Barre-ing All

I may be teetotaling this month as I round out the final leg of Whole30, but being off the sauce didn’t dissuade me from going to the bar last night. Oh wait, I mean “the barre.” As in, I took my very first barre class. Sorry folks, you know homonym jokes are my favorites.

For those of you who — like me — have been avoiding this fitness trend, barre is a ballet-inspired workout intended to lengthen muscles and tone bodies with small, isometric movements. I haven’t been itching to sign up, mostly because classes at this specific studio cost nearly $40 a pop (or you can book a year’s worth for the low-low price of $4,000 plus tax!) but also because I was afraid it would be everything I hate in this world wrapped into one, excruciating gym glass.

And guess what? It was everything I hate in this world wrapped into one, excruciating gym glass.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The studio, Physique 57, is a tiny, modern facility in a Midtown high-rise covered in glossy magazine testimonials from hotties-with-bodies ranging from Zooey Deschanel to Kelly Ripa. Other bloggers I follow rave about the workouts, and I wanted to see for myself just how effective barre can be.

After signing a waiver (should that have been a sign it was about to get real tough?), I left my shoes in a very fancy locker room full of free Q-tips, met my friends and made my way into the carpeted and compact main studio where we’d be taking advantage of a “first-class free” limited time promotion. (You didn’t think I actually paid for this, did you? Me, who had to fight the urge to pocket all the aforementioned free Q-tips and start a life for myself in the free Q-tip distribution business, paying $36 for a workout? I think not.)

The class, performed in our socks, started easy enough, with 5-pound free weights and some modified pushups. “My strength training must really be paying off!” I thought as I banged out some triceps dips without breaking a sweat. “And who said barre was hard?”

And then, my God, barre got hard. Much of this class involved pulsing in a squat position and balancing on my tip toes, two major challenges for this clumsy runner. As we moved from the barre to the mat to the floor, the exercises got harder and harder, and my quivering thighs barely got out of there alive. But that’s not what I hated most. This was:

  • The energetic instructor with a microphone learned my name and then proceeded to correct me at full volume (albeit nicely) when I wasn’t doing it right, which was 100 percent of the time.
  • Once she saw I physically couldn’t move like the other girls, she started saying encouraging things like “Looking great, Anne!” when we ALL knew it was a blatant lie.
  • She’d also say things like “10 more reps!” and then proceed to count to 12. That’s the meanest thing you can do in fitness.
  • Socks on carpet. Very slippery. I swear I CAN do a plank, but not when my feet are flying out behind me at a million miles an hour. They sold grippy socks at the front desk but that kind of commercialization of workouts makes me cringe. 
  • Everyone around me looked like a hot ballet dancer, and in the end-of-class stretching, several literally did a full split. COME ON NOW. Was that necessary? I’ve run four marathons, and I still felt like everyone could run sock-footed circles around me in that room.

In all seriousness, the class was a great workout, the instructor meant well, and the hour flew by, despite how miserable I was. And the misery was only compounded when I realized that all the things that were hurting me — my hip flexors, primarily — could have been avoided if I would just do the stretches and strengthening exercises I already know I should be doing. The most painful minutes of the class were donkey kicks and clamshells, two movements I know fully well would strengthen my hips and keep me from getting injured during future training cycles. If only I’d take my own good advice.

Going forward, am I going to try Physique 57 again? Only if they offer another free promotion — and if next time I tell the instructor a fake name.

Have you ever taken a barre class? Was it as painful as my experience?

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