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?

Running Training

Heavy Weights

I’ve done a lot of reading on the inception of running, and while the etymology of the word jog is reportedly unknown, this much I know to be true:

When distance running came into fashion in the 1970s, much conventional wisdom surrounding the sport was misguided, sexist or downright wrong.

Take a quick glance back through the past five decades of casual and competitive road racing—fine, I’ll do it for you—and it becomes painfully clear that in the 70s, sports science related to my favorite pastime was still in its infancy. Also in their infancy in 1970? Current forty-three year olds, if my math serves me, the odds of which, uh, requires more math.

Take, for example, the following popular misconceptions of the early running boom. These since-refuted claims—while not held by everyone—were oft repeated nonetheless in the literature of the time, or so this non-time-traveling 1985 baby has read:

  • Marathon running causes sterility in women.
  • It’s best not to hydrate at all during a 26.2-mile race.
  • Weight lifting has no place in a runner’s training schedule.

The first two have been overwhelmingly refuted in both scientific study and anecdotal evidence in the generation since, but the third—that weight training and running are mutually exclusive—has somehow persisted.

Many runners—including this one—shy away from strength training even in today’s day and age because:

  1. We don’t want to gain bulk that will weigh us down come race day.
  2. We don’t want to injure ourselves or increase muscle and joint soreness.
  3. We don’t want to waste precious time in the weight room when general consensus says the best way to run better is to simply run more.
  4. We can’t do a push-up. Oh? What’s that you say, other runners? Huh. Well, good for you. I guess that’s just me then.

Or in other words, for the last two years of race training, every time my schedule read this:


I saw this:


(I could upgrade to Photoshop, sure, but the rebellious teenager in me would miss Paint’s spray paint tool too much.)

Skipping strength training (and, let’s be honest, stretching as well) didn’t seem to do me much harm as I trained for my first marathon, having little goal in mind except to finish. But with my race times having since plateaued, I’m starting to think running alone isn’t going to cut it for me anymore as I look to improve. Enter strength training.

Although common knowledge used to dictate strength training was detrimental to the distance runner, science now suggests the addition of some lean muscle can actually improve a runner’s VO2 max, strengthen joints and connective tissue, ward off injury and prevent muscle imbalances, particularly when it comes to the smaller stabilizer muscles that are often underutilized when logging flat mile after flat mile. With that in mind, I rolled up to a group strength training class at my gym last week, and while the bicep curls left my forearms screaming, I’m optimistic the net benefit will be well worth the strain.

Weight training scares me, sure, but just like corralling up at the Verrazano Bridge this November 3 isn’t going to make me sterile, I think pumping some light iron on a weekly basis can only serve to improve my overall fitness, making me a better runner at the end of the day. Yes, it might leave me aching, but I think given the reported benefits, I should just grin and bear it.

Grinning and bearing.

Do you supplement your running with weight training? Have you seen improvement and/or been elected California governor as a result?