Photos: Pure Barre
New York City was in the middle of a sweltering, brain-melting heat wave, but you wouldn’t know it in the cool, airy Pure Barre studio near Union Square. Having trudged through swampy lower Manhattan to get to the studio, the Greatist Team was already sweaty, but ready for a challenge.
Pure Barre is one of hundreds of trendy ballet-themed fitness classes around the country promising a lean and toned physique. Other popular brands include FlyBarre from Flywheel, Bar Method, Ballet Beautiful, and Physique 57. Most barre classes use a combination of Pilates moves and ballet-inspired routines to tone and shape the legs, glutes, abdominals, arms, and back. Besides the benefit of (supposedly) getting a Black Swan-worthy booty, the classes are zero-impact and incorporate plenty of stretching in addition to strengthening.
Before the class, we were all slightly nervous and a bit skeptical. Although Greatist HQ boasts marathon runners, weighted sled-pullers, and yogis, none of us had ever done a barre class. Would it be tough? Too easy? Too “girly” for the Greatist dudes?
Our instructor, Meaghan Cleary, provided answers to most of those questions within the first few minutes of class. Each participant grabbed a tiny red bouncy ball, a stretchy band composed of two interlocking rubber tubes, and light hand weights. Pop music blared out of the speakers (just like an evening at the ballet, right?), Cleary donned a microphone headset, and the class — composed of 20 young women and a certain Greatist CEO — got moving. We warmed up with a tough series of push-ups, planks, leg extensions, and ab exercises. Throughout our rapid-fire warm-up (I felt three steps behind the whole time), Cleary kept reminding us to “tuck” our pelvises, suck in our abs, and keep our shoulders and necks tall and long. Within five minutes, I was exhausted, dripping sweat, and pretty confused. Luckily, those first 10 minutes were as distinct from the rest of class as Zumba is to ballet.
For the rest of the 55-minute class, we focused first on the glutes, then the legs, the arms, and finally the abdominals. After plenty of mat work (including glute bridges and push-ups), we were more than ready to float like butterflies in fancy-sounding moves like arabesques, plies, and more leg extensions standing at the bar. Last but not least, we sat on the floor and held onto the bar from underneath, using the resistance to tone the arms and abs.
Was it a truly challenging workout after all? It’s hard to say — the loud music, speedy transitions, and somewhat confusing instructions made it difficult for us newbies to follow along. Cleary constantly told us to “tuck,” although to be honest, some of us (OK, maybe just me) didn’t know exactly what that meant. She also reminded us to “pulse” the limb or body part in question, which means moving the muscle up and down or in and out fractions of an inch at a time. I spent a good portion of the class peering around to make sure I was doing the correct move, while simultaneously trying to figure out how to “tuck” or “pulse” the muscle. Whenever I looked across the room at my Greatist coworkers, they looked slightly befuddled but determined to do their best.
Despite the general sense of confusion, my legs were pretty tired later that night as I walked up the subway steps, and every Greatist team member was sore the next day. It might not be for everyone (myself included), but if you're looking for a low-impact and surprisingly effective workout, definitely try out a local barre class.
Check out the Pure Barre website to find a class in your area. Pricing for group classes varies from $20-35 for a 55-minute session. Exact costs vary depending on location.
Would you try a ballet barre-style fitness class? Share your experience in the comments below or tweet the author @SophBreene.