Behind the Barre

Photos by David Turek. 1. At the barre / 2. In a plank, Christa Martin is seen second from the left / 3. Arm exercises.

They say time flies. So does weight gain. Over the last five years I have gained 23 pounds. It was obvious how it happened—no big surprise—I stopped exercising and started eating more. This year I was able to ditch 10 pounds by changing my eating habits. But shedding the remaining 13 pounds requires exercise.

When I heard that a barre studio was opening up in town, I was intrigued. I’d been reading about the exercise phenomenon that’s burgeoning in big cities and is acclaimed by models and actors. In an effort to finally get healthy and start exercising, I talked to Ashley Cramer, owner of The Barre Studio in Capitola, Calif., to learn about the ballet-inspired, resistance training work, and I enrolled to take barre classes. I’ve been going strong for two-and-a-half weeks so far and in early January, I’ll report my findings.

Below is an interview with Cramer about barre and why you just might want to try it out, too.

Why were you drawn to barre?

I call barre curiously addictive. When I took my first barre class, I couldn't wait to go back despite being sore for days. Barre changed the shape of my body over the next few months. I was stronger and thinner than I had been with other workouts, and I looked forward to my barre classes. Exercising wasn’t a chore. I've since become certified to teach multiple barre workout formats. I use my knowledge from those certifications and experience from several years of taking barre classes to create the workouts that we do at The Barre Studio.

Why did you decide to open a barre studio in Santa Cruz?

It was the perfect meeting of interest and opportunity for me. When I moved to Santa Cruz, the closest barre studio was about 25 miles away. I ran and did other forms of fitness training including yoga and group fitness classes, but I missed barre workouts. I started driving over the hill to take barre classes, and I joked that someone should open a barre studio in Santa Cruz so that I didn’t have to drive so far. I got serious about a year ago and created a business plan to open Santa Cruz County's first barre studio. Now, I get to work in a beautiful studio space and share something I love with my community.

What is barre?

Barre is a total-body workout that uses a ballet barre for body-weight resistance and incorporates exercises you'll recognize from sport training, yoga and Pilates. We use small, isometric exercises to fatigue muscles, getting to the point that muscles actually shake. Barre is an anaerobic workout, which means we use high intensity for a short period of time. We balance out strength exercises with focused stretching to improve flexibility and sculpt long, lean muscles.

Why are the fashion and beauty set falling in love with this exercise?

Although the strength and flexibility exercises can benefit both men and women, barre is designed to target women's problem areas and create the body shape that most women want—lean legs, toned arms, flat stomachs, and a trim waist. And, it's especially good at carving out a round, lifted butt.

How long does it take to see results?

Most people see results in their first 10 classes. After just three to five classes, clients typically tell me that they feel stronger, that they notice better posture and their arms and legs feel firmer. In the next few classes, I hear that their stomachs are flatter, butts are rounder and that they're losing pounds. With other workouts, people can become discouraged when it's too hard, too easy or they don't see a change. Barre is not a quick fix, but I believe people come back to barre classes because they can see visible results quickly and incremental improvement with each class.

Why is it so effective?

Barre uses muscles that are often neglected in other forms of strength training, which leads to a greater range of motion and overall strength. It’s cross training for every day activities. Aesthetically, barre workouts target large muscle groups, particularly the glutes and quadriceps, that burn lots of calories and raise overall metabolic rate (also known as "afterburn"). We also focus on the transverse abdominis throughout the class, which is important because a strong transverse abdominis flattens the stomach. Overall, barre can help people to lose weight and inches and is effective at reshaping problem areas.

To learn more about The Barre Studio in Capitola, Calif., visit In early January on The Penny Rose, read about Christa Martin’s results from taking barre classes.