Letter to a Client or Why I don’t believe in Barre Classes

A few weeks ago, I received an email from one of my clients who inquired about a barre class that I used to teach when I worked as the school director at a dance studio. She wanted to know if I had any interest in running this class again. Here was her email:

Hi Emily,

Recently as I was cleaning my house, I came across your original brochure that had your Barre Class listed.  Today, I came across an old article on Lululemon’s website about the benefits of Barre.  Would you consider bringing this class back?  I’ve seen a few people on LL facebook page who were inquiring about a local class. That community would LOVE it.  I know I would be there and will be a great way to market to their huge customer base.

First of all, let me say that yes, I used to teach barre classes. I am a dancer. I also taught aerobics and cycling, and I enjoyed them both very much. And I believe that any  exercise you decide to do whether it is aerobics or Barre or cycle is good exercise, and if it makes you happy, awesome. Keep doing it. BUT, I also believe that if you are not happy with your performance in the gym, your strength or your body, there are better ways for achieving your goals than the three I mentioned. Again, there is nothing wrong with these classes. Remember, I used to teach them. However, the best coaches are always questioning, researching and looking for better ways to challenge their athletes and/or clients. This may mean re-thinking exercises and training. Are barre classes good for you? Sure….but I believe there are better and more efficient ways for women to train. Would I get more business if I brought back my barre class? Sure. Maybe. But, honestly,  I don’t want this kind of business. My philosophy is strength. I want women to focus on gaining strength, not “toning their thighs.” I want women to focus on building a bigger deadlift, squat or press, not building “long, lean muscles” (which don’t exist). I want women to be able to carry the full propane tank for their grill back to the car by themselves and not have to ask for assistance.

I want women to feel confident in their own skin. I want them to walk down the street not thinking they are strong but KNOWING that they are strong. You cannot build a strong upper body doing 100 repetitions of arm circles. You cannot build strong glutes doing 50 leg kicks to the ceiling. I don’t care how much it burns. All you will do is tire your arms and your butt out. And really, what good is that? Yes, you will be sore. But you won’t be any stronger. It just doesn’t work that way.

But I digress. Here was my email response:

Hi,

I really enjoyed teaching my barre class when I worked for the dance studio. It was a perfect way to build a new adult class at Kinetics and as a result of the class, I realized how much I wanted to work with adults. The more the class evolved, the more I began to move away from the “ballet” type work I relied on to create the class, and I began introducing more strength work. By the time I opened Fivex3 Training, I realized what I needed to do with the class to make it fit with my message about strength. The class needed a big face lift. Basic Training was born. I could not be more happier with this class.

I have a few concerns with running a class like this is again.

Body by Barbell, not Barre. Squats and deadlifts.

 

First and foremost, I do not believe in the message these classes promote. The classes rely on tiny weights and there is too much emphasis on “looking” like a ballerina and trying to achieve a body that for some people will never exist. (Professional ballerinas look the way they do because they are genetically born with a body that enables them to look the way they do. I, too, studied ballet, but I do not have the body to be a professional ballerina. Am I less of a dancer for this? NO.)


 

 

Second, I believe, as many other women who strength train believe and who are in my field, that women need more than what a barre class offers. Women do not need special classes like barre because they are women and they should “train this way because this is how a woman should train.” Doing tiny little pulses until your thighs burn does nothing but make your thighs burn. So what? As my husband said, “My butt would burn too if you made me squeeze it 100 times. But it won’t help me develop a strong butt.”  You will not build a strong body unless you stress the body ie. lift weights that are more than 5 pounds. No one is telling you that you need to lift 200 lbs (although this is damn impressive and shows true strength and domination.) But 5lbs? Come on. My five year old nephew deadlifted his bodyweight just the other day. With the barbell. 44 pounds. Exactly how much he weighs. And he carried two 8kg kettlebells around the gym (18 pounds) without a second thought. I had two 8 year old girls pull each other on the sled two weeks ago. They loved every minute of it. And most recently, one of my clients who just turned 73 years old, deadlifted 80 lbs and then proceeded to do a frame carry with the same weight. Is she strong? Hell yes. Is she toned? Who cares! She’s 73 years old, just started strength training about four months ago and picked up 80lbs!

Rachel is a dancer. And she teaches ballet and performs in Nutrcracker each year. Does she have long, lean muscles? No. And she never will. But she is no less of a dancer.

And third, these classes promote false advertising claims such as “Lifts your seat, tones your thighs and burns fat,”  “Firms and elongates muscles,” “Get long, narrow thighs,” “Longer, leaner and stronger muscles,” “Combines Pilates, yoga and ballet moves to give you beautiful, sculpted, lean muscles – without the impact and injuries dancers endure.” These are false claims and as a dancer who does lift weight and has seen her body change in ways she never thought was possible, I am tired of seeing these words used over and over again to lure women into these classes. Ladies, you either have long muscles or short muscles, depending on how TALL or how SHORT you are. Blame your parents if you want to blame someone. It is all genetic.  Someone with long femurs will have long muscles. Someone with short femurs will have short muscles. Your muscles will not get longer if you are not tall. Tall people have long bones and therefore long muscles. Short people have short bones and therefore short muscles. If you want to be leaner, lose the body fat. And also, please don’t think that by stretching a muscle after you have worked it, you will make it longer or leaner. *Sigh*

When I taught my classes, I was just beginning my journey into the strength world. I was training at the gym and teaching these classes. And I was feeling stronger and stronger each time I taught my classes thanks to all the squatting, deadlifting and pressing I was doing at the gym. But I soon realized this class could not survive anymore. I do not regret one minute for this class- I loved teaching it and quite a few of the people who started with me with this class, followed me to Baltimore when I opened up my gym. And they love my Basic Training class just as much if not more than my barre class. And because of the way I promoted my barre class way back then (build strength), I actually attracted people ages 40 and up. No one under 30 (with the exception of one or two) took my class. I made a point of promoting strength. If I had had more equipment as I do now, I probably would have taught it differently.

What I love about all the coaches I read and listen to is they are never afraid to say “I changed my mind. I have discovered a better way to do this.” As Mike Boyle, a strength and conditioning coach at Mike Boyle’s Strength and Conditioning in MA says, “I think I’ve become famous for changing my mind. And there’s a specific reason *why* the most successful coaches and trainers in our field tend to change their minds the most often. (and also why your athletes benefit from this ‘change’).” This is how I feel about barre classes and why I have changed my mind about this type of work. I actually never even thought about this that much until now because all I was really trying to do was come up with a new adult fitness class at the dance studio. Over the past two years, I have learned so much more about strength work and the benefits of barbell training. My philosophy is simple: Get strong. This is how I want to train and why I believe women should train this way too. While I know that I could reach more women if I offered this type of class, I do not want to compromise my beliefs when it comes to strength training. In my opinion, women need less of these classes and more good all fashioned basic strength work. They need to build muscle, not “elongate” it. They need to learn how to use their bodies efficiently by carrying weight, dragging weight, picking up weight, not worrying about developing “long, lean muscles.”

I am sure that there are many women who want to take these classes because of what the classes  promise. I am sure many take them because the classes are familiar to them because they remind them of  ballet classes they took when they were younger. And I am sure that these women do see changes in their bodies because anything will work…for a time. But I will never bring this type of class back. As my mission statement reads on  my website, “At FiveX3 Training, strength is our mission. When you are stronger, you feel better. When you are stronger, you look better. When you are stronger, you are better.” Lift weights. Get strong. Feel better.

Emily

 

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31 Responses to Letter to a Client or Why I don’t believe in Barre Classes

  1. Anne says:

    I took Emily’s barre class and I loved it, but I love BT more. The barre class was familiar territory, which got me in the door, but honestly, if it showed up on her class schedule, I’d choose BT over it every time. It’s still a comfortable environment, and it still gives me the opportunity to focus on myself without worrying about what anyone else thinks. But now I know I’m doing the best I can to make the body I was given as strong as possible. It’s great.

  2. Wendy says:

    Thank you so much for posting your reply, Emily. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I shared it on my wall.

    Thanks again!
    Wendy

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  7. Penny says:

    “While I know that I could reach more women if I offered this type of class, I do not want to compromise my beliefs when it comes to strength training.”

    Love this and will probably use it myself. Thanks for providing this honest message.

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  9. Support says:

    You have used the photo of barre class with out permission … Please remove it. This is a photo of my instructors at a barre studio and myself.. It is not stock for public consumption.

    Separately, you are completely wrong about barre class. I don’t know what kind of class you taught at your studio but our clients are much stronger, much more confident, ski better, play tennis better, etc and aren’t just there to tone their thighs. Perhaps they can not pull their husbands out if a burning building – not sure whose overall goal that would be anyway – but they are not looking to build enormous muscles and look like a man either.

    Remove the photo immediately.

    Thank you.

    • emily says:

      Thank you for your comment. I apologize for using your picture. I will remove this out of courtesy to you and your instructors.

      However, what I cannot and will not do is apologize for my post. I am not completely wrong about barre classes and if you actually read my post, I am all for women doing what works for them and makes them happy. But I want to deliver to my female clients what I believe to be a better program for getting stronger and gaining confidence. While I am sure that your clients have gotten stronger from your barre classes, I believe that my clients are served better by actually lifting weights that will challenge their bodies, minds and spirits. None of my ladies look like a man. In fact, all of my women have dramatically changed their bodies into curvaceous, strong and fit women. Your comment implies that my goal is to make women look like men. Women can be strong, have muscle, lift heavy weight and still be women. I want to deliver the best program to my women and for them and for me, this includes picking up weight that weighs more than 3 lbs. Sure, you can get stronger by doing anything….but in my world (and many others) building a stronger body means actually lifting weights.

      And for me, I DO want to know that if I had to, I could pull my husband out of a burning building.

      • Harper says:

        Well said, Emily!

        I know women who take Barre classes and love them, but I also think if they were 1) better educated about weightlifting and strength training and 2) had accessible gyms similar to yours, more might choose Fivex3 over a barre studio. All I can say is I’m so glad I found your gym and am proud by how much weight I can lift… and I don’t look like a dude.

        • emily says:

          Thanks Harper! As I said in the very beginning of my post, if you like taking Barre or Zumba or Cycle or anything….keep doing it! I used to teach this type of class but even while I was teaching it, I was also lifting. Sure, these classes may kick your butt….anything can be hard. BUT……if you are looking to gain real strength and build a stronger and more powerful body, these classes are not the way to go. Strength training ie. picking up weight and a lot of it will build strong bones and a strong body that you can be proud of. You are amazing to watch while at the gym. Focused, dedicated and determined. And you are ALL woman. ;-)

  10. Annelise says:

    You just described me to a tee. Amazing. I too am a dancer, used to teach barre (and several other group fitness classes) but now truly believe weight training is the best and most effective training method. I am now a personal trainer and figure competitor and can finally say I love my body and am comfortable in my own skin thanks to good old fashioned heavy lifting!

    • emily says:

      Thank you for your comment Annelise!!! So happy to hear from you and to know that I am not alone! ;) I, too, am more comfortable in my own skin thanks to squatting and deadlifting. Now, how can we get others to understand this too?

      Thank you again for reading and commenting! Good luck with your competitions!!

  11. Thank you SOO much for posting this. We have a fitness offering here in Memphis and due to the rise of barre classes, some of our clients have been swayed to join those classes. It is our purpose to move our clients in a fitness lifestyle implementing strength training as their foundation for metabolic and physical improvement. However, our message is lost sometimes and some women just move to the next trendy thing. Keep up the great work and I hope you know you have a supporter of our work here in Memphis!

    • emily says:

      Thank you Dexter!!! I am glad you liked it and that it spoke to you. Trendy thing is right…..barre classes are in….who knows how long they will really last! ;)

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  14. Linda says:

    Emily,
    This is easily one of the most honest and helpful posts I have ever read about fitness. I am 47 years old and I am short. I have short muscles. You know when they say “most women can’t build large muscles”, well I am one of the few – and I’m not the Hulk by any means but it is obviously that I work out – and it should be right? We do this to improve our body, strength, bone density and mind (my new phrase is it isn’t vanity, but my sanity that I work out!).

