These 4 Barre Exercises Can Help You Avoid Injury & Improve Balance

Contributing writer By Michelle Duvall, PMA-CPT, RYT-200
Contributing writer
Michelle Duvall, PMA-CPT, RYT-200, is a fitness instructor and founder and creator of Barre Variations, a barre method that combines a blend of ballet, Pilates, and yoga.
Women in a Barre Class

The beauty of barre classes is the opportunity to work on balance. As we grow older, balance is something we tend to see decrease. Ankle mobility declines, and standing on one leg seems to happen less and less. Balancing is not something we often do daily, unless it's the work/life balance we are talking about! So, it is important to build strength to allow ourselves to stay stable and strong. 

Why is balance important?

  • To prevent injury caused by falling
  • Helps our body move more optimally
  • Maintain body awareness and agility 
  • Supports joint stability

The ballet barre was created for ballerinas to be used as a tool for support, to build strength and flexibility in order to take the skills learned away from the barre, and eventually onstage. The dancers would start at an early age facing the barre for the most support, and as strength increases, the same skills are executed with just one hand on the barre. As a ballet class progresses, the barre exercises are then done in the center of the room and then across the floor. The end result is showcasing these skills of agility, strength, and flexibility on the stage. 

In barre fitness classes, the ballet barre is used, just like a dancer would do, to improve balance, flexibility, and stability. It is a helpful tool to practice balance for the real world, not just the stage. The ballet barre is there as an aid during the workout to help build the muscles needed for balance and can be released when the proper strength is built up. When applying these skills outside of the studio, it may not look like the exercises performed in class, but the same skills can be applied to avoid injury and to be more agile.

These four barre exercises below will help you get on the leg and feel more balanced!

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1. Relevés (Heel lifts)

Barre Heel Lifts

Image by Michelle Duvall

This exercise is to strengthen the feet and ankles in order to gain more foundational stability.

How to:

Start standing holding a ballet barre or chair with the feet a little wider than hip-width apart with the legs externally rotated (this is a ballet second position). Option to tie a resistance band around the ankles to create more of a challenge. Then lift the heels off the floor, and lower back down (this is called "relevé" in ballet). Repeat this 10 to 20 times. 

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Tips:

  • Resist the heels lifting and lowering.
  • Keep even weight distributed across the foot.
  • Keep the legs externally rotated when lowering the heels.

2. Attitude

Barre Attitude Pose

Image by Michelle Duvall

This exercise works the glutes and hamstrings while challenging the muscles of the supporting leg. It also challenges the back extensor muscles, as well as the core. 

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How to:

Stand holding on to the barre with the legs in a slight external rotation and the heels touching (this is a ballet first position). Keeping the right leg externally rotated, extend the leg behind the body. Lift the right leg off the floor and bend the knee slightly (this is "attitude" in ballet). With the right leg in "attitude," begin to make a small movement up and down 1 inch. Repeat this action 20 to 30 times before switching sides. 

Tips:

  • Draw the abdominals in.
  • Maintain both legs externally rotated.
  • Keep the back lifted. 
  • Keep the supporting leg stacked hip over ankle.
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3. Fold-over Rainbow Arcs

Barre Foldover Rainbow Arcs

Image by Michelle Duvall

This exercise challenges the core in a different plane, as well as the lateral leg muscles, which increases the strength in the legs needed to balance.

How to:

Hold on to the barre with both hands, and then walk back until the body is creating a 90-degree angle at the hips. The legs and feet will be parallel. Once folded over on the barre, lift the right leg up to the side at hip level, or as high as you can. Then draw the right leg across to the left and touch the floor near the left hip. Then lift the right leg back up to the right side, creating somewhat of a rainbow arc. Repeat 10 to 15 times, and switch to the other leg. 

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Tips:

  • Draw the abdominals in.
  • Shoulders away from the ears.
  • Keep the outer thigh of standing leg over the heel.
  • Soften the standing leg to avoid hyperextension of the knee.
  • Lift the rib cage into the spine.

4. Passé Balance

Passé Balance

Image by Michelle Duvall

This exercise is to test your balance after completing the previous exercises and to see how long you can hold.

How to:

Stand away from the barre (you can always use it if needed) with the legs in a slight external rotation and the heels touching (this is a ballet first position). With the right leg externally rotated, place the foot pointed in front of the left knee (this is called "passé" in ballet). Lift the arms overhead to frame the face. Then lift the left heel up (into relevé), and hold the balance. Stay here for as long as you can! Repeat on the other leg.

Tips:

  • Draw the abdominals in.
  • Shoulders away from the ears.
  • Avoid puffing the ribs out.
  • Lift the heel into the calf.
  • Engage the glutes.

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