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The Strength-Boosting Barre Workout That Makes Your Muscles Quiver

  • Suzanne Bowen

    Warm Up

    Turn on your favorite playlist and briskly step up and down on your platform (stair or fitness step). Keep moving for two songs (about 6 to 7 minutes).

  • Suzanne Bowen

    Lunge on Relevé with Lateral Raise

    Holding weights in hands, place right foot in the center of your step. Step left leg back and behind you a comfortable distance. (This distance will depend on your lower-body flexibility). Raise right heel up.

    Bend both knees down as you raise arms out laterally (or, to side) at shoulder height. Do this 10 times. Change legs. Repeat.

    Make it easier: Lower right heel, or drop off the right weight and hold on to something stable. Only move left arm up and down as you lunge.

    Make it harder: Increase weight in the arms, lower down a bit more in the legs, and increase to 15 each side. Hold the last rep of each side for 10 seconds.

    Works: Quads, adductors (inner thighs), calves, middle deltoids (shoulders)

    As you lower down, your left hip flexors and quads get an incredible stretch, as well as the hamstrings of the right. If you feel like you have to pitch your upper body forward, this may indicate that you need this stretch. You could either move without the step (which will decrease the stretch by decreasing the range of motion) or you could not move as deeply down into the lunge in order to keep your body upright.

  • Suzanne Bowen

    Wide Second Position Plié with Hammer Curls

    Bring legs into a turned-out position from the hips and step out wide. Make sure your thighbones (or femurs) are pointing in the same direction as your feet. Holding weights in front of your hips, face your palms toward each other and lift the arms off the thighs an inch.

    Bend knees so that they stay just above the heels at the lowest point. Keeping your spine neutral (or untucked), curl the arms all the way up toward the front of your shoulders. Do this 20 times in a slow, controlled full range of motion.

    Make it easier: Have something to hold on to and only do 10 reps with right arm. Then turn around and do 10 reps with the other arm.

    Make it harder: For arms, raise the upper arms a bit and curl the arms up and down within that elevated place. (Weight will feel heavier.) For legs, only come up half way before lowering again.

    Works: Quads, adductors, glutes, biceps, and anterior deltoids (or front of the shoulders)

    Consider the dynamic stretch of the adductors (or inner thighs) and hamstrings (back thighs) in this exercise as you lower down. If you feel like you just cannot get any lower, it could be a sign that your adductors and/or hamstrings are a bit tight. Reduce your range of motion just to a point where you feel the stretch and still get a great "burn."

  • Reverse Lunge on Step with Front Shoulder Raise

    Walk in front of the step about 2 feet. Place left leg behind on the step. Make sure that the legs are both pointing forward and hips distance and parallel. Arms are down to the side with palms in.

    Bend both knees, keeping the front knee traveling no farther forward than the mid-foot. As you lower legs down, raise straight arms up and in line with the shoulders. Stand back up and lower arms. Do this slow and controlled for 10 times on each leg.

    Make it easier: Adding the step in the back makes this exercise harder because you must have some mobility in the legs. You could do this without the step a few times. Once you master that, add the step back in. You could also hold on to something with left arm (when the left leg is forward) and only move the right arm up and down to help your balance.

    Make it harder: Increase your range of motion by keeping the right knee just above the heel as you lower down. Also, increase your reps per side to 15.

    Works: Quads, hamstrings, adductors, anterior deltoids (front shoulder)

  • Hamstring Hinge with Triceps Raise

    Stand 12 to 18 inches behind the step, facing it. Bring right leg up and forward so that it rests on the step. Keep right leg straight and arms down by the sides with palms facing in.

    Hinge entire torso from the pelvis over the right leg and step as you raise your arms straight back and up, really feeling the burn in the hamstrings (or back) of both legs and in the triceps (or back of both arms). Use your breath here since this is a pretty intense exercise. Do this 10 times per side.

    Make it easier: You can bend the front knee to make this exercise easier. You can also hold on to something with the left hand and only hinge and lift the right straight arm back and behind you.

    Make it harder: Add 5 more reps to this exercise and, at the end, hold the low position and pulse the arms up 10 times.

