Is the Barre Tuck Actually Bad for You?
If you’ve ever been to a barre class, you know that it’s all about the barre tuck. Your instructor reminds you in every position, during every rep, to make sure your booty isn’t sticking out, but perfectly scooped under. (This fitness fad is ballerina-inspired, not Beyonce-inspired, after all.) You secretly envy and admire that one girl in class who is clearly a barre pro—the instructor compliments her on maintaining her tuck at least once or twice per class. (Do this at-home barre workout to perfect your moves even when you can’t make it to class.)
While striving for the perfectly maintained tuck might seem like the ultimate #barregoals, there’s something you should know. The barre tuck, or what it has turned into, might actually be bad for you.
What the tuck?
It all comes down to alignment, says Karli Taylor, founder and creator of BarreFlow and CPT and creative exercise specialist. The OG tuck comes (like barre) straight from ballet; it’s all about getting shoulders, hips, heels and toes all aligned.
“The barre tuck is actually just a way to get a neutral pelvis,” says Taylor. “When you think about it, if you just stand up on your toes, your body leans forward. So to prevent that, you have to bend your knees. And to prevent your shoulders from going way in front of your knees, you have to tuck your tailbone under. So that brings you back to square one, back to neutral.”
But, the fitness industry’s “more is better” mentality has instructors and participants over-tucking past the neutral pelvis and creating a posterior pelvic tilt, which is when problems start to arise, says Taylor.
Why is that so bad?
Most of us naturally have an anterior pelvic tilt (read: your butt is sticking out and back is arched), she says. This comes from long hours of sitting, and the fact that we generally use the muscles on the front of our body more than those on the back (think: we walk, run, cycle, etc. going forward).
When you force your body into a posterior pelvic tilt, you’re putting pressure on the discs in your back from another direction, creating joint instability in your lumbar spine and sacroiliac (SI) joint, says Taylor. This puts you at risk for sciatica (chronic lower back pain), herniated or bulging disks in the lumbar spine, leg and foot numbness, hamstrings cramps and tightening, and kyphosis (a rounding in the upper back to compensate). (Try this barre workout to test your tuck and improve your balance.)
“Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with the barre tuck,” she says. “But more isn’t better. You want to bring your pelvis to a neutral position—you don’t want to push your hips forward so you look like Steve Urkel.”
Red flags: you feel any sort of lower back pain, especially on the sides of your spine where the SI joint is located (between your lower back and tailbone), you feel numbness in your leg, or cramping in your abdominal muscles.
So how do you tuck the right way?
Think about your pelvis like a bucket of water, says Taylor. Put your hands on your hips—that’s the mouth of the bucket. If you stick your butt out and arch your back, you’ll create an anterior pelvic tilt, and water would be spilling out of the front of the bucket. If you really tuck your hips and pull your tailbone under, you’ll create a posterior pelvic tilt, and water would be spilling out of the back of the bucket. A neutral spine and pelvic tilt will keep the water right in its place.
A trick for getting into that correct tilt is as simple as thinking about pulling your belly button in, then up under your ribcage—but don’t let it change your breathing. Perform this drill while talking and see if it changes your voice at all (it shouldn’t).
“Usually when you say ‘pull in your core,’ people are going to suck in and hold their breath, like they’re bracing their stomach to take a punch,” she says. “And that’s not what this should be. Pulling the belly button in and up is what’s going to engage the transverse abdominus, which is your ‘underneath’ ab muscles, and that’s what’s going to bring your pelvis back to neutral.”
And BTW, the tuck is not like a crunch or an ab workout. Try it right now; scoop your hips under and pull your abs in. Can you feel the bottom of your abdominal muscles getting all scrunched in at the bottom?
“It’s not actually working that muscle,” says Taylor. “You’re just putting it in a compromised position. Some people actually pull muscles in their lower abdomen area because they’re tucking too much.”
You’re thinking: I’ve been barre tucking like that forever, and I’m fine.
Doing a barre tuck wrong won’t make you spontaneously combust or crumble into a million pieces on the floor. Because it’s an overuse injury, it could take a long time of improper form to show up—but the results aren’t pretty, says Taylor.
“Barre has been popular for a couple of years, so now is when you’re going to see these injuries,” she says. “A tuck injury will probably not be an acute injury where someone hurts themselves on the spot—it’s like any overuse injury. For example, if you’re running with poor form, you may be able to do it for five years and suddenly you have plantar fasciitis or a stress fracture. Over time, these little things get worse.
We aren’t hating on barre—after all, it can be great for toning and lengthening all those muscles. But, like any workout, you need to do it right. So double check your tuck before the next time you hit the barre.