Turn up the heat at the barre

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Want a lean, toned dancer body? Step up to the warm barre.

I remember doing my usual hot yoga class, and the instructor saying, “if you’re in the back row, watch out for the bar!”

Wtf? There’s a bar against the wall now? No wait – it’s not a bar…it’s a barre! And the dancer inside of me leaped for joy. That’s when I discovered that Hot Yoga on Crowfoot (and its sister studio, Hot Yoga on 17th) was now offering warm barre class – which is barre class in a hot yoga studio!

Even if you’ve never danced before, you’ve probably seen the bar connected to the wall of a dance studio. This is known as the barre (spelled in French), which originated from ballet, since part of a ballet dancer’s training involves doing exercises while holding onto the barre for balance. Barre class evolved from this practice and has now become a huge fitness phenomenon, combining ballet-inspired moves with weights and core conditioning, all set to fun, motivational beats.

When I discovered you could do barre AND combine elements of hot yoga, I was super stoked. So I grabbed my yoga mat and towel, and reserved my spot at Hot Yoga on Crowfoot’s barre. That’s when I met Hayley Zokol, one of the warm barre and spin instructors at the studio.

Myself and one of Hot Yoga on Crowfoot's barre instructors, Hayley Zokol.

“I love teaching warm barre because it’s so amazing to see people really dedicate themselves and sweat through it – you can see the determination in their eyes,” explains Zokol. “When everyone is hanging onto the barre and their legs are shaking, you can feel the energy grow throughout the room. Your energy spreads to the next person and then the next person after that, so it feels like everyone is working together.”

Helping people raise their barre

Caring for others and helping people strive to be their best has played a major role in Zokol’s life. Originally from White Rock, B.C, Zokol moved to Calgary a few years ago to obtain her Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Calgary. After graduation, Zokol worked as a social worker for the YMCA’s Mary Dover House, helping women in need. Along the way, she also volunteered in Cambodia, helping locals with renovation projects in schools and throughout the community.

However, Zokol’s passions for health and wellness kept calling her name, and eventually, she decided to pursue these passions full-time. It’s not a surprise that Zokol transitioned into teaching barre. Growing up, she was a competitive dancer in jazz, ballet and contemporary. When Hot Yoga on Crowfoot announced it would add warm barre to its offerings, Zokol knew she had to jump towards the opportunity of joining the teaching team.

“Our head barre instructor Shaima Ibrahim trained us and we created our own warm barre series for Hot Yoga on Crowfoot and 17th,” says Zokol. “I love teaching and doing spin and barre – it’s a good combination. You get the cardio aspect of spin as well as the muscle toning and definition with barre. Both disciplines complement each other well.”

What’s Zokol’s favourite warm barre exercise?

“My favourite part of warm barre is the sideline series. I think it’s the most challenging. You’re lifting one leg and doing side crunches with your upper body, which forces you to use so many different muscle groups,” explains Zokol. “You’re using your abdominals and glutes, and at the same time you have to point your toes and turn your knee out – it’s all grasped in one position. It’s at a point in the class were you feel ‘ugh, I just gotta get through this’, and it forces you to push your limits and boundaries.”

Who is warm barre for?

Do you want to have long, lean muscles and a kick-ass, sexy dancer body? If you answered yes, come spend some time at the warm barre. Personally speaking, I’m always sore the next day after taking class – which is a good thing, because I feel like I get an awesome full body work out each time.

Warm barre class strengthens your legs, feet, arms and core while you sweat out your toxins (aka last night’s red wine). The exercises are challenging as is – lifting your leg up or doing a deep squat and pulsing up and down it for what seems like forever, is challenging for anybody. Add in the sweat factor from being in a heated room, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a work out. Just as in hot yoga, sweating out toxins can help you achieve that sexy, healthy, radiant complexion.

Come on fellas

When I walked into warm barre class for the first time, I was the only guy in a room full of women. Wearing my usual hot yoga attire, which only consists of little swim shorts, I felt a little scandalous doing my squats and lunges among a sea of estrogen. But I realized there was no need to feel self-conscious – warm barre is the place to be for anyone who wants to become lean and defined.

“Warm barre is building strength, just like any other way you would build strength. You don’t need any dance or pilates experience and I feel there’s a misconception about this,” notes Zokol. “I think guys should definitely come and try it. It’s a great way to tone and define your lower body. Who wouldn’t want that, right?”

My personal thoughts as a guy? Obviously barre is a female-dominated activity right now; however, just like other activities that started out with primarily female participants, such as hot yoga and spin, I predict guys will gradually trickle into barre as time goes by – it’s inevitable. Barre is incredible for shaping and defining your entire body – and just like hot yoga, it’s pretty damn awesome working out and sweating with the freedom of getting to just wear little shorts (only guys are allowed to do this, obviously; sorry ladies!).

Low impact, but effective

Another element that I love about warm barre is that it’s low impact. I’ve tried a lot of different types of fitness routines that involved hardcore jumps, and squats and lunges with weights. If that’s your type of thing, then go for it.

But after a series of injuries and many physiotherapy sessions, I’m more about finding effective fitness routines while saving my body these days, and warm barre is doing the trick. Plus, if I’m having a busy week and don’t have time for both barre and yoga, doing warm barre still allows me to flush out my toxins, as I would if I had done hot yoga.

So, grab your hot yoga gear and make your way to a warm barre class. Besides, who doesn’t like to work it at the barre every now and then?