Anyone who has ever taken a barre class knows that one of the defining characteristics of the exercise is muscle shaking, particularly in the legs. Whether you're shaking or your neighbor is shaking, you'll undoubtedly notice that borderline-violent trembling that happens in the thighs and calves. So what gives? What's going on down there?
We asked Kiesha Ramey-Presner, VP of teacher development and master instructor at The Bar Method, to explain what's going on in our bodies when we experience that intense muscular shake in certain barre moves. Kiesha has been an athlete her whole life and knows a thing or two about how your body grows and makes healthy changes, so she had a lot to say about the matter.
"First things first," she said, "Not everybody shakes. But it's OK if you do, and it's OK if you don't!" She proceeded to break it down in physiological terms, stating that the shaking begins "deep in the muscle fibers" and is a result of the type of exercises and challenges you'll experience at The Bar Method or another barre studio.
"In most physical activities, your muscles are able to turn on and off as they contract and relax through a cycle of movement," she said. Barre classes (in Kiesha's experience, The Bar Method specifically) challenge your muscles' endurance by "holding sustained contractions for longer periods of time before coming out to change positions or stretch." Basically, you're holding a difficult position for longer than you'd normally hold it in another exercise.
And then, as you'd imagine, your muscles get tired as hell! "This sustained stress causes the muscle to burn through its reserves of fuel to the point of exhaustion. Once that local fuel store is almost depleted, the muscle starts relaxing and contracting at a high rate of speed to conserve the remaining energy and help you remain in positions for the last reps." Read: they're tired, they're more tired, they're exhausted, then they shake. A LOT.
"As with any physical endeavor, your body will adapt to the challenge if you perform these exercises consistently and your muscle endurance will improve, delaying the shake," Kiehsa said. So the better you get at the workout, the stronger your muscles become, and you might shake less or not as early into the move. "But you can always increase the challenge by dropping lower in thigh work, shrinking the range of motion in seat work, or drawing your top leg even closer to the barre in round back." By doing so, you'll "reset the bar [we're assuming the pun was intended] and work through a new threshold of shaking."
Kiesha reminded us that whether you shake or not, "improving your muscle endurance is one of the greatest benefits [of barre]" and "one that carries over into your other athletic pursuits." Looking to improve your running time without adding more running into your schedule? Try barre. "We consistently hear from runners who take class regularly that their race times improve," she said. "Every time you take a class, you're challenging your body to reach a new level of strength and endurance and changing your body positively."