Information & insights for graceful living.
Barre Essentials for Healthy, Happy KneesMarch 15, 2017
One of the biggest problems with barre workouts is knee pain. Not only does this over-hyped fitness fad often masquerade as a “ballerina” workout when it has nothing to do with real ballet technique, but many barre classes include movements that pay zero attention to form. Many women come to me for help after injuries from doing popular barre or “ballet-inspired” workouts. After taking a few barre classes to see what all the hype is about I can say firsthand, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing!”
While barre workouts promise a “dancer” or “ballerina” body, many of those sculpting micromovements rely on body positions that are extremely stressful on the knees. Few barre instructors are knowledgeable about the principles of alignment that maximize the effects of the exercises while also keeping your joints safe.
Ballet technique, on the other hand, teaches proper alignment and use of the knees. And if there is one joint you really want to protect and preserve, it’s your knees!
Here are balletic principles you can use to keep your knees safe during any workout:
- Use your core every time you bend the knees. Hugging in the abdominals as you bend and straighten the legs supports the weight of your torso and helps maintain good posture as you move, which is critical to taking stress off the knees.
- Always bend your knees over your toes. Aligning knees over toes keeps the hip and ankle joints functioning optimally, prevents pronation (where the knees and arches of the feet collapse inward), and greatly reduces the chance of strain on the joints.
- Avoid bending the knees on raised heels for long periods of time. This is my ballerina pet peeve–Barre workouts often have people bending the knees with raised heels and then holding or pulsing in this position. This is extremely detrimental when done excessively, especially when executed improperly! I’ve done these movements in barre classes, and even as a professional ballerina, it’s not something I can responsibly execute. While holding bent knees with raised heels will definitely engage the quads and make you “feel the burn”, it puts tremendous stress on the front of the knee. The consequence over time is often patellar tendonitis and chronic knee pain.
In ballet, although we move through bending and straightening the knees on raised heels, we never hold this position (especially not on one leg) for more than a second or two. For anyone who does not have dance training or significant understanding of anatomy and kinesiology, it’s just downright dangerous! Without proper form and the strength to maintain it, many people compensate by grabbing up in other muscles, especially the back and hips. It’s far healthier for your knees and overall fitness to lower the heels and do these movements with the full foot on the floor.
- The most effective way to protect your knees in any circumstance:
- Drop your heels to the ground.
- Keep knees over toes.
- Hug in your core.
- Maintain a long, straight spine (even if the spine is tilted forward).
You may not feel the same amount of burn in your quads, but that’s okay! A true dancer’s body focuses much more on tone and strength at the backs of the legs to create that lengthened, streamlined look. The above principles engage core, hamstrings, and quads to create more balanced muscle development AND you won’t be putting your knees at risk!
Of course, the way to get that coveted “ballerina body” is to do the real deal–BALLET! Don’t settle for imitations, hacks, and wanna-be workouts! Ballet technique is the original, the authentic, and still the very best barre regime!
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