Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bottoms Up! If Barre Classes Were Drinks

Barre studios have become *quite* prolific. So many have been opening in my area and I've checked out a few on my travels. I'm delighted to see barre really catching on nationally and globally. While I have my favorites, I find what works for one person might not work for another. We all have our preferences and priorities, and I think there is probably a barre for everyone.
Image: pageresource.com

Before I start, a few disclaimers: this is primarily based on live studio classes I've attended. I'm also mentioning online/DVD offerings. I've taken a lot of classes at some studios, and just a few at others.

And so, in no particular order, here's the barre mom's definitive guide:


A fine, rich cabernet sauvignon served in a beautifully appointed bar with a very attentive bartender making certain you are swirling your glass with just the right turn of the wrist and consuming it in the most effective manner.
Image: foodnetwork.com

As I mentioned in my review, TBM instructors are top-notch and very attentive. They will make sure you are getting the most out of your trip to the barre. This is very important to me and it's the main reason TBM is one of my top picks.

The Bar Method has been around for a long time, but growth has been at a measured pace, largely I suspect because of the long training period required of instructors. They're big on quality control. TBM offers several DVDs and has a large and growing library of online workouts with a variety of subscription options. I'd say the online workouts are on par with classes in terms of difficulty. I don't do the online workouts, however. I'm into TBM for the live instruction. It's not the cheapest workout around, but you get what you pay for. I give TBM an A for accessibility.

You might like Bar Method if: 

  • You prize really great, personalized instruction. They've got your back. Trust me.


  • You're a newbie. Since the workout tends to be slower-paced and ultra form-focused, it's great for beginners.


  • You're more experienced and, consequently, you're not getting a whole lot of love at other studios. Instructors naturally focus much of their attention on students newer to barre, and that's totally understandable. Making sure the newer students have a sound grasp on good form is important. But more experienced students need some extra challenge to progress, too. I find TBM to be great in this respect.

You might not like TBM if:

  • You like to fly under the radar. It's standard practice to call out form corrections at The Bar Method. I actually appreciate this because it means we can all benefit from one another, but I know some people don't like this. One person who's done TBM in another state told me she cringed out of fear that they'd call her out. If you like private correction, or to walk in and walk out without being noticed, TBM might not be the be the barre for you.


  • You like a lot of variety. Bar Method classes do tend to be a little same-same. You'll see certain exercises quite frequently--some every class. 


  • You're looking for some cardio. Bar Method classes are strictly for 'toning.'(I hate that word, but that's for another post.) Stretches tend to be brisk and there is little heart-rate elevation going on here. There is a 'Bar Move' class offered at some locations, but it hasn't come to my local yet. Apparently the moves are sequenced to give a little cardio boost. I'll try it one of these days and let you know what I think.

Image: physique57.com
A mojito, made with the best, most expensive rum, and depending on who is teaching, you might find an umbrella in that drink.
Image: dreamstime.com

P57 is very fast-paced. The tempo definitely brings the challenge level up a few notches. Instructors are uber-engaging and sometimes downright entertaining. P57 doesn't have a lot of studios (only in NYC, The Hamptons, LA., Dubai and now Bangkok), but they have DVDs and super pricey online workouts.

You might like P57 if:

  • You find the average barre workout too slow or boring and you like to get some serious cardio/sweating along with your strength training. You will sweat at Physique. If you're not, you're either not a sweat-er, or you're not doing it right.


  • You're more advanced and want some killer class options. Yes, Physique has options, which is so nice. In addition to the signature class (which comes in beginner, mixed, intermediate and advanced), there is pilates-inspired Mat, more advanced Formula 57 and a variety of special workshops and themed classes. 


  • You like a high fun factor in your workouts. Oh my, Physique is so fun! I mean, fun in a very challenging sort of way. Most of the instructors are performers of one sort or another, so they are often quite entertaining. This can also up the challenge level--try to hold a forearm plank while Tanya Becker or Neil Totten are cracking jokes. Whoa.


  • You have plenty of cash and are willing to spend it on your workouts. The price tag is STEEP. More on that later.

You might not like P57 if:

  • You're a beginner and are just learning the ropes. I cut my teeth on P57, so starting here certainly can be done, but even beginner classes at the studios move quickly and it can be tough to keep up. For me, I needed the fast pace to keep me interested, but it's not for everyone.


  • You prefer a more serene, 'meditative' workout. The stretching can be serene, but that's about it. Otherwise it's a pumping beat and go-go-go!


