Barre With Sarah
Has 2020 been an unforgettable year? Yes, it certainly has! And as I look back on these more than nine months at home I’d be remiss not to document a part of my life that wouldn’t have been possible without the pandemic — and that’s my spur-of-the-moment decision to take my barre class from the studio to the interwebs. Today I’m going to take a trip down memory lane and reflect upon what it was like to start an (albeit scrappy) YouTube channel, my hopes for what’s next, and I’ll throw in a few other fitness recommendations in case barre isn’t your thing.
So let’s go back to the beginning.
I started taking barre about five or six years ago online through Suzanne Bowen Fitness — and I found barre at a time when I didn’t have a positive relationship with fitness or with my body image. But, as I tend to do, I went from curious to immersed in barre, specifically this positive and affirming methodology. Then about three or four years ago they started offering classes at the fitness center at work and I met and befriended Kim (also my ballet teacher). She brings such joy and enthusiasm as an instructor and, as I tend to do, I became a front-row student.
Then in 2018 Kim asked me if I had considered teaching. I hadn’t — but I decided to give it a try! Initially my goal was just to sub for her when I could, since my travel schedule would make it hard to commit to a permanent slot.
But, reader, you know what happened. That first class? It was far from perfect. But I stuck with it and I was hooked. Here was a new discipline to explore and learn and another way to put my facilitation and coaching skills to use. Also I got to wear a microphone (not recommended unless you want to hear me talk for 60 minutes).
At this point the next step was pretty clear — all roads lead to Wisconsin!
That was a sentence I never thought I would write.
It was clear to me that I wanted to deepen my training and understanding of barre so after some brief research I decided to get certified through BarreAmped, the certification program run by the online barre teacher I love. The closest place to take these courses was in Wisconsin, so I signed up for the first sessions, two days each, hopped a plane, and learned about turnout, tucks, and tempo. I passed both practical exams onsite and then passed my online exams shortly thereafter. Between all of my study and constantly (obsessively?) watching Kim and other instructors online, I was starting to distill my own practices and beliefs.
I teach barre because it helped me connect to and better accept my body. It helped me feel strong and confident. It helped me realize that no matter my level I could have fun — and that a “good” workout didn’t have to be a punishing workout! I also love to talk about how to have a safe and effective workout — how to avoid common errors to stay safe but also how to challenge yourself.
And it was challenging for me too! I’ve learned the most about how to create a class — I think I have about sixty-five unique classes that I’ve written, plus about 30 shorter 5–10 minute mini workouts. I’m getting more comfortable with the way I want classes to flow — like trying to keep transitions simple and starting with a base move and then adding more challenging options. I used to dry-run each workout, but not anymore; I can simply test out challenging new moves or combos for cuing and flow.
I was getting a good amount of practice. In a normal quarter (my life is lived in corporate chunks) I’d teach 6–8 classes as a series at work. I loved getting to know my regulars and welcoming new people to class. My goal was to always be an encouragement so even if they didn’t love barre they felt welcomed and seen.
And then COVID happened.
From a personal standpoint I committed to working out every single day that I was stuck at home, and, as of today, I’ve kept that commitment to myself for 290 days (yes, really — not a cheat day in there). But, at least at the beginning, I realized there were lots of folks stuck at home without access to fitness — or without something familiar they loved.
Then the idea came to me — I could livestream some workouts from my basement! I had a barre, a mat, and a laptop!
HOW MUCH TIME WOULD THAT TAKE, REALLY?
To YouTube’s credit it’s pretty easy to start streaming. I spent more time fighting with my set-up — getting the right height, getting a clock and a timer, and, most of all, music. I love great jams but because of copyright (and my lack of time) it took me awhile to get my music set up to an okay level (and $14.99/month to Power Music for their original tracks).
It was also challenging at first to teach to a screen as there are no reactions from class participants! I can’t see if someone is confused or needs a modification or some encouragement. That has forced me to be better with cueing — using analogies, previewing the next move, visually correcting myself, and calling out common mistakes. This means that I talk much more in the livestream classes, but I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from class participants.
When I look back at my early videos it’s easy to see how much progress I’ve made. They can be painful to watch, but it helps me continue to improve as an instructor.
It’s hard to pick a favorite workout because I love so many of my series. My favorite workouts, personally, are the full-body 60-minute workouts because I love the sense of completeness. I like the creativity of my 30-minute express classes because, as Sergio says, I can make a theme out of anything! I loved the challenge of creating Barre Basics as a way to introduce people to barre and build their strength and confidence. And I loved my little Friday Challenges as a way to encourage others to work out for just 5–10 minutes. I’ve also come to love filming tutorials as a way to better explain set-up and more complicated exercises.
