Grin and Barre It

Dear Reader,

Fortunately, the pain came as no surprise.

Not too long ago, I read the book Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir by Wednesday Martin (more here). In the book, Martin recounts her experience in a barre exercise class with a flock of fit, well-to-do mothers. She describes how her muscles trembled as she completed “just one more” repetition or pulse during the high-energy workout. The day after the barre workout, the soreness set in — and it was intense. With this general understanding, I am happy to say I was well prepared for my first barre workout.

What is barre anyway? As someone who used to take ballet (more here), I imagined that barre would be a relentless series of pliés, relevés, and tendus at a horizontal bar. Honestly, if this were the case, the classes probably wouldn’t be so popular! In actuality, barre class is a group exercise, which infuses ballet, yoga, and Pilates. In addition, to the barre we all know and tolerate, participants use yoga mats, exercise balls, weights, and resistance bands. Importantly, your barre experience will vary depending on the class focus and instructor. While Martin’s barre experience was more “pure,” mine was more of a fusion of barre and other workouts. Regardless, in all barre classes, participants will complete low-impact, high-intensity movements to strengthen a wide range of muscles (and not just in the legs!).

As alluded to in Primates of Park Avenue, barre is not a cheap hobby. Participation requires membership at a studio and the fees are higher than at your friendly, neighborhood Planet Fitness. I had never seriously looked into barre for cost reasons. However, now, in mid-December, I am on a break between my fall and spring semesters at grad school and I have some time on my hands to pursue activities. While looking for exercise classes to sign up for, I found a one-month new client special at a barre studio that I could reasonably afford. Because my winter break is also about one month, I decided to just go for it! So, I made my purchase online and signed up for a Monday evening class.

Not knowing what to expect, I arrived about 10 minutes early in my shorts and t-shirt. Two other women were waiting outside the door and we were let in just a few minutes prior to the start of class. The woman behind the counter, blonde, petite, and clad in leggings and a tank top, let’s call her Monday, greeted us. The lobby was swanky, with unlit candles, gold, white, and light blue trinkets on shelves, and cubbies and coat racks for our outerwear. Following COVID policies, Monday gave us each a designated spot to set down our belongings and informed us that we were only to enter and exit the studio one at a time.

Monday informed me that I would be in “spot 3” for the workout, which was closer to the instructor (great for a newbie). The studio was spacious and, perhaps, uncharacteristic of an exercise studio, as a turquoise upright piano stood near the door. Along the back wall there were translucent plastic dividers between each exercise station — a COVID-era addition. In spot 3, I found a black yoga mat, weights, bands, and other exercise equipment. Additionally, in my spot there was hand sanitizer, spray sanitizer for the equipment, and even hair ties (how nice!). I do not know what I was picturing exactly, but the set up was more professional, cozy, and safe than I had conjured.

To my left and to my right, there were 20-to-30-something aged, Caucasian women of all shapes and sizes (not diversity by any means, but when it comes to body types, there was also no such homogeneity). Monday explained that exercise modifications could be made to accommodate different fitness levels and modifications for joint sensitivities.

Without too much further prelude, Monday slipped on her microphone, turned up the music, and began giving exercise commands. First, we took the rubber resistance bands, which were looped onto the barre, and slipped our ankles into the ends of each band (see pic above). Then, we got into a pushup position with the bands still around our ankles. From the pushup position, we performed leg lifts, which meant fighting gravity to lift the leg up and fighting the band to bring the leg back down (double exertion!). At other times, we took the bands by our hands and pulled to work out the biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles. For me, each new movement felt easy at first, however, after a few repetitions, my limbs were threatening to go limp. We worked out virtually every muscle group, which was good, because it meant that our legs could rest while our arms were being exerted and vice versa.

The whole thing lasted 55 minutes. I sweat so much; it was a workout indeed!

I woke up the next morning feeling sore — as expected, but also wanting to go back for more — unexpected! I think I will make very good use of my 1-month trial 🙂



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