  • You don't live in a studio location, you don't have pots of dough, and you've burned out on their limited selection of DVDs. P57 launched online workouts at a hefty $57 per month. They've only released a handful of streaming workouts for that sky-high price, though there are a few more in the pipeline. As much as I love P57, they get a C for accessibility.

Even with those cons, I can't deny that Physique 57 is still my all-time fave. I've been known to go to rather extreme lengths to take classes there (see here and here.) I *heart* Physique 57. <sigh>

Ok, moving on...

A green smoothie served up in a perfectly aligned glass. Founder Jill Dailey is a kinesiologist who puts a lot of focus on proper alignment and form. You can read my review here.
Image: poweroffood.com

You might like TDM if:

  • You're a west-coaster. TDM is best represented in the wild west of the USA, though they have studios in other cities and even a couple of international locations.


  • You have specific injuries or other need for modifications. I really haven't found other barre brands to be problematic for me, but TDM does pride itself on being uber-safe, and some of the exercises have a slightly different spin. I've only taken a few TDM classes, but typically found the instructors very attentive and knowledgeable.


  • You need childcare. Certain locations offer childcare at some classes. Check your local listings.

You might not like TDM if:

  • You don't live near a studio. They don't offer streaming service and only have two DVDs, which I have heard are effective but pretty boring. I've never tried them, though. For this reason, I'd give TDM a B- for accessibility.



Independent studios 
New England local Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale. 
A micro-brew beer infused with local character.

I don't typically review local, independent studios since my readership is scattered to the four winds, but forsake not your local indie! There are some real gems out there that may not be affiliated with well-known national barre brands. A nice local in my area is Modern Barre in Chestnut Hill, MA. I've also heard good things about the Hilliard Studio Method in Charlotte, NC, but I've never tried it. Someone please do and report back.

DC locals might want to check out Biker Barre on Capitol Hill, which offers spin and barre classes. Again, never been, but I know some regulars and they love it. It's on my list. And really, who can resist such an awesome name?

I also love the DVDs put out by The Ballet Physique in Colorado, though I've never been to a live class. We flew through Denver last year and I confessed to the Darling Husband that I was hoping for an overnight snow delay so I could try a class. (He didn't seem to share my enthusiasm for that plan.) When I travel, I love checking out different studios. Why eat at Chili's when you can try out a local taqueria? (Burr Leonard is cringing at that comparison, but hey, it's better than KFC!)

You might like indie studios if:

  • You crave variety. Independents aren't constrained by the corporate guidelines to which franchised studios have to conform. Instructors often have the freedom to choose different music and try exercises you might not see in other classes. Modern Barre offers different class programming--a high-intensity interval training and a cardio barre class in addition to the signature barre offering. Owner Julia Williamson ends each barre class with a lavender aromatherapy cool down which is delightful--and trademarked. I mean, really trademarked. (Not like I trademark things.)

You might not like independents if:

  • Obviously, the pros and cons of independents are highly variable, but you might find local studios have a sparse schedule compared to the big names. But really, it depends. Again, check your local listings.


Image: exhalespa.com

Fresh and bubbly, and definitely chug-worthy, a trip to Core Fusion will leave you lalala just like champers with a splash of OJ.
Image: blogs.dallasobserver.com

Like Physique 57, Core Fusion caters to a posh crowd. Studios are located in the most upscale neighborhoods of a few major cities, plus some resort locations. In short, where there are rich people. CF was one of the first off-shoots of the original Lotte Berk Method. Like P57's Tanya Becker, CF founders Elisabeth Halfpapp and Fred DeVito worked at LBM's New York City studio before it shut it's doors in 2005. CF classes are offered in conjunction with exhale spas (yes, the 'e' is lower case.)

CF also has a few DVDs. They are very reasonably-priced, though somewhat different and not nearly as challenging, in my opinion, as the live classes. CF gets a B+ for accessibility.

You might like CF if:

  • You're looking for a special occasion barre. It's a treat to go to CF. Studios are very serene. Mother's Day is coming up (*hint hint) and wouldn't it be nice to go downtown to exhale Core Fusion, take a class and get some sort of yummy spa delight afterwards while you watch the kids and do the breakfast dishes? Why yes, Darling Husband, it would. Thank you for asking!


  • You like options. CF offers several regular classes. In addition to traditional barre, there is yoga, Sport and Bootcamp (which you can read about here, here and here.) I've never tried the yoga, because yoga is really not my thing, but the variety is nice.