    Works: Hamstrings, hip flexors, lower-back muscles including erector spinae, triceps, and posterior deltoids (or back shoulders)

    Flexibility of the back of the legs (hamstrings) is an issue here. If you are tight in the back of the legs, you might be tempted to round the lower back and move from there. Listen to your body: Once you feel the start of an intense stretch, you want to stop lowering down and raise the arms behind you. If you stopped way before you can lift your arms to feel the backs of them, then bend the front knee. You will still get a great stretch for the hamstrings. You can work up to the full straight-leg position.

  • Elevated T Stand Reaches

    Hold a weight in the right (or top) hand. Place left hand on the step with thumb facing forward and step out so that the body is in one long plank with top leg in front of back leg. Raise the right arm up straight. (The bottom arm will look like it is on a diagonal. But if you were to stand up, it would be in line with shoulder. This is an optimal positioning for the right shoulder joint.)

    Inhale and reach top arm underneath torso as you lift hips up and forward a bit. Exhale, lift back up to the start. Do this 10 times. Change sides.

    Make it easier: Instead of reaching underneath, just hold for a few breaths while your upper body gets strong. Repeat on the other side.

    Make it harder: Lose the step (or elevation), because when you are more parallel to the floor, the exercise intensity revs up! If you're really strong, try stacking the legs on top of each other (but meet in the middle because you don't want your legs behind you).

    Works: Lats, obliques, shoulders, glutes, abductors (outer thighs) and adductors

    Consider your form here. If this is hard, use a mirror to check where your body is. You must have some upper-body strength to hold this position.

  • Plank Push-Up

    With hands just a tiny bit outside the shoulders and fingers facing forward so your arms are in a neutral shoulder position, step feet back so that legs are straight and body is in one long plank or "board" position. Tuck toes under.

    Inhale and lower down with elbows reasonably close to ribcage. Exhale and raise back up. Do this up to 10 times.

    Make it easier: Bend down and up an inch or a couple of inches as you work up your strength.

    Make it harder: Lose the step since the elevation makes this exercise easier. Also move in a full range of motion.

    Works: Pecs, anterior delts, core muscles (transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, traps, and diaphragm

    Consider form here. Is your head hanging or your lower back sagging? Listen to your body and reduce the level of difficulty until you can perform the moves well. Then and only then should you progress. You want your muscles to get strong and keep your body safe.

  • Elevated Knee-Ins

    From the last rep of the push-ups, hold at the top. Catch your breath and rest if you need to. Inhale.

    With legs parallel and hip-width apart, draw front leg in and toward front shoulder on the exhale. Inhale, step it back. Repeat this 10 times. Change sides.

    Make it easier: Instead of drawing leg in, simply lower front knee down and up on the breaths.

    Make it harder: Lose the step and do this on the floor. Feel the difference.

    Works: Pecs, deltoids, abs (transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques), hip flexors, erector spinae, and diaphragm

    Consider your form. If you feel like you are sagging anywhere, elevate the position and modify.

  • Elevated Bridge with Chest Raise

    Have your weights in your hands and bring arms out to the side on like a "T" position. Lie upright on your mat, bring legs onto the step with legs hip-width apart and parallel. Raise hips up so that your weight is distributed along the upper back, and not the neck, and so that there is one long line from shoulders to knees.

    Lower hips to just above the mat as you raise arms up just above the shoulders. Repeat this move slowly and with control 10 times. At the end, keep hips lifted for a 10-count hold. Then repeat.

    Make it easier: You can try removing the step from this exercise, although the elevation with the step sometimes helps bridges. Only move 10 times and skip the second round.

    Make it harder: For the first 10, elevate the back shin, keeping the thighs parallel. Then for second 10, change sides. This will take this move to a whole new level!

    Works: Hamstrings, glutes, lower Back (erector spinae, mainly), pecs, and anterior delts

    Many people like to hyperextend the lower back by lifting up onto their necks. Instead, keep the upper body broad, so the work stays in the quads and hamstrings and out of the lower back.

  • Hip Stretch

    Lying faceup (otherwise known as supine), cross left leg on top of the right and draw bent knees in toward chest. Hold this stretch and breath a few deep breaths. Change sides.

  • Chest Opener

    Sitting on your mat, cross your legs. Externally rotate your arms back and behind you. Lift chest up and feel the front torso and arms opening. Hold for a few deep breaths.

  • Triceps Stretch

    Sit up tall and reach your right arm behind the head, walking the fingertips down the spine. Gently use left hand to encourage a deeper stretch of the back of the right arm. Hold a couple deep breaths. Change sides.