Oh, and let’s not forget that I also got my rebounding certification earlier this year, so I’m teaching barre and rebounding classes, my Jump With Sarah series, and they are absolutely my favorite.
Beyond the huge library of content (64 hours this year!) I’m most proud of the connections I’ve made and that teaching barre has been a fantastic form of accountability for me, helping me to stay committed to my own fitness goals. I’m very thankful for the kindness and encouragement from so many of you — thank you for giving my scrappy little channel a try!
Not a big fan of barre? That’s okay! I have been sampling a whole host of other workouts this year, so I thought I’d end the blog with a few of my go-tos, most of which are free(!):
They have some content that is free, but their paid content is fantastic. They have a library of about ~400 songs and they also offer lots of livestream classes. I signed up for their special deal — just $49 for a lifetime membership (yes, you read that correctly). I’ve never ever done any workout like this one and it’s added a lot of joy to dark winter days.
Suzanne Bowen Fitness : This is where I take online barre classes and it’s worth the $14.99/month. They offer many different plans and challenges, but I tend to just pick the workouts I like. I appreciate that there is a huge variety — short 4–5 minute workouts and hour-long classes.
Hi-Lo, Cardio Dance, Indoor Walking, Easy HIIT: There are three different channels that I’ve come to love, and these boost my spirits and my step count when the weather feels too dreary outside.
Up to the Beat Fit: Gina B. is a ball of positivity and energy, and I love her easy-to-follow hi-lo, dance, and walking workouts. This lady has great music and loves a good theme. She also offers paid content but I’ve still not made it through all of her free videos, so give them a try if you’d like a mood boost.
Reps to the Rhythm: Keoni’s channel is pretty new (he started posting videos this summer) but this is a great indoor replacement for a walk. His steps are simpler, but he has good music, a fantastic attitude, and often has cat guest stars in his workouts. He also posted a great 10k step workout (almost an hour and a half) and that was a fun way to challenge myself!
Jessica Smith TV: Jessica has a ton of free workouts (more than 400!) of various lengths. She does tons of HIIT and easy cardio workouts, but I really love her agility workouts. She moves at a fast pace but easy to follow. If you’re a dog person you’ll love all of the guest appearances by her dog, Peanut.
Jenny Ford Fitness: Jenny is a fantastic step aerobics instructor! Her routines are fun but easy to follow, which is not that common with step instructors these days. She has a series called Step Hero that teaches you the basics, but my favorite workouts are her March and Step Across America, where she films a step and a marching workout in each of the 50 states (some of them are still upcoming). She is one of the most encouraging instructors around!
Yoga: I’m really, really picky when it comes to yoga, but I have managed to find two instructors that are a good fit for me. Yoga tends to feel a little too new-age for me, but these two instructors have a nice balance.
Julia Marie Yoga (and some selected other folks on Psyche Truth): Julia Marie is fantastic! She is matter-of-fact, down-to-earth, and funny! She doesn’t take herself to seriously and meets you where you are in your practice. I found her videos through Psyche Truth, but you can also find her content on Amazon Prime and Yoga Plus. She has some great series, like a 14-day series for beginners or a 30-day series for weight loss (the one I signed up for — not for weight loss but because it was 30-days and I missed the weight loss part).
Psyche Truth has some other great videos, but some of their content also feels a little sketch. If you are going to check out their channel be aware that some of the workouts, especially the core or barre or cardio workouts, don’t always come with good form. Sometimes they focus a bit too much on weight loss for my liking, so watcher beware.
Brett Larkin Yoga: I’m only a few workouts into Brett’s channel. but there seems to be a lot of potential. She tends to teach her classes outside and it gives them a relaxing vibe. She’s expressive, and cuing is her strength. There is a wide range of content on her channel and some of it felt a little too new-agey for me. But I appreciate her style and the variety of workouts that she offers.
Finding new stuff: Sometimes you need to mix it up! When I need a shake-up of my routine I head over to PopSugar Fitness to find something to try. PopSugar produces tons of original content, both by some of their own instructors, including lovable and relatable Anna, but mainly by inviting famous fitness personalities to offer free workouts (always complete with an invitation to their pay services).
Beware — not every instructor or workout will be a fit, and there are some pretty advanced workouts on the channel, so try to find a workout that matches your fitness level.
Even though there have been some duds, through PopSugar I’ve found some faves like Christa Dipaulo (cardio kickboxing), Keaira LaShae (hip hop dance and tabata), Jeanette Jenkins (HIIT and kickboxing), and the LIT Method (high-intensity, low-impact workouts). Who knows — you might find a new favorite workout just because you took a chance on a class you wouldn’t have otherwise taken.
So that’s all on the fitness front for me right now! Thanks for stepping into my barre world and for your support on this journey. I’m excited to get back in front of the camera on January 11th, after a much-deserved teaching break.
Stay healthy, stay safe!