Training for a Marathon? Here’s How Barre Can Help
March 3, 2021
There’s a reason why runners swear by barre for cross-training: because it works. You can bring what you build at the barre and use it to help you run faster, longer, and safer. Multi-marathoner Stephanie Williams is no stranger to The Bar Method or to marathon running. In fact, Steph is a longtime Bar Method instructor (and you already know The Bar Method instructors are superhuman!) and has also logged hundreds and hundreds of miles throughout her running career; she’s run 13 marathons, a 50k trail race, and just completed a 50-mile trail race. Read on to hear Stephanie’s story about how the techniques, lessons, and strength she built from The Bar improved her endurance, balance, coordination, and more.
After nearly a year of feeling out of control in many aspects of our lives, setting and working toward a big goal, like running a marathon, can be both empowering and liberating. Maybe you’ve got your eyes on a fall in-person marathon or one of the many virtual options popping up all over. Or maybe, like me, you decide to hit the trails and go for an ultra marathon. Whatever format—or distance—you choose, here’s how barre can help.
Distance running causes muscle breakdown which in turn causes strength loss. However, that same muscle breakdown can also serve to rebuild the muscle fibers stronger than before if running is coupled with bodyweight strength training. That’s where The Bar Method comes in. Powering through three sets of thigh work into seat work in a typical Method class builds strength in the primary muscles involved in running – the quads, the hamstrings, and the glutes. An Advanced Method class takes that up a notch with more of both thigh and seat work.
Taking three or four barre classes a week, thoughtfully scheduled around your running, will not only prevent the strength loss that comes with distance running but actually build strength. For me, that means taking a Method class after my hard workouts and long runs or throwing in a Bar Restore class for some extra stretching.
The added strength will also make you more durable and thus better able to handle long runs and higher mileage, the hallmarks of marathon training. So 20-mile long runs in a 55-mile week will feel more manageable thanks to some well-timed barre classes as an integral part of your training plan. As you train to run longer, you also need to improve your running efficiency, and maintaining strength is critical to that. Simply by getting stronger, you will feel better on your runs and will find you can go farther and faster.
Part of a runner’s efficiency can be measured by cadence or the number of steps a runner takes per minute. Cadence can vary between individuals based mainly on a runner’s speed. However, research at the University of Michigan found if a runner becomes stronger, that same runner’s cadence will be lower at a given pace because her strides are backed by more power. In other words, you can run longer using less effort. Thanks to the strength I build in barre, I’m not only able to run longer more readily, but I also recover more efficiently, thus allowing me to continue the training needed to go the (long) distance.
Along with running efficiency, strength training can also correct muscle imbalances. In nearly every Bar Method class, you’ll hear instructors reminding clients to engage their postural muscles which include muscles in your abdomen, pelvis, and back. You might also hear an instructor tell a client to align her knees under her hips and her feet under her knees when working in a parallel position. Moving your toes forward or back an inch may seem nit-picky but these small adjustments can work to correct imbalances over time that we all have in our bodies. Perhaps you carried your baby (or four babies, in my case), on your right hip and now your hips are misaligned. Working toward better alignment in a barre class will translate into fewer imbalances in your running as well.
Finally, you will never read anything I write about running without some reference to injury prevention. Many of the injuries endured by runners, particularly distance runners, are overuse injuries like shin splints, runner’s knee, and plantar fasciitis. One way to prevent such injuries is to work on multiple planes of motion. Barre is a full-body workout and works muscles from head to toe, back to front, and side to side. Before barre, I didn’t know I had gluteus medias muscles, much less how to sculpt and tone them. Now my “dancer’s dent” is strong and defined. The development of muscles like the gluteus medias makes me a more well-rounded athlete, not just aesthetically, but also less prone to repetitive motion injuries that often plague runners who just run. When I was just a runner, I was in a constant battle with plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes). Since adding barre to my workout regime over seven years ago, thanks to exercises like heel lifts and the stretch that follows it in every Bar Method class and doing barre workouts wearing only socks thereby strengthening the muscles in my feet, I have been free of the pain and the nuisance of plantar fasciitis (knock on wood).
I realize I’ve thrown a lot of information at you, so let me end by sharing how this all played out for me recently during my first 50-mile (yes, you read that right!) trail race. After 13 marathons and one 50k trail race, I decided I needed a new challenge. And while training for a race that distance certainly requires a lot of running, I would not have made it to the finish if not for barre. Trail running, even more so than road running, requires lots of core strength, balance, and coordination. Sound familiar? Yes, focus on each of those elements can be found in every Bar Method class. Curl work like oblique punches serves to strengthen the muscles that bend you side to side and twist your torso—movements I encountered as I traversed an incline or tackled an obstacle like a fallen tree branch. That hold on the balls of your feet at the end of heel lifts with your arms overhead? The balance strength I built through exercises like that improved my trail agility and prevented ankle sprains. Those big range moves in a Bar Move class that has your whole body engaged and moving in tandem? That coordination enabled me to negotiate tree roots and prevent falls when I caught one with my toe, which is bound to happen anytime you hit the trails. The Bar Method helped get me to the start line injury-free and to the finish line smiling. Whatever your running goal–a marathon or beyond–taking Bar Method classes will help get you there stronger, faster, and finish injury-free.
About the Author
Stephanie has been a Bar Method instructor for almost seven years and currently teaches at the Plano and Southlake studios in Texas. She is an avid runner with 13 marathons under her belt, a 50k trail race, and most recently, a 50-mile trail race. Stephanie has been married for 26 years and has four children. When she’s not teaching, spending time with her family or running, you can find her drinking a flat white from Starbucks, listening to a true crime podcast, or tackling a puzzle.