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Driely S. for Racked

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Learning to Love Pure Barre

A longtime naysayer tries the most popular ballet-based workout

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I don’t do anything I don’t like. That’s how I am, that’s how I’ll always be. But, I need to concede: I was very wrong about Pure Barre. If you have somehow not yet visited one of their over 300 locations nationwide, it is essentially a low-impact toning class that uses the fundamentals of ballet to lift, tone, and firm your entire body. It supposedly gives you super-quick results and for this, has thousands of devotees; I have hated it with burning rage of a wintertime hearth for years.

Pure Barre refers to itself as the "largest, most established barre franchise in North America," touting its technique as being the fastest, most effective way to change your body. Until this past month, I only knew it as an elitist hellzone that became the second-ever entity besides my mother to tell me how to dress.

Yes, the studios have a Marine-like attention to clothing detail, with a no-shorts-allowed policy I so desperately want to defy. You’re required to wear socks, and highly encouraged to sport non-slip ones, which happen to be sold in-studio at $12 a pop and frankly don’t work great. Its certain quirks — carpeted floors capturing beads of sweat! A glutes section that sneaks up on you after a final stretch! — are of the variety that drive me insane. But, all that falls away with this truth: the reason we all know someone who does Pure Barre, and the reason I went back and was proved wrong, is that it totally works.

While in my first class, I ran into a friend from high school, who was so toned from regular visits that I practically got on my knees and begged her to show me the path towards ab enlightenment. Even my friend, comedian Sue Smith, claimed to have seen immediate results, and would never bullshit something like that. Something’s going on here, but what is it? Could little squats at a wooden barre really be turning these women into fitness machines?

In the realm littered with competitors aplenty — Barre3, The Dailey Method and The Bar Method, to name a few — Pure Barre is a behemoth. Unlike Soul-Cycle, Flywheel, Barry’s Bootcamp or other national studios with brand recognition, the ease and ability to franchise a location is part of the reason why Pure Barre’s location list looks like an early-stage contagion map — and why their compeitiors are widely known, too.

After attending a few times, I’m not entirely sure what makes their movement proprietary against other studios. Something special is happening here, and not just because a sign-in form requires you to declare if you are a fitness professional prior to class. While some other studios rely heavily on the methods of Lotte Berk, Pure Barre is more focused on toning than pre-established terminology, meaning no class could be mistaken for straight pilates or ballet. I’ve done everything from hold planks to do barre squats that made my butt go numb to stick my leg backwards through a double-tube and create tension from putting the other end around my shoulder. The class structure is always the same — you work arms, abs, glutes and legs — but the movement vocabulary is vