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Smart Barre gives women seeking improved strength, tone a leg up

Smart Barre gives women seeking improved strength, tone a leg up

09/09/2011 5:51 PM

09/09/2011 5:51 PM

Bored with your exercise routine?

Try hitting the new barre on the bricks.

Smart Barre studio offers low-impact, high-intensity classes that are a combination of ballet, Pilates and yoga.

The experience is kind of like working with a personal trainer: A lean, strong, motivating instructor leads you beyond what you think you can do, and you surprise yourself. And although you are in a class with up to 17 other women, the instruction is clear and the attention is individualized, so it feels like a one-on-one.

Created by Allison Poston, Smart Barre is the culmination of time spent working out in barre classes and applying this method to her ballet foundation. Poston was classically trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts and spent summers dancing with several prestigious schools before graduating from Texas Christian University. Her personal commitment to Smart Barre comes from the straightening and strengthening of her own back, after experiencing five childhood years in a brace.

The good news is you don't have to have a ballet background to do Smart Barre. The barre is used for balance, positioning and stretching. Instructors have you stand in correct form before doing the exercises to prevent injury and to receive maximum benefits. And don't be surprised if they reposition you when your form is off. That's a good thing!

A typical class consists of interval training for each muscle group. The only equipment that you will use, in addition to the barre, is a set of 2-pound and 3-pound weights, a small ball and a strap for the last stretch. Interval training means your muscles will be fatigued, followed by good stretching before you move on. And I mean fatigued, but in a good way. You'll become familiar with phrases like "Those thighs are probably firing up now" and "Use the music!"

Classes start with arm toning, working with weights on biceps and triceps. Your instructor will remind you to keep your shoulder down and not let it rise up by your ear. As you work, your arms may feel (as mine do) as though they are about to fall off, but remind yourself that good stretches are coming,

When you are at the barre and beginning the legwork portion, feet go into a "smart V" -- heels together and toes turned out. While maintaining correct form (this works your core!), you plié down and up for an interval. You then return to "smart V" plié but up on your toes, heels pushing together for balance. You do an interval or two in this stance. If you're like me, you'll be wondering if you are "about done" here -- you'll feel it!

After this you might do a series of on-toe knee-outs where you are in the "smart V" plié on the toes, and knees go in and out. Usually by now, you've heard one of those phrases about how your muscles are firing up. But by this point in my workout, I also feel like I'm in a good zone, feeling good and focusing on something in front of me, counting through the music or just hoping I can walk when class is over. Next, your instructor may have you step into a wide second position and do another interval -- or you may hear those wonderful words: "Let's stretch those legs out."

To stretch, you face the barre and cross one leg over in a No. 4 position. It hurts and feels good at the same time.

These leg killers are where I saw the greatest improvement initially. After just one or two months of Smart Barre before a spring-break ski trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could ski longer and do harder slopes because my legs were so much stronger. Plus, I could see muscle definition.

A confession: When I first started going to Smart Barre, I was kind of intimidated by the barre. I have never been that limber and worried about being able to raise my leg up to the barre. The good news is, I can now lift and place my leg less noisily and with better balance. While my face has yet to touch my outstretched leg, I think it might be getting a bit closer.

That would be a great way to surprise myself.

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