What is the Ideal Exercise?

I get asked this question all of the time…

My answer is, “barre, obviously…” No, but in all seriousness, I do feel that the type of barre classes I teach do come pretty close to hitting the three key components of fitness that I believe are necessary to being fit and healthy. The goal is also to keep people healthy in order to complete every day activities: Cardiovascular health, resistance training and flexibility.
How you combine these three components may vary depending on your health and fitness goals, the time you have, and the intensity at which you workout. So after being asked this question “what is the best workout,” I decided to do more research to support my answer that barre comes pretty close.
We all are always looking to find the “perfect workout” that helps us reach our goals as fast as possible. It is important in this quest that we think about how we can be exercising as “smartly” and effectively as possible, as well as staying in that balance between over-exercising and what is good for our bodies. For example, for runners, a recent finding published in an article in the Journal of Physiology showed that just three 30 minute sessions of SIT (spring interval training) were as effective as five hours worth of steady-state exercise. That is a huge time saver! However, the study also shows that doing too much SIT and too intensely, becoming over demanding on your body, can actually slow your progress. So finding the balance is key, and determining that balance can take some time – which requires the ability to pay attention to your body. My gauge for myself, is post workout. I want to feel challenged, but still energized and not depleted, and eventually want to see results (sooner rather than later). If you have a workout that you love, but seems to wipe you out, look for ways to cut down the intensity and duration, or reduce the number of times per week you do it.

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Now getting back to the barre and why it’s a great full body workout that checks off my three boxes: Cardiovascular workouts, resistance and strength training, as well as flexibility. It is the combination of these focus areas that really make barre so effective and why so many of my students have seen such big transformations.
Cardio: Cardiovascular fitness is really defined as any activity that increases your heart rate. Do you get in a cardio workout in class? Yes! Think thigh work. Bring your mind to the end of the third set and you will know, oh yes, my heart has been pumping. The intensity at which you complete this is very individual (another thing to love about barre). If you are pushing yourself harder each class, you are going to feel that increase in heart rate. We are also bringing our heart rate up during our warms-ups, planks, push-ups, seat work and back dancing. And, as a Spokersperson for the American Stroke Association, I am also a huge fan of getting the heart pumping because it helps keep your heart healthy and reduces your risk of developing certain types of cardiovascular diseases.
Strength and Resistance Training: Big yes! If you have taken my class you know it doesn’t take a lot of heavy weights to really work and sculpt your arm muscles. Think of how heavy 2 or 3 pound weights start to feel after 3-5 minutes of targeted arm work. Or our tricep-dips that never seem to get easier and effectively tone the back of the arms. I use resistance bands and ones own body weight throughout my classes to add in strength and resistance training. The barre has long been known for improving muscle tone and increasing lean muscles. Lean muscle helps keep our metabolism going strong. Individuals with more lean muscles have a higher resting metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories. And that’s always a great thing!
Flexibility: There is a lot of stretching in my barre classes. Stretching not only feels good but also is important for reducing risk of injury, for joint health and to maintain the ability to move through your joints’ full range of motion. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, flexibility is critical for improving overall performance and reducing your risk of injury while doing any activity, from strenuous (lifting a heavy box), to the mundane (bending down to tie your shoe). I also think stretching and maintaining your body’s flexibility keeps you feeling and looking youthful.
According to the American Council on Exercise, staying limber alleviates stress, improves your coordination and balance, and can protect you from postural issues, particularly if you are already only doing cardio and resistance training exercises. There are so many important reasons and benefits to stretching. And it is important to point out because stretching often gets less attention when we are focusing on our fitness goals. If you have been taking my class you know that I use the method of strengthen, then stretch. We work a muscle group and then we stretch it right after. And for all the above reasons, I often advise my students to focus as much attention on the stretching portion of class as the strengthening.

There is one more important factor not listed above, and it’s the “happiness” factor. One thing that seems to top all the reasons one chooses one particular workout over another is because you love it and it makes you feel great. The reasons a person loves one workout over another can vary greatly and maybe hits other “check boxes” that are important for them personally: being in a group, learning a new skill, rehabilitating a particular injury, etc. So, if it’s not barre you love, no worries. You can find many ways to incorporate the cardiovascular training, strength training and stretching into your fitness routine. And if you do love my “ideal workout,” then great, I will see you at the barre!

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