Health & Wellness

Raising the Barre

A ballet-inspired workout in Wayland Square taps into a national fitness trend - and works up a major sweat

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Imagine yourself at the gym, building strength and toning your muscles. What do you picture? Standing at the squat rack loading up the bar with weights? Swinging a kettlebell up over your head? Flipping a huge tire while your CrossFit team cheers you on?


We typically think that when it comes to muscle, bigger is better. It’s not just that we want bigger muscles, but we think we need to do big things to get them: heavy weights, dramatic movements, and an outsized show of grunting and sweating. But there’s a different, gentler approach, in which you can go small. That’s exactly what you’ll find at Barre and Soul, the newest fitness studio in Wayland Square. The East Side location is the latest expansion of a budding fitness empire that started in Harvard Square, and now includes studios in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The Wayland Square location opened last December.

Barre classes in general have been one of the emerging trends in fitness over the past several years. The concept is simple: ballerinas are in great shape, and by using some of their conditioning techniques along with the ballet barre, the less swan-like among us can build long, lean muscle, too. These are decidedly not dance classes, however, and no rhythm or graceful poise are needed. Ballet is simply the starting point for a full-body workout that incorporates multiple disciplines.

The Barre and Soul approach leans heavily on isometrics (static exercises in which muscles act against each other, a fixed object or simply gravity) and mixes in yoga, Pilates and bodyweight exercises alongside ballet conditioning. Different phases of the class employ a variety of equipment in addition to the barre, including yoga blocks, hand weights, straps and mini-balance balls. It’s all combined and served with a healthy dose of mindfulness for a 60-minute mind-body workout that taxes the muscles but is easy on the joints.

I imagine the more hardcore fitness enthusiasts among you – the CrossFitters, the Tough Mudders, the Ab Assassinators (okay, I just made up that last one) – are rolling your eyes and thinking, “Aw, how cute,” but trust me Barre and Soul is no dainty jazzercise for the light workout crowd. This class is a serious schvitz.

Our instructor, and the studio manager for Wayland Square, Ali got us started on the mat with some brief mindfulness instruction to help us leave behind outside concerns and focus on the workout. We then proceeded through a succession of activities intended to work every part of the body: planks with variations for core strength, squat holds and other balance exercises using the barre for the legs, upper body work with the hand weights, and various crunches and bridges incorporating the ball for the abs. In every instance, the focus was on small movements and static holds that emphasized resistance and challenged the muscles without the hard impacts of heavy weight training. Bicep work, for example, didn’t involve big curls with huge dumbbells, but holding three to five-pound weights still against the force of gravity or small, repeated muscle pulses. The idea is not to grunt and push your way through max-weight reps, but to exhaust the muscles through constant resistance. Each segment was punctuated by yoga-inspired stretches to relax and reward your muscles for their hard work.

I consider myself to be in pretty decent shape. I run five miles four days a week, sometimes carrying hand weights, and I do a moderate to high-intensity strength training circuit two or three times per week. I figured I was up to the challenge of Barre and Soul – and indeed I held my own for a first-timer. However, when I looked around the room at the end of the class, the regulars looked fresh as daisies while I was absolutely pouring sweat. The movements might be small, but the effort is huge.

Barre and Soul
1201 Wayland Avenue
400-2119