Core work at the barre: a look at “flat back” and “round back”

One of our favorite things about the barre is that you are ALWAYS working the core! Even when our focus in class is on the upper body or seat, you’ll still hear us saying “engage your core”, “hold that core tight” and “naval to the spine!” – because our focus on posture and alignment means that we are always keeping our shoulders over the hips, neutral spine and tight core!

Our focus on core work goes even deeper toward the end of class, with our incredibly challenging abdominal series. Since opening, we have received quite a few questions about the unique core work that we do under the ballet barre, simply named “flat back” and “round back”. The most common feedback is – “I’ve never done anything like that before!” and “It’s REALLY hard!!”.

We thought we’d take a deeper look at these two exercises, discussing the benefit and purpose of including them in our challenging abdominal series. The flat back and round back positions were reformatted from the original Lotte Berk method, and are included in most traditional barre methods around the country – we love them because they are incredibly effective at sculpting your entire abdominal region while protecting your back.

Round back, correctly done with your shoulders pushing into the mirror and lower back rounded onto the mat and hands pushing up on the barre, assists with proper pelvic alignment by stretching the hamstrings as you hold your legs in the air. As your strength grows, you will be able to get your legs closer to the barre (as is always our goal in this position), which challenges the core muscles, strengthening them which can even help relieve back pain.

As is usually the case at the barre, there is more to this exercise than the eye may see: round back also aligns and strengthens the muscles around our knees! As one of the few “open chain” quadricep-strengthening exercises in our class (meaning the feet are off the ground, therefore free to move and removing our bodies’ weight as a factor), the quad muscles get a chance to work across the knee to evenly contract and lock the quads into place – balancing and strengthening our patella. What a bonus!

Flat back, which is done seated on the mat with the back pasted to the mirror from top to bottom, focuses on our transverse abdominals (the muscles that act like a girdle around our entire mid-section) and rectus abdominus (the “6-pack” muscles) while keeping the spine supported. For beginners, it can be tricky to engage the core muscles, so we encourage your concentration on pressing your back into the wall and exhaling vocally – this is a great way to force the engagement of the ab muscles. The good news is that flat back actually sculpts almost every muscle on the front of our bodies from the shoulders to the knees, so even if you are having trouble engaging your core, at first, you’ll still be engaging and toning the shoulders, chest, and thighs. We like to think of the wall as our crutch here – it aids in spine support and forces correct alignment as we exercise.

Keeping our core work fresh and challenging is always a focus for us at the barre – we can’t wait to have YOU in class to try out these exercises yourself!

Classes are available for sign-up here:


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