Barre and Ballet Workouts: Get a Leg Up on Fitness

Using a combination of ballet moves, weight training, stretching, and isometric body-weight exercises, barre/ballet workouts kick you into ballerina shape. It's not just for dancers, though. This workout may be the toughest one you've ever done in a leotard.

Three popular barre exercise methods are being taught in studios and on DVD all over the world. They all stem from The Lotte Berk Method total body workout. Developed by the late dancer Lotte Berk, this combination of strength-training, dance, back exercises, and Hatha yoga (choreographed to fast-paced, pulse-pumping music) provides an intense, hour-long (or longer) mind-body workout.

Newer methods like The Bar Method, Physique 57, and barre 3 all offer varying intensities on Berk's basics by adding hand weights and/or exercise balls.

Don't worry if you don't have a barre studio nearby or a barre in your own home. A sturdy chair in your living room, some hand weights, (three or eight-pounds, depending on which method you choose) and an exercise ball are all you need.

Each workout includes upper body/arm exercises using hand weights interspersed with stretching exercises.

The Bar Method uses three-pound hand weights while Physique 57 uses eight-pounders. Next, they focus on lower body/leg exercises that mimic those performed by dancers.

This is no lightweight workout. Be prepared to feel your leg, hip, and seat (that's ballet-speak for butt) muscles work harder than they've ever worked before. Then, you'll focus on abdominal exercises.

Physique 57 and barre 3 use an exercise ball for their six-pack workout. You'll finish with a cool-down and leave class feeling long, tall, tired, and toned.

The Bar Method studios have been around since 2000 with franchised studios all over the world. Classes last as long as 85 minutes and provide a solid workout using three-pound weights, push-ups, planks, tricep dips, and more. By focusing on safety and alignment and offering seven different fitness levels, the Bar Method is a good choice for dance or exercise beginners.

Physique 57 (Classic 57-minute workout) uses a wider variety of movements and eight-pound weights. The DVD shows several dancers at various fitness levels, which makes this workout do-able for beginners and non-dancers. Expect to feel the burn at the end of this one-hour workout, but also expect to see sculpted muscles and tight abs with diligent practice. Physique 57 is said to be Kelly Ripa's workout of choice.

Barre 3 is popular with celebrities like Madonna because the challenging workout also focuses on posture and elongation. This 40-minute workout could provide a nice supplement to your cardio workout.