So many women are afraid that traditional weight lifting will cause them to bulk, so they turn to Pilates or Barre as an alternative to lose weight or stay in shape. This past January after almost a year of high intensity resistance training and interval cardio, I decided to switch up my fitness routine for a more gentle, low maintenance approach. I traded free weights for Barre exercises and low impact mat work (a few of my favorite workouts here and here). Rather than HIIT cardio, I did longer, steady state sessions. I was curious as to how it would change my physique, and a whether it would provide insight into whether weightlifting causes bulk.
The results were very interesting. I noticed that I lost some muscle and looked slightly less ripped or “jacked”. The trade-off is that my new routine is much lower maintenance and I can replace some gym cardio with long walks. I can also do it from home, which is a huge sell!
If you Google “barre before and after” and compare it to “Bikini Body Guide before and after” you will see very different results. The Bikini Body Guide is a high intensity resistance and cardio routine created by a personal trainer, and is similar to the type of workouts I was doing before. Of course, anyone could have uploaded these before and after pictures, but I think the photos below are a good indication of the type results that you can achieve with high intensity resistance training versus barre (though every person will be different):
What is “toned”?
Toned is the appearance of muscle through the overlying layer of fat. Fat is calories, 3,500 to be exact. To lose fat, you need to maintain a sustainable calorie deficit and there is no more effective way to do that than through cardio and reasonable calorie restriction through proper diet. Everyone has their own perception of what toned looks like, and ability to achieve it differs for everyone.
What exercise burns the most calories?
If you’ve read the post where I tested the (supposed) most accurate fitness tracker on the market, you’ll know that calorie burn is different to each individual based on body composition, age, etc. However, it’s fairly undisputed that to maximize that burn you need to have some cardio in your life, at least a few days a week.
I wasn’t able to find any scientific studies on the calorie burn of Barre class, but I did find a great article from Glamour.com where several magazine editors wore Jawbone’s while testing out various classes including Bar Method, weights with a personal trainer, and hard core cardio (spin/SoulCycle). The calorie burn of the Bar Method class and weight lifting for an hour (slowly however) were about on par at around 270, and nothing came close to the calorie burn of the high intensity spin class, which was over 500.
Can Barre build muscle? Will you bulk from lifting weights?
Of course, in order to look toned you have to have shapely underlying muscles. While building more muscle results in a higher resting calorie burn as well, I don’t think anyone should rely on this “afterburn” to burn enough calories for weight loss. Can Barre achieve this?
I didn’t find any studies on Barre and body composition, but I did find a few on Pilates. In my experience, Barre is similar to Pilates in that it uses light or body weight only resistance and focuses on the core. Two studies I found (here and here) that show Pilates is not effective at changing body composition, but the study participants only did it for an hour a week. One study I found did concluded that it increase lean muscle in elderly people.
Based on my personal results and the fact that I only lot some of my muscle mass, I think Barre builds lean muscle but at a slower rate than weight lifting. Many Pilates instructors including those that I have worked with recommend a combination of both Pilates and weight lifting for maximal muscle development for this reason. To build lean muscle and tone up quickly, involving some weight lifting is probably recommended.
So, will barre help you lose weight?
As I mentioned above, according to the Glamour article the Bar Method class burned 272 calories versus 565 burned in spin class. One common misconception among women is that Barre or Pilates classes alone will help them get the sleek physique of a Victoria Secret model. Due to the effect it had on me and based on the fact most people genetically have more body fat than swimsuit models, I think incorporating cardio and weights would be the most effective approach. Barre in conjunction with 45-60 minutes of cardio four to five days a week would also likely be effective. It’s similar to my current routine, and while I don’t look super ripped anymore I’m still strong and haven’t turned to mush.
If I needed to get fit in a short amount of time, or I was starting from scratch with very little to no base muscle mass, I would probably recommend weight training to grow those shapely muscles more quickly. In addition, you can’t beat the calorie burn of cardio and you’ve hear it a million times, but I am living proof that the most important factor is being fit is a correct diet and developing long lasting healthy habits.
Have you noticed changes in your fitness with different routines? What is your favorite routine and why? I would LOVE to hear it!
**I’m not a doctor or a scientist, and all of the above is my own personal opinion based on research and experience, take any advice at your own risk. Thanks!**