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You Might Prevent Some Injuries By Heading To The Barre

  • By Carolyn Matera

By ELAINE HESSER

YOU DON’T have to be a dancer to benefit from a barre workout. That’s one of the myths about the classes that studio owners Carolyn Matera of Go Figure and Arianne Bautista of Carmel Barre would like to have busted.

The mistake’s an honest one because the barre is usually associated with ballet. The classes Matera and Bautista teach, however, incorporate Pilates and yoga with some very basic ballet positions and moves.

Another assumption people make is that the workout is slow-moving and done to classical music. The reality is that classes are lively, with high-energy tunes filling the studio. Students are of all shapes, sizes and ages, sometimes well into their 80s. It’s low-impact and adaptable for people who are recovering from injuries. Perhaps more importantly, it can protect people from those injuries in the first place.

Matera, who teaches something called The Figure Method, said that it’s “incredibly effective in toning, strengthening and conditioning the entire body.” Bautista uses a similar approach she learned in Oregon over a decade ago. Both emphasize the importance of proper form, posture, balance, flexibility and building strength in the abdomen and lower back — also referred to as “the core” — all of which are valuable in preventing injuries.

Matera — who’s been teaching for 26 years — has had some real-life experience with that. She related that she was carrying packages down some stairs one day and found out the hard way that one step was loose. “I tightened up my core to regain my balance,” she said, narrowly averting a fall. So what is one of these workouts like? Most barre classes are held in studios, but Bautista takes hers to her students from time to time, whether it’s in a workplace or down at the beach. Sessions average between 45 minutes and an hour, and begin with a warm-up to get the muscles loose. Upper body workouts with light weights might follow, or push-ups on the barre.

Bautista said that despite her cautions, a lot of people who are accustomed to other types of workouts select weights that soon become too heavy, because one feature of barre classes is numerous repetitions of small, intense movements.

From there, the workout proceeds to legs, abdominal muscles and back muscles, often using props like balls, bands or blocks. The music is moderately fast, and students find they get a fairly good aerobic workout. Since both instructors believe it’s better to stretch warm muscles, that’s how classes end.

Matera and Bautista both talked about the importance of maintaining good posture, especially as people age, and they say that barre’s emphasis on keeping a straight back and good alignment are quite helpful. How effective are the classes?

Bautista said hers are frequented by doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, including physical therapist Carey-Leah Havrilko, who drives from Salinas to attend. She’s been doing it for three years, first at the Monterey Sports Center and now at Carmel Barre.

In addition to helping her stay strong — physical therapy can be demanding work at times — Havrilko said she believes barre classes can help prevent a variety of problems. “Improved posture and core strength can help prevent neck and back pain from the prolonged sitting that many people find themselves doing these days, and weight-bearing exercise that strengthens your muscles will support joints like knees and shoulders, to reduce the effects of degenerative conditions like arthritis — or slow their onset,” she said.

She added that while you don’t have to be able to go en pointe like a ballerina, “there are a good number of opportunities to practice standing on one foot or on tiptoes,” improving balance. Not only does Havrilko enjoy the benefits of the class, but, she said, “I often ‘borrow’ exercises I have learned in class to teach my patients, and recommend barre to many of them, because it is so modifiable.”

Bautista and Matera hope you’ll visit one — or both — of their studios to check out the schedules and classes, and find one that’s right for you.

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