There’s a reason celebrities like Kelly Ripa, Molly Sims, Mandy Moore and Cameron Diaz (to name a few) have been seen flocking to barre or Pilates classes to get their sweat (and tone) on.

“Pilates and barre provide participants with a total-body workout. Both classes build a strong core—your body’s foundation—create a true mind-body connection, and focus on proper body alignment and posture while improving flexibility and balance,” says Jessica David, a seasoned 24 Hour Fitness GX instructor who teaches barre and Pilates.

But if you’re new to one or both these classes with celeb cult followings, they can seem nothing short of intimidating.

We asked David to break down each class for us by decoding some of the popular (potentially unfamiliar) phrases you might hear at the barre or on the mat, and give her top tips and advice to new participants below.

Pilates and barre 101

Pilates is performed on a mat, and most of the movements take place on the floor. Barre uses ballet barres, small hand weights, small balls and some mat work. Outside of the mat work, a barre class is performed mostly standing.

Terms to know (and become a pro)

Core: Many believe this is simply your abs. However, the core is the entire midsection from the bottom of your ribs to your hips and your midback to the bottom of your booty.   

First position in barre and Pilates stance in Pilates are quite similar, but again, one is done standing (barre) while the other is done lying down on the mat (Pilates). In both, your feet are in a “V” shape—heels together and toes turned slightly out (about a fist-distance apart). Along with the “V,” it is important to activate your legs by squeezing them together—I tend to cue “zip up from your ankles to your thighs.”

Second position is used in barre. From first position, take your feet wider than shoulder width, keeping your toes turned out, knees track with your toes.

A plié is quite simply a bend in your knees. In barre, you perform a plié in both first and second position. Although a plié is not typically a mat Pilates move, in POP Pilates, we use a plié squat in second position quite frequently in both the warm-up and Kick Butt Cardio tracks.

Pulse is a term used in every Pilates and barre class. In barre, it is typically coupled with the cue “up an inch, down an inch.” A pulse is a quick yet tiny movement. Embrace the shake! (If your muscles are shaking, you’re doing something right!)

Tuck or pelvic tilt is used in both formats to cue participants to pull their tailbone in while pulling their abs toward their spine. This will lessen the arch in the lower back and fully engage the core.

Relevé, another barre term (and sometimes used in POP Pilates), is performed by lifting your heels off the floor—basically, coming up on your tippy-toes.

The Pilates 100, or “hundreds,” typically takes place near the start of the class and is used to warm up the core and get the blood flowing. It is performed on your back and can be done with your knees bent and over your hips, with your legs straight and directly over your hips in Pilates stance, or with straight legs at a 45-degree angle from the floor in Pilates stance. Your arms are extended long at your sides, palms facing down. You have the option to bring your head, neck and shoulders off the floor. This move is controlled with your breath as you pulse your arms up an inch and down an inch quickly. Focus on keeping your lower back on the mat and reaching your hands long as you pulse. This entire movement is typically done for 100 counts, thus the name.

Tips for first-timers

The above terms aren’t the only thing that can seem intimidating if you are new to fitness or group fitness. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you step into your first Pilates, barre or any other class:

  1. Everyone was new at one time or another, including the instructor. We all learned, and we are all still learning.
  2. I suggest trying a class a minimum of three times. By the third class, you will have a better understanding of the cues, the exercises and the class as a whole. Even as an instructor and a longtime group fitness participant, I still get lost in new and even familiar formats. That’s half the fun of going to class—it keeps me on my toes!
  3. It is OK to take breaks if you need them!
  4. Modification is just a big word for option. A modification isn’t necessarily easier; it isn’t cheating. It is taking the proper option to assist in building strength the right way and preventing injury.
  5. As an instructor, I am never offended if a participant wants or needs to leave class early. Do what is right for your body and your time. Only have 20 minutes? That is PERFECT! Just be sure to exit class quietly and quickly, being mindful and respectful of the participants still taking the class.
  6. Try to position yourself to be able to see and hear the instructor clearly.
  7. HAVE FUN! That is what group fitness is all about. There are no mistakes, just properly timed solos.

Jessica David is a GX Programming and Partnership Manager with 24 Hour Fitness. She is certified in and teaches POP Pilates, barre, BODYPUMP and BODYCOMBAT. Group fitness is her true passion, a passion that started when she was just a brand-new member to 24 Hour Fitness in Colorado in 2001. She currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her awesome pup, Bailey.

Interested in trying a barre or Pilates class? Find one at a club near you! Visit to find a class.   

Photo credit: fizkes, Thinkstock; Courtesy of Jessica David