safest way possible to protect areas such as the lower back.
BASE: Any other insight into why an endurance athlete might want to spend their time and money on taking a barre class (and why your studio?)
JOHNSON: Every Pure Barre class is appropriate for every fitness level. We always say that as long as you can hold onto the ballet barre you are good to go! For an endurance athlete specifically, Pure Barre would be an amazing way to supplement their muscle growth, as well as their mental focus and wellbeing. Pure Barre is about taking one hour every day to become centered and focused on a healthy, happy lifestyle. Any athlete could benefit from this, especially those undergoing the stress of preparing for a big race. At Pure Barre Dublin and Pure Barre Columbus we pride ourselves on the intimate setting that we are able to provide our clients. We keep our classes small and our staff knows all of our clients by name, so everyone gets the VIP experience from the moment they enter the studio. Put simply, Pure Barre is about one thing: our clients. That is our focus, and that is what inspires our staff and instructors to give 110% each and every time they walk into the studio. We are a place that is able to change the lives of our clients for the better, both in terms of their mental and physical health. We are honored to be able to take on this type of responsibility, and we do not take it lightly.
MY INITIAL FINDINGS AFTER 3 WEEKS
I’ve taken 2-3 classes a week for the past three weeks. The initial soreness that was so brutal after the first few classes has diminished and as long as I keep up at least 2x a week I doubt the pain will be to the point where it was the first class. One thing I have noticed so far is that my cycling power has NOT dropped. My ability to push the same wattages during workouts I’ve been doing consistently for the past 6 weeks are not being hindered by the class. In fact, I find that my legs feel snappier when I am working at my FTP efforts. If I had to make an educated guess I would probably guess its from the tiny activations and rapid firing of the muscles in class. The neuromuscular activation/control that your body learns in Pure Barre is something that I do feel strongly can help an athlete throughout the course of a season.
When it comes to swimming, holy cow. My triceps are typically one of the more sore areas after class but what I experience (so far) in my swim stroke is again this ‘snappy’ finish to each pull phase. The tucking/hip work we do in class has also helped me reconnect my kick with my lower abdominals which is vital to keeping myself balanced and moving forward. If I ever do Barre and a swim on the same day, it is a no no to swim afterwards. My arms get too cashed.
Running has been the biggest change. I normally feel my knees hit each other as I get further into a run. This has stopped since the 4th class I started taking. My glute medius (as I mentioned before) is normally taxed by the end of class but it has paid off in run form. I feel leaner/taller when I run and I feel a more fluid motion from my hips.
After three weeks most of my data is observational and it will take me a few more weeks before I know if anything negative has happened because of class. Right now the only negative is that my pocketbook is a little bit lighter than it was before I signed up…so far…it’s been worth it!
Want more info? Check out http://purebarre.com/OH-dublin/index.html and tell them you read the blog!!!