I remember my first Physique 57 class, and my friend Amber agonizing that the space was little more than a torture chamber, a place where one does every exercise 57 times. The next morning I performed a very inelegant stop, drop and roll out of bed, and some of my friends inquired whether I’d been in an accident because my limp was that pronounced. In response, I shook my head and lamented about a little ball that was a predator posing as a house pet, a pulse, another 57 pulses, and an exercise called a “pretzel.” Because I’m a masochist, I casually took barre classes for a few months until my interest wanned, until I found spinning and returned to yoga, and I left that little ball behind.
Until this year. I blame my getting older and having a near maniacal obsession with posture and core strength, because I found myself returning to the barre and pulsing with renewed vigor. For those who are unfamiliar with barre classes (bless you), barre combines Pilates, yoga and ballet moves to deliver lean muscles. Classes run for about 60 minutes, and instructors focus on four sequences: arms (light free weights, push-ups and plank), thighs, seat, and core, focusing on repetitive, minute movements that drive you to exhaustion. Stretching follows each sequence and upbeat music serves as a motivator, or in my opinion, a necessary diversion tactic.
Over the past few months, I’ve taken classes at Core Fusion, Physique 57, and Bar Method, and while the class format is fairly similar, the spaces (and energy) couldn’t be more different. And luckily I’ve stopped limping.
Core Fusion, at least for me, is certainly the hardest of the lot. The spaces in New York are vastly different (we can all agree that the Soho location leaves much to be desired, while Gramercy and CPW are an oasis of calm), but lately I’ve focused less on the cosmetics of a space and more on the efficacy of the workout. When it comes to Core Fusion my mantra is that if I survive the first 20 minutes, I’m golden. Core instructors are patient, methodical, and constantly upbeat. Form is tantamount, and know that you will constantly get hands-on adjustments. Core work at Core often involves mountain climbers, side planks and oblique lifts and Odyssean-long planks, and you leave class sweaty and strong. And while I fervently believe that the classes will never be easy, they’re at least getting easier, or less horrifying.
Bar Method is my favorite, and I attribute that to the fact that the space is designed for ambiverts like me who abhor crowds and need our evenings to close with a healthy dose of calm. While the upbeat music and instructor demeanor are ubiquitous, Bar is somehow the most serene. From the warm lighting and neutral tones to classes that don’t feel as sardine-packed, I normally go to Bar Method when I need to take down the day and come within. Out of the three, Bar Method feels most yogic and most focused on core work, and when I recently introduced one of my best friends to the space she completely agreed.
While Physique 57 class will always hold a warm place in my heart as my first barre experience, it’s probably my least preferred of the three and I’d rather rock the online videos than the actual space. Granted, I’ve only visited the Soho location, but I found the space a bit dark, too loud, and too frenetic for my taste. For those of you who have ever taken a SoulCycle class, Physique 57 is the barre version of Soul — down to the energy of the Lulu-clad women who patron the space, with Physique being their third workout of the day. Don’t get me wrong, Physique is fantastic and the teachers are on-point, however, I’m evangelical about how the energy of space can truly shape your workout, and Physique simply isn’t for me.
Over the next few weeks I’ll continue with my barre obsession, booking classes at Pure Barre + Xtend Barre, knowing that this work is making me strong while complementing my long-standing yoga practice.
Top image photo credit: Beauty Balance Barre.