The Complete Glossary of Barre Terms and Barre Positions

We’ll admit it: The first time trying a barre class can be, well, confusing. No matter how many ballet classes your parents took you to as a child, previous dance experience won’t actually help you as much as you’d imagine. While barre class uses elements taken from traditional ballet, such as the ballet barre and terms like plie, that’s where their commonalities stop. But once mastered, barre workouts can be an exceptional (and really fun!) way to tone, shape and sculpt your body and build muscle. So don’t let the small weights and even tinier movements fool you. You’re about to feel the burn.

Common Barre terms and positions

But first things first: a little lesson in barre definitions. Keep reading to familiarize yourself with ten of the most basic terms you’ll hear in class. And don’t forget to always ask your instructor IRL if you need help with any of these terms to avoid injury and enjoy a better workout.

Barre Socks: Barre socks keep you from sliding around on the floor and help give you balance on the ballet barre when your legs are lifted off the ground. While socks are required in the majority of barre classes, sticky socks are often preferred. Most studios sell socks but check their website to make sure.

Bend stretch: This term refers to a movement involving the extension of your leg. In barre class, your leg will often be either slightly bent at the knee or fully extended (aka straight). If your instructor tells you to “bend-stretch,” you’ll continuously bend the leg, then straighten it, almost as if you’re kicking something.

Come down more, come up less: Another term you may hear your instructor mention while pulsing during barre class is “come down more, come up less.” This term is meant to challenge you to move down low, but only slightly come up in order to keep your body in a challenging position.

Down an inch, up an inch: The barre workout is an exercise that focuses on small, controlled movements, which is where the popular phrase “up and inch, down and inch” stems from. It’s exactly what it sounds like: When you’re pulsing, you’re going to only move your body down about an inch (no more, no less) and then back up an inch. An inch may not sound like much, but trust us, the smaller movements actually challenge our bodies the most.

First position: You’ll often hear your instructor use this term interchangeably with “heels together, toes apart,” but in ballet-speak, this alignment is known as first position. Your heels should be glued together, with your toes turned out slightly to form a narrow V.

Heavy tailbone: One of the biggest adjustments your barre instructor may tell you to make is to keep a “heavy tailbone.” And if you have no clue what this means, you could be risking injury during class. Sometimes while doing a certain exercise, our seats will move back and our spines will become curved. To protect the spine, instructors will encourage you to pull your core in and straighten your spine so your head and tailbone are aligned. This is known as a heavy tailbone because you are acting like there’s a weight pulling it back down instead of sticking out.

Pressback: Another move often done during thigh work is a “pressback,” where you will press your knees backward in order to engage your inner thighs and glutes.

Pulse: Likely one of the first barre exercises you’ll master is the “pulse” – which means move yourself downwards in small, controlled movements to a beat.

Seat: While you may be used to hearing the terms upper thighs and glutes, in barre, that’s referred to as your “seat.” It quite literally means the area of your body that would touch a seat if you were to sit down.

Second position: Typically during thigh work, your barre instructor may tell you to take a “wide second,” meaning second position. You’ll step your feet out wider than hips distance and place your knees right over your ankles, tracking over your toes.

Tuck: This move will be seen all throughout your barre class, from thigh work to abs. It requires using your abs to push your hips forward, again, often to a beat.

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