You might not like CF if:

  • You live in the burbs and/or don't have money falling out of your wallet. CF is sorta fancy. In truth, barre tends to be fancy. This isn't Planet Fitness, but you get what you pay for. I mean, you'll never find free pizza at a barre studio, but facilities at Core Fusion are really lovely and instruction is great.
= Starbucks
Image: starbucks.com

This was probably my easiest drink comparison. Like Starbucks, Pure Barre is pretty much everywhere. It is by far the most prolific barre brand with well over 200 studios throughout the United States and they're expanding into Canada. There is a pretty consistent format to PB workouts and the verbiage is the same no matter where you go. The warm-up is also the same in every studio and changes every three months. Instructors then have a menu of exercises to choose from for the other components of the class. PB studios are independently owned, so classes are not transferable from studio to studio, but if you're travelling and attend another studio, you'll notice it's quite similar to home. (Read my review here.)

PB has a handful of DVDs. Not many, but a few. No streaming yet. DVDs are not available everywhere and are on the higher end of DVD pricing. But there are studios all over the place, so I'd give PB an A for accessibility.

You might like PB if:

  • It's convenient, and it probably is. My local offers many class times throughout the week, and the owner of my local also owns the studio in the neighboring town, so in this case, I can go to either location depending on what best fits my schedule.


  • You like consistency. As mentioned, the format and cueing are pretty much the same wherever you go. They do change up some of the exercises, so you don't get a whole lot of repeat moves, apart from the warm up/arms segment in the beginning.


  • You're looking for friends, not just a workout. This may not be true of all PB locations, but at my local, they really do foster a nice sense of community. They do special challenges and events from time to time, like the Plank Off that I participated in last summer. They have a 'Bring on the Men' event a few times a year, during which women are encouraged to bring husbands, boyfriends, brothers, etc. (I haven't been able to sell this kind of thing to my Darling yet, but you never know.) This might be largely due to my local owner's personality--she's very warm and friendly and very open to feedback. PB can be a nice place to make new friends.

You might not like PB if:

  • You're looking for very attentive, engaging instruction, or advanced options. I've found PB instructors to be kind of hit-or-miss. Some are really on it, while others seem to just roam around the room. Also, the degree of difficulty can vary widely. I've taken some classes that were quite manageable and others that were wicked hard. And since there is only one class type, you don't really know how it's going to be until you're in the middle of it.


  • You're brand new to barre. I've brought a few barre virgins to PB and they've typically found it a little frustrating. Like Starbucks, PB definitely has it's own lingo, so if 'box out your arm on the barre' doesn't mean anything to you, you might find PB frustrating until you learn to speak their language. This can be mitigated by alerting the instructor that you're new. Lots of people got their releves wet at PB, so I'm not saying it's a bad place to start, just not the best, in my opinion.

= a long island iced tea served in a sippy cup.
Image: babygizmo.com

Barre3 is a mix of a lot of different elements--barre, yoga, pilates, compound moves and it really caters to the Mommy crowd. They are expanding their studio business, and they have a very robust online streaming service, as well as DVDs, a print book and a mobile app. Barre3 definitely gets an A+ for accessibility. (Class review here.)

You might like barre3 if:

  • You need childcare. Barre3 offers it for some classes, and may God bless them for it.


  • You're looking for something a little different. This is not your standard barre class. B3 throws a lot of different elements into the mix and can make for a nice change if you need a break from up-an-inch-down-an-inch.


  • You are looking for a cardio component. The compound moves in barre3 definitely get your heart pumping.

You might not like barre3 if:

  • You don't like lots and lots of reps. I only took one class at barre3 so I'm reticent to criticize anything, but there were LOTS of reps and the instructor said that was typical. So, FYI.


  • You're looking for a serene, calming experience. I didn't find barre3 to be serene. But I don't really need that in a workout. Just my bed. I need my bed to be serene.


***********************

So there you go, that's my take on the barre scene. The more I talk to other barre devotees, the more I see that convenience and location are the key factors that drive people's choices. A studio that's affordable and easy to get to is pretty key. Obviously, not all studios can be all things to all people, and working out is something you really need to do a few times a week. So that's a huge consideration. But people like different things. I like it when an instructor is all up in my grill; others find that off-putting. Some are looking for social connection; others just want to get in and get out.

I slogged through a lot of hard classes and, even more importantly, drank A LOT to bring you this in-depth report. It was tough, but I live to serve. Bottoms up!

2 comments:

  1. What a fun post! I haven't tried all the barre chains you list, but I've tried quite a few; Pure Barre is my favorite, but I've been to a few barre3 classes on my travels and I think, if we had a studio in my town, I'd be there ALL THE TIME. Love your enthusiasm for barre; it really is a workout like no other!! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. THanks, Caroline! Sorry, I'm just seeing this comment... a year and a half later! yikes...

      Delete