    I was looking into doing Barre workouts because I wanted to try lose muscle (I know…I know) but I go through these moments of stupidity where I want to have spaghetti arms. It’s completely stupid and totally defies everything that makes sense for a woman to do. We should be strong and fit and muscle is not evil. I can lift things my nieces 15 years my junior can’t. I can out run or walk them as well. I am very fit and I feel amazing and its not from cardio or pilates. It’s from weight work, leg work and core work.

    I remember a time when I would CRY when pushups came up in a workout. Literally. Now I am a champ! I can do tons of them and again, I DO NOT LOOK LIKE A MAN. I can’t stand when people say that. And why not be able to drag your husband or your kids, parent, pets or anyone else from a burning building? What in the world is wrong with that?? I was a trainer and it was comments like those that made me leave. Such pettiness.

    Anyway – thank you for the smack in the head. I needed it.

    • emily says:

      Hi Linda,
      Thank you so much for your comment!!! I really appreciate the feedback. As a dancer, it really pains me when I hear this nonsense being spewed because, well, I am tall and thus blessed with long legs. In fact, I hardly have a torso. ;) I have danced with short dancers, tall dancer, thin dancers, muscular dancers….taking barre classes will NOT give you a dancer’s body….they really should say “ballerina body” because modern dancers do not look like ballerinas. But ballerinas are ballerinas because, well, they are predisposed to have that kind of body that is why they become professional dancers!!!! Women should want to be strong and feel strong and look strong. Once I got over the wanting to be one way or the other and started actually physically making my body stronger, I became much happier. I was given the body I was given and I dare anyone to make me feel less than woman. ;)

      And you are welcome for the smack in the head. I gave that to myself awhile ago too. ;)

  15. jill says:

    Wow, you certainly seem to have a chip on your shoulder toward women who do care about not bulking up!
    I’m 42 years old and have been a lifetime runner. For years, I went to the gym and did traditional heavy weight programs (I even leg pressed nearly 3 times my body weight). I tried the cross fit thing. For me, these programs resulted in injury and chronic pain in my knees and shoulders. I’m a tiny person and I didn’t really bulk up, but I didn’t look feminine either. Barre 3 and Bar Method have provided wonderful results for me. I run faster and I have more endurance because my knees don’t hurt at all anymore! I am still very strong and in fact I can now do 50 push ups with good form. And I’m not embarrassed to admit, I love how how I look. Any women who doesn’t admit they don’t mind having a lean body with feminine muscular toning is lying to themselves and everyone else.

    • emily says:

      Hi Jill,
      Thank you so much for your comment. And thank you for letting me know that this work worked for YOU and for YOUR goals. You see, not every woman has the same goals. Some women actually want a more “muscular” look and some women want to look like Tracy Anderson. I would rather have muscle on my frame and be able to carry my husband out of a burning building if I needed to. I LOVE how I look too. You use the word “bulking” up to imply that I, and many other women, want to look like men. This could not be further from the truth. And I am not sure what you mean by “feminine” muscular toning? I have a client who squats, presses, deadlifts, bench presses, does power cleans…..and she has a beautiful lean body with great muscular definition. People are really confused when she tells them she does not run, does not take barre classes, does not do aerobics. You lift weight? And look like that? Yes she does. I think she looks great as do so many women in my gym who can deadlift their bodyweight, squat over their bodyweight and are strong, confident, empowered women who LOVE the way they look and feel. Their GOALS are their goals, not someone else’s. The word “bulking” is not a bad word. I happen to be “bulking” right now and am stronger than I have been in a long, long time.

      Congratulations on how you feel. It is very important for women to love how they look. But my reasoning for the article was to let women know that there are better ways to achieve one’s goal that will actually make them stronger and feel better about themselves. I would be lying to them and to myself if I told them them that barre classes are the way to a stronger body. Thank you for your comment.

      • Amanda says:

        Hi Emily,

        I found your site researching barre classes compared with weight training. I read all the posts. My background, I have worked out with weights for 20 years, preferably heavy. I squat heavy, (225lbs) Lunge 70 to 100 lbs, do pull ups, shoulder headstands…etc. I love it! I taught yoga for about 7 years, and stretching is great and complimentary. I took my fiancé’s Mom to a barre class because she likes classes and I don’t! I have to say I did enjoy it. I did it with her and did it for about two weeks. I noticed some incredible changes in my body. My butt was higher, my arms and legs more defined and I did enjoy it. It was more like a Physique 57 class (fusion dance, pilates barre) My question is because my base was already so strong am I just leaning up? I truly believe my booty lifting up is because of the exercises in the class. I have changed the way I want my body, a little leaner up top and still a round booty. What are you thoughts and thanks so much for your site!

