We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

Is Barre or Pilates a Better Workout?

People perform reformer pilates in a studio.

Should you try Barre or Pilates? Ever wonder what the difference is? And which option might be right for your body and fitness goals?

If you’ve never known which workout is right for you but have always been curious about barre and pilates, here’s what you need to know to choose the best workout. 

What Is a Barre Workout?

A Barre workout is a low-impact group fitness class and was originally developed by Lock Burke, a Jewish dancer who survived Nazi Germany. 

Barre uses the foundations of traditional ballet and aims to tone and strengthen your entire body through a series of standing exercises (on a barre) and on a mat. Much of the time, props are used to enhance barre fitness classes such as weights, small inflatable balls, and stretch bands.

Generally, Barre emphasizes the principle of “tucking the tailbone” in a standing posture, towards the front side of your body to activate the hamstrings (the underbelly of your legs) more effectively.

As a fusion of traditional ballet and modern fitness, Barre has become a popular exercise for all ages and body types.

Gymbee Resistance Bands for Working Out

Grab bands for your own barre workout and more!

What Are the Benefits Of a Barre Workout?

A woman does a barre workout with a resistance band.

The amount of exercise that is executed standing from the barre, naturally makes Barre a form of functional fitness, since life happens, much of the time, standing up. The barre itself is there to support the practitioner for exercises that require an element of balance, and to provide a point of leverage or resistance for exercises that rely on the barre for the support of your shoulders and arms (for exercises such as bodyweight push-ups, or push-ups on the barre).

Long-term health benefits of Barre fitness include increasing your cardiovascular endurance and metabolism, which is important for burning calories quickly.

The amount of exercises that happen from a standing posture makes barre (without props) a category of bodyweight exercises, which is known for increasing bone density to prevent long-term conditions such as osteoporosis.

What Is Pilates?

Pilates is another form of low-impact exercise that utilizes bodyweight and breathing techniques to stabilize, lengthen and strengthen every muscle, ligament, and joint in your body when executed with breath and precision. Like Barre, oftentimes it is enhanced by using various props and equipment as well.

Mat and reformer Pilates are the most popular formats of a Pilates class. While mat Pilates conditions the body using no props or small props (stretch bands, small weights, and inflatable balls), reformer Pilates takes place on a large piece of equipment with straps, springs, and a sliding carriage to target and tone specific muscle groups.

Originally, Pilates was developed in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates, a German soldier who invented a unique way of rehabilitating his injured colleagues in the hospital as a result of battle. Joseph Pilates brought this practice back to New York City soon after, where he helped condition and rehabilitate ballerinas and dancers.

In modern society, Pilates can be used as a form of rehabilitation and injury prevention in concert with the recommendations given by a physical therapist. It can also be a very challenging form of exercise to complement other forms of fitness such as running, dancing, biking, lifting weights, and more.

Gaiam Pilates Ring 15 Fitness Circle

Great for toning and sculpting your arms, inner and outer thighs.

What Are the Benefits of Pilates?

A woman uses a pilates magic circle to exercise.

Anyone practicing Pilates on a regular basis can expect to gain muscle tone and strength to promote overall body performance and injury prevention, improved posture, increased proprioception (or awareness of his/her body in space), and an overall increase in body confidence. 

Polestar Pilates‘s Founder, Dr. Brent Anderson describes Pilates as a whole-body movement system that allows for the appropriate amount of load and resistance to enhance human performance.

Load refers to stresses acting on the body like force, motion, and pressure. Pilates strengthens muscles and ligaments in the body by utilizing bodyweight load, and the load of springs, weights, and other uniquely designed pieces of equipment.

Similarly to Barre, from a long-term perspective, Pilates also helps prevent conditions such as osteoporosis by loading your bones from standing, kneeling, and side-lying postures. 

Over time, by loading all aspects of the body through functional movements, Pilates supports effective tone, and strength is distributed to the supporting muscles and ligaments of that exercise to help increase muscle tone and strength as well as prevent injury.

Is Pilates or Barre a Better Workout?

Barre and Pilates are both fantastic forms of fitness that are suitable for a large range of body types and movement goals. They both provide full-body workouts and aim to strengthen and tone the body from head to toe. 

The origin of each practice informs how Pilates and Barre are able to individually benefit different practitioners. While Pilates is routed in principles of rehabilitation with a variety of options to advance and challenge the practitioner through the use of large and small equipment and variations, Barre comes from the foundations of traditional ballet and is ideal for practitioners who are aiming to increase their comprehensive strength and balance from a standing position.

Amazon Essentials Women's Leggings

A set of leggings perfect for your workout.

Since Pilates offers ample variations laying on your back, and on your side, it is generally best suited for anyone returning to fitness from an injury. The various forms of equipment offered in a Pilates studio setting specifically are designed to strengthen and stabilize an injured client with a limited range of movement, as well as provide ample opportunities to challenge the non-injured client who has specific fitness goals.

Rehabbing a shoulder injury or impingement, stabilizing a low back injury, and helping women regain strength in their core postpartum are a few examples of how Pilates might be the ideal choice for someone seeking a rehabilitative fitness option. Likewise, someone who is seeking to strengthen their deep core, pelvis, and shoulder girdle to prepare for a season of running, skiing, or golfing can also be an ideal candidate for a more dynamic session in Pilates.

Barre is the ideal choice for men and women of all ages and fitness levels who are eager to improve their balance and work primarily from a standing position. It is also a great choice for those who have the goal of taking a regular ballet class. Barre does a fantastic job of breaking down the components of traditional ballet in a more casual studio setting.

On a more practical note, if you’ve been itching to use your kitchen counter as a tool for a fitness routine, but haven’t known where to start, adding a barre class to your weekly schedule is the perfect option for you!

Barre and Pilates offer similar benefits in different class settings with different foundations. Between the two, you will easily find an option that supports your long-term health and fitness goals.

Jenn Vigh Jenn Vigh
Jenn is a pilates and yoga instructor, an aerialist, and a travel blogger with 5 years of experience in nonprofit communications, and over 10 years of experience writing, teaching, training, performing and collaborating with creatives across the globe. For the last 6 years, her American home-base has been Austin, TX, where she’s worked with the aerial dance company, Blue Lapis Light, and enjoyed the sunshine with her world-traveling yorkipoo, Sheila. Read Full Bio »
LifeSavvy is focused on one thing: making your life outside of work even better. Want to know more?