02/15/2011 02:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Review of 3 Top Barre Workouts

At the beginning of January, I decided to try barre-based workouts on DVD. The main reason for this is that I loathe how crowded the gym is at the beginning of the year when New Year's resolutions prompt people to work out more. (Good on everyone, but it's annoyingly crowded in my Zumba class and painful to "work in" at the tricep pull-down machine.) And maybe these DVDs will offer an extra dose of motivation to get us through the chocolate-laden Valentine's season and ready for looming spring break trips. So, off to the barre for me -- in my own living room, as opposed to the type of bar I typically prefer.

Barre workouts utilize the ballet barre as a prop (but at-home users can work with a sturdy chair). The workouts are an isometric strength training method, using your own body weight as resistance, and stretching between segments, utilizing techniques from Pilates, yoga, and ballet. The goal is to create long, lean muscles and a toned bod. (Kelly Ripa, Drew Barrymore and Olivia Wilde are fans.)

The three barre workouts I'd heard the most about are Bar Method, Barre3 and Physique 57. I started with the Bar Method's latest DVD, "Dancer's Body Advanced Workout" (there are seven total), then moved on to Barre3's "Total Body Lift Workout" and finally tried Physique 57's "Classic 57 Minute Full Body Workout -- Second Edition."

Here's what I loved and didn't about each:

"Bar Method Dancer's Body Advanced Workout"

Loved: Marnie Alton, who I found positive and upbeat without being overwhelming, leads the workout, clearly and carefully explaining each move. Our 85 minutes are spent working arms with three-pound free weights, push-ups, planks, and tricep dips. After stretching the arms, it's time for the intense leg-shaking lower-body work. (Even the background exercises on the DVD shake during this section, which is when you know you're really working those muscles.)

There are two exercises targeting the seat (in Bar Method, the toosh is called "seat"), then another set of burning thigh work (a move they call water ski), and then some ab work that had my six-pack-in-the-making quivering. Each section is followed by stretching, which will undoubtedly help with my flexibility (one of my fitness goals). I like the Bar Method's emphasis on safety and alignment, which makes it a good choice for people with any joint issues. Despite the fact that you curse Marine and the others who smile at you, through your pain as you tuck tuck tuck, I felt great after and am looking forward to doing this workout again.

Didn't Love: The seat work is complicated, and my lower back hurt a bit after the workout, I suspect because I wasn't doing the positions quite right. I can see how this workout could get a little boring if done too often; other than the weights and barre, the workout doesn't include props like a playground ball, like the other DVDs I sampled. I hear Bar Method will release another DVD this year which incorporates the playground ball, so perhaps this will be a positive change.

$20 at

"Barre3 Total Body Lift Workout"

Loved: Not only is the Barre3 founder, Sadie Lincoln, from my hometown, she is absolutely adorable and fun to follow on the DVD. At 40 minutes, this workout was the shortest of the three, making it a great option for when you're short on time or for when you want to mix in a solid cardio routine with some barre work. As with the other DVDs, you can use a chair in place of the barre, but unlike the other DVDs, Sadie also uses a chair in the workout, like most of us at home. She also uses a ball with the ab work. The routine is graceful and peaceful, and I felt fluid (like Vinyasa yoga, for instance). The fact that the DVD comes with the ball used in the workout, which can easily be inflated and deflated for travel, is an added bonus.

Didn't Love: While I adore Sadie, she is the only performer; I missed the visual interest of watching others, and the options shown by the "modified" performer in the other DVDs. While the 40 minutes is a great option for days when you're short on time, it felt a bit easier than the hour-long workouts. (If you have a Barre3 studio where you live, the classes are hour-long.)

$19.99 with FitBall at

"Physique 57 Classic 57 Minute Full Body Workout - Second Edition"

Loved: This workout, designed by Tanya Becker, was created from the same origins as Bar Method (both stemmed from The Lotte Berk Method). The similarities between the two workouts were noticeable, although Physique 57 is Bar Method on crack. The format of the routine is similar to Bar Method insofar as each weight interval is followed by stretching, and you begin with arm weights, but you use eight-pound weights instead of three, then push-ups, tricep dips, legs, seat, and then abs, but Physique 57 incorporates a greater variety of movements, and the use of a playground ball.

Physique 57 also includes a number of combination movements where you squat while lifting weights, or move your legs during the plank. While the workout can be done on a chair, none of the performers use a chair, all have a portable ballet barre. I was thankful for Kim, the "beginning" performer, to offer modifications for me at when needed. (I recommend newbies like me follow her until we've mastered the fast-pace advanced moves.) I also liked Tanya's motivating reminders about getting rid of our muffin tops, preventing cankles and picturing ourselves in our swimsuits, confidently walking away from our towels.

Didn't Love: This workout can be intimidating; it is so challenging that it is a hard one to motivate yourself to do on days when you're tired. It also moves so quickly that I wasn't as confident that I was doing the moves up correctly, particularly during the ab section. I felt my hip flexors ache, and I know that's not right.

$24.95 at

After a month of doing these DVDs four times per week, I've seen a difference in the streamlining of my thighs and hips especially. I mix in some cardio on other days and some Pilates and yoga as well. And now that the crowds at the gym are thinning out, I'll be subsidizing the gym with these DVDs.