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4 Barre Moves To Work Your Arms Fast & Effectively

Michelle Duvall, PMA-CPT, RYT-200
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.
Image by Studio Firma / Stocksy
November 5, 2020

Ballerinas are well known for their sculpted and toned arms, a result of holding them at or above shoulder level for much of their practice. And barre, which is heavily inspired by ballet, can offer many of those same arm-strengthening moves. Both barre and ballet require lots of strength in the upper back and shoulder girdle area, plus the biceps and triceps also work hard to keep the rounded shape of the arms seen in ballet.

Those rounded elbows, and the changing to different positions, is called "port de bras" in ballet, which translates to "carrying of the arms." We take that a step further in barre workouts by adding light weights, usually 1 to 3 pounds, to boost intensity and effectiveness (since we're not all on ballerina workout schedules).

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Let's get started with this quick, four-move arm series you can do right at home with (or without, if you so choose) a pair of small weights.

1st to 2nd Position Arms

Image by Michelle Duvall

This exercise works the upper back, the lats (latissimus dorsi), and the shoulder girdle area.

How to: Start with the arms rounded as if you're holding a giant ball in front of the chest at shoulder height. This is called 1st position arms. Then, open the arms out to the sides like the letter "T," to what is called 2nd position. Keep the hands just in front of the shoulders. Repeat this closing and opening action for 1 minute. 

Tips:

  • Keep the shoulders away from the ears.
  • Resist opening and closing.
  • Draw the shoulder blades together and down the back.
  • Avoid flaring the rib cage forward.
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2nd to 3rd Position Arms

Image by Michelle Duvall

This exercise engages the muscles in the upper back and shoulder girdle area, with an emphasis on the shoulders (deltoid muscles).

How to: Open the arms out to the sides to 2nd position, keeping the hands just in front of the shoulders. Lift the right arm up overhead in a rounded shape with the palms facing down, framing the face, in what is called 3rd position. Lower the arm back to 2nd position. Switch arms. Repeat these two actions for 1 minute. 

Tips:

  • Keep the shoulders away from the ears.
  • Resist lowering and lifting the arms.
  • Draw the shoulder blades together and down the back.
  • Avoid hiking the shoulders up.
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2nd to 5th Position Arms

Image by Michelle Duvall

This exercise also engages the muscles in the upper back and shoulder girdle area, with an emphasis on the shoulders (deltoid muscles).

How to: Open the arms out to the sides to 2nd position, keeping the hands just in front of the shoulders. Lift both arms overhead in a rounded shape with the palms facing down, framing the face, in what is called 5th position. Lower the arms back to 2nd position. Repeat these actions for 1 minute.

Tips:

  • Keep the shoulders away from the ears.
  • Resist lowering and lifting the arms.
  • Draw the shoulder blades together and down the back.
  • Keep the abdominals engaged to support the back.
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Full Port de Bras

Image by Michelle Duvall

This exercise works the rotator cuff joint in the shoulders and also strengthens the shoulders (deltoids) and back muscles.

How to: Start with the arms rounded in front of the chest at shoulder height for 1st position arms. Then lift up the arms rounded overhead to 5th position, with the palms facing downward. Finish by lowering the arms to the sides in 2nd position. Repeat this circular action in one direction for 1 minute, and reverse for another full minute. 

Tips:

  • Keep the shoulders away from the ears.
  • Draw the shoulder blades together and down the back.
  • Avoid flaring the rib cage forward.
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Between working hours at a desk, social distancing limiting our gym time, and other day-to-day priorities, we're always happy to have a new, fast, and effective workout to try. Barre is a great option for just that, and we love that it can be combined with our other workout favorites like yoga and even HIIT! So turn on some tunes, grab your weights, and knock those five minutes out of the park.

This story, originally published March 25, 2020, has been updated with new information.

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Michelle Duvall, PMA-CPT, RYT-200
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. Michelle is an expert movement teacher who finds joy in motivating others to make connections through mindful movement. She earned her BFA degree in Dance Performance from the University of the Arts, and she is TRX trained and Roll Model Method trained. Michelle has been featured in other publications such as Aaptiv Magazine and The Barre Blog.