Essentrics Barre WorkoutSahra Esmonde-White
Year Released: 2013
Categories: Athletic Stretch , Total Body Workouts
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This DVD presents a one-hour total body Essentrics workout. The DVD is chaptered and also has premixes, allowing shorter workouts.
Essentrics Barre is led by Sahra Esmonde-White, appearing solo and instructing live. Sahra doesn’t use “left/right” instruction so mirror cueing is not an issue. Modifications are sometimes suggested by Sahra but seldom demonstrated. That said, I do believe that Essentrics workouts are appropriate for almost any fitness level (but also please see my comments below).
The setting is similar to earlier Essentrics productions – a vacant office building with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over downtown Montreal. This time there is little problem with window glare and Sahra herself is always clearly pictured. I enjoy the offbeat music selection in all Classical Stretch/Essentrics productions (in this DVD there’s even a couple of songs that sound like they are recordings from the 1930’s!). The only equipment needed is a chair or barre for barre work, and a mat for floor work. Essentrics workouts are done barefoot.
Essentrics is an offshoot of Classical Stretch, a long-running television program available on many PBS stations (although, alas, not my local affiliate). Both were created by Sahra’s mother, Miranda Esmonde-White. Miranda, a former ballerina, developed what she calls The Esmonde Technique to help her cope with chronic back pain. Besides thoroughly stretching the entire body, both programs emphasize moves that strengthen the muscle while it is in an eccentric or elongated position, as opposed to traditional weight training which strengthens a muscle in the contracted position. The Essentrics/CS approach strengthens muscle without bulk, but also balances out the body and helps keep it limber. The programs’ devotees range from professional and Olympic athletes to people coping with a wide variety of physical limitations.
There is occasional VF debate about what (if anything) makes Essentrics different from Classical Stretch. For myself, except for the difference in instructors and settings, I consider them the same program.
It can be a bit difficult at first for a newbie to follow portions of an Essentrics or Classical Stretch workout, as some of the movements flow into one another and often incorporate positions or exercises not seen elsewhere. However, once over the learning curve, it is much easier to recognize the elements of the Essentrics/CS repertoire and to consequently intensify the effort applied to the exercises (although the moves remain beneficial even when done with less intensity).
Essentrics Barre is chaptered as follows:
-Standing (Abs, Waist, Arms & Posture), 15 minutes.
-Floor Toning (Thigh & Quad Thinning), 9 minutes.
-Floor Stretch (Hips, Back & Hamstrings), 7 minutes.
-Barre Tone (Legs, Butt & Triceps Toning), 15 minutes.
-Barre Stretch (Complete Hip, Back & Lower Body Stretch), 15 minutes.
The premixes which can be chosen from the main menu are:
-Power Full Body Tone (Standing and Barre Toning), 30 minutes.
-Thigh Thinning Workout (Standing, Floor Toning and Barre Toning), 40 minutes.
-Full Body, Hips & Back Stretch (Standing and Barre Stretch), 30 minutes.
-Hips, Back & Hamstring Stretch (Standing, Floor Stretch and Barre Stretch), 37 minutes.
-Full Body Barre Workout (all chapters).
Also on the main menu is the option to view each chapter separately. Choosing this takes you to a separate menu from which you can select an individual chapter, and after the chapter is completed you are returned to this menu.
The individual chapters break down as follows. The times I have noted are what is listed on the DVD, and I found them reasonably accurate.
Standing (15 minutes):
The warm-up features relaxed arm swings (side to side, forward and back, figure 8s) with plié knee bends and kicks to the front and side. Next are Essentrics/CS “trademark” stretches for the spine and torso. This is a dynamic sequence that may be hard to follow at first, but Sahra’s form tips and cueing are quite good here. Standing ab exercises which particularly work the side extensors follow (Sahra notes there are no crunches in this workout). The Standing section concludes with arm work. Sahra does these slowly to avoid using momentum to complete the sequence.
Floor Toning (9 minutes):
This chapter features side-lying inner and outer thigh work. In Classical Stretch/Essentrics there is a strong emphasis on “pulling out” the leg before lifting it, which really ups the intensity! Again, the reps are done slowly to avoid using momentum. Sahra miscounts a little bit in this section (and apologizes for it) but both sides feel evenly worked. The section concludes with sitting quad lifts.
Floor Stretch (7 minutes):
This segment begins with seated groin stretches, followed by supine glute stretches. Sahra concludes this chapter with several variations of seated forward bends.
Barre Tone (15 minutes):
A chair is used in this chapter (the chair back for balance, and the chair seat for resting the foot during leg stretches). Sahra begins with leg lifts to the rear (with leg bent, then straight), side and front. Next are pulsing 2nd position plies, which incorporate heel lifts. Sahra next does a few 1st position plies, adding in releve, before returning to 2nd position plies which are held as she does upper body stretches. The chapter concludes with triceps dips using the chair seat. I no longer do triceps dips myself due to shoulder issues. Luckily a chapter point allows me to bypass this exercise by hitting the “skip” button on my remote, which moves me on to the final few minutes of stretches in this chapter.
Barre Stretch (15 minutes):
A thorough lower body stretch incorporating the chair/barre. These exercises are familiar from earlier Classical Stretch and Essentrics DVDs, but I found Sahra’s form tips especially helpful here for getting the most out of this sequence. The chapter concludes with a few minutes of standing upper body stretches.
Essentrics Barre is possibly the best Essentrics DVD yet! Although there is really nothing new here that hasn’t been seen in previous Essentrics/Classical Stretch productions, the chaptering and premixes make this a very versatile DVD. Using the chapters and/or premixes it is easy to design a workout that varies in length and which can be tweaked to emphasis either toning or stretching. Also, as an instructor Sahra really shines in this one! She’s as lovely and graceful as ever, but becoming noticeably more relaxed on camera, smiling often, yet still providing excellent cueing and form pointers.
Speaking personally, I find the Classical Stretch/Essentrics canon has become more and more an integral part of my fitness routine. When I do CS/Essentrics regularly, I feel fewer aches and pains, my posture is better, my stomach is flatter and my joints are happier. These DVDs are the best solution I know to avoid what a fellow VFer calls “stiff old lady syndrome!”
Essentrics workouts can be purchased at essentrics.com and classicalstretch.com. The DVDs can also be found at Amazon and other online sites, but usually at inflated prices. YouTube clips of Essentrics DVDs, along with some stand-alone mini workouts, are available at essentrics.com.
Sahra is the daughter of Miranda Esmonde-White, who created both Classical Stretch and Essentrics (although Sahra has taken over the Essentrics brand). Sahra was involved behind the scenes with Classical Stretch for years, appearing as a cast member in some CS episodes, before she became the face of Essentrics. While her mother often presents in a chatty, quirky manner, Sahra is more focused in her approach,which might work better for some exercisers.