        • emily says:

          Hi Amanda,
          Thank you so much for your comment!!! I was starting to feel like I was the lady who hates barre classes!!! This is NOT the case!! Remember, I taught one and I enjoyed every minute of it. MY issue with these classes is not the classes but with the marketing centered around the classes. As my husband said, “If I (he) took one of those classes I know I would be sore too!!” I am not saying it isn’t a workout but what they say they will do to women’s legs – long, lean, elongate – is just bullshit. Really. (And speaking of working ou, this is all it really is too. A workout. Anyone can “workout.” I am a believer in training….but I digress.) I am sure that because of your strong foundation already, it allowed you to work at higher, more intense levels than perhaps some of the other women and the “leaner you” started to show through. The muscle you most likely developed from squatting, pressing, doing pull ups and teaching Yoga helped you push harder in class, allowing you to burn more calories thus allowing you to shed bodyfat and see the benefits of all of your lifting!!! ;) All I know is that my butt is stronger, firmer and bigger now thanks to squatting, barbell and band hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, deadlifts, split squats. I would never tell a woman not to do something that makes her feel good….but I do believe that more women would benefit more from real strength training ie. lifting more than 3lbs in order to build muscle, strengthen their bones and really make the changes they really want to see in their bodies. Stronger is just always better. ;) Thanks for your email!! And have fun!

    • emily says:

      I just re-read my post for the first time since I wrote it. And it’s a GREAT post. I am honest. I am sincere. And I do NOT bash these classes.

      In my post, I focus on three main points:
      1. “I do not believe in the message these classes promote.” 2. “I believe, as many other women who strength train believe and who are in my field, that women need more than what a barre class offers. Women do not need special classes like barre because they are women and they should “train this way because this is how a woman should train.”
      3. “These classes promote false advertising claims such as “Lifts your seat, tones your thighs and burns fat,” “Firms and elongates muscles,” “Get long, narrow thighs,” “Longer, leaner and stronger muscles.”

      My question to you is this: Did you really read my post? Because I think it reads like someone who taught this type of class before and realized while it wasn’t a bad class, it wasn’t the type of training for her or for really getting people strong, moving better or feeling better.

      Here is another quote from my article that I don’t think registered with you clearly:

      “What I love about all the coaches I read and listen to is they are never afraid to say “I changed my mind. I have discovered a better way to do this.” As Mike Boyle, a strength and conditioning coach at Mike Boyle’s Strength and Conditioning in MA says, “I think I’ve become famous for changing my mind. And there’s a specific reason *why* the most successful coaches and trainers in our field tend to change their minds the most often. (and also why your athletes benefit from this ‘change’).” This is how I feel about barre classes and why I have changed my mind about this type of work. I actually never even thought about this that much until now because all I was really trying to do was come up with a new adult fitness class at the dance studio. Over the past two years, I have learned so much more about strength work and the benefits of barbell training. My philosophy is simple: Get strong. This is how I want to train and why I believe women should train this way too. While I know that I could reach more women if I offered this type of class, I do not want to compromise my beliefs when it comes to strength training. In my opinion, women need less of these classes and more good all fashioned basic strength work. They need to build muscle, not “elongate” it. They need to learn how to use their bodies efficiently by carrying weight, dragging weight, picking up weight, not worrying about developing “long, lean muscles.”

      I really wish people would actually READ posts and not just see one or two words and decide they need to comment. I changed my mind. That’s it. And I am better for it and so are my clients.

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  17. Jan says:

    What I appreciate about basic training work—the squatting, pushing, pulling, lifting, reaching, stepping—is the functional value. At the same time that my body becomes stronger, my capacity to DO is remarkably enhanced. To me there is a difference in the barre attitude of “looking lovely and lean”, and the strength attitude of generating physical confidence in a strong body. I want to be strong and functionally confident. This focus offers me a way to lean in and own my life in a way that is just different from wanting a merely physical outcome.

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