Barre vs. Weight Lifting – Which One Is More Effective For Weight Loss?

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.


does-barre-make-help-you-lose-weight-versus-weight-lifting-ryu-leggings-ripped-tonedThe 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):


Photo credit: From Kayla Itsines “Bikini Body Guide” Transformations


Photo credit: Physique 57 (Barre like workout)

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 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!

XOX Jill

**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!**



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21 thoughts on “Barre vs. Weight Lifting – Which One Is More Effective For Weight Loss?

    • Hey Jessica, first of all WELL DONE for changing up the diet, it’s sure not easy when you’ve got old habits but it makes the world of difference! I wonder which one worked better too – I guess we will never know, definitely don’t want to go back and try it all over again! 😛

    • Carissa, that’s wicked that your body is responding so well to Bikram! It’s really cool to watch your body change as you try new things, which is why I love experimenting with fitness!

  1. Solid post. It’s interesting to read, as you have ACTUALLY tried both methods. I’m currently starting a new fitness plan (Today is literally day one, my office is doing it together) and I’m trying to figure out what will work best for me and provide me with a little more muscle mass. Not sure that I want to be as jacked as the girl in the weight training before/after photo, but I’m also starting off as a lazy bum with little activity in my life and out of shape. I think you’re right about the weight lifting to start, I’ve been considering it and I think going to go with that option, paired with running for cardio. Maybe a little zumba in between. I don’t think I’ll have time to work out 5 days a week, but I’m sure 3 will be a huge improvement as compared to zero, ha!

    Shian | The Fashion Investigator
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    • Hey Shian, first of all – good for you!! That’s hugely commendable that you’re starting NOW. I agree that you will need to see what works best for you, and that really does come with time and consistency. The good thing about that, is no matter what you do at this point you will notice an improvement! So no experimenting will be wasted. I do think that you for you, some weight lifting would be good. The girls who do the BBG (girl in the photo) are doing really high intensity resistance which creates more of a muscle “pump”, so I think you would be safe with a less intense machine circuit following some cardio! Let me know how it goes 🙂

  2. This is so researched, girl! I haven’t done much barre work, but I know that it’s super popular. I really like cardio and weights. For me it’s what makes me feel the best and what I feel like works for my body, but it’s all a preference, right? I agree that if you want calories out and you’re working out for weight loss, you can’t beat cardio, resistance, and a clean diet. Great post!
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    • Thanks Erin! I’m so glad you liked the post! I totally agree – that type of workout has always been what gives me killer results. The cardio part is a definite must, and there are lots of great ways to pass the time during steady state!

  3. Very well researched and very thoughtful post. I appreciate your perspective on fitness and are that barre is a great way to break up your workout and add some variety, but doing it along won’t necessary produce the results of a HIIT program. What other types of workouts do you do for your cardio? I am highly addicted to body pump, kickboxing, and spin. I can’t seem to get into yoga, pilates, etc because I just love the intensity of a good workout.

    xo Annie |
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    • Hi Annie! I’m glad you feel the same way! For cardio, I actually love the Cybex ellitpical trainer in the gym. It’s got more of a cross country skiiing-like motion to it and forces you to have correct form. For steady state, I’ve learned to read my iPad while I do it or a magazine. Or even update Instagram! For interval cardio, I usually do 15 mins of 30 seconds of 9mph and 45 seconds of 4.5 mph on the treadmill, then 15 at a relaxed pace on the elliptical or bike. I LOVE kickboxing too, but haven’t found any great classes in for it in SF!

      • The elliptical is great for just chillin with a magazine or your phone, I love that you can multitask on it! Question – when you were mainly focused on more intense workouts, was it because you were trying to lose weight and now you are in maintenance mode? Or did you change up your workouts because you wanted to try something new?
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        • Hey Annie! When I decided to focus on really intense workouts, it was after about a year of being in NYC and slacking a little on my resistance training. I’d lost some muscle and wanted to experiment with getting a more “ripped” look. I have been pretty active all my life and always have had a great level of fitness, so most things I try are just to experiment 🙂

    • Hey Jenessa!! I am SO happy to hear that! It’s music to my ears! Haha, since I’ve been playing around with my fitness routine I do miss my heavy lifting sessions, but I still do them once in a while at a more relaxed pace 😛

  4. GIrl I love the detail here.

    I am always blown away by the girls that only do barre to workout. I feel like I eat too much to be doing that!

    I’m a huge fan of weight training. I know it’s sort of weird, but it’s been the true thing that makes change or definition in my body. For sure cardio helps to lose weight and burn calories, but to actually sculpt and build muscle so my metabolism is running at a much higher rate when I’m not working out – weight training is where it’s at.

    I’m curious what workouts you did in NYC girl?!

    Love this – thank you!

    • Hey Krista! I definitely don’t think it’s weird to love weight training, I think most people are so blown away at the results once they try it that they get addicted! You definitely need a little of both. When I was in NYC I had a membership at Equinox, but spent most of my first year kind of half-assing it at cardio and weights. I had a muscle base then so it was enough not to lose it, but I was definitely not ripped. I started amping up the training around Jan’14 and mixing in interval cardio on the elliptical with the occasional spin class, TRX, pull ups/dips and free weights, plus abs in between sets to add that “HIIT” element to my resistance training! High intensity indeed.

  5. Love this post so much! I’m a fan of barre classes but like you, I think a mix of cardio and resistance training is key. I love it as it balances out my running and plyometric type workouts. 🙂
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  6. Hey Jill,
    Nice post.:)
    I was just looking for best tips for weight management and so lucky to found your blog. The tips you mentioned are great. But, some experts say that the kind of workout you choose should effect in good way. If it shows bad signs or causes bad effects on your body then you should immediately stop working on that particular workout regimen.

    I have never tried out Barre but after reading the success story I’ll definitely try it out.

    • Thanks for stopping by Tracy, I’m so glad you find my tips helpful. I totally agree, exercise should be challenging and push you to grow, but never cause injuries or unwanted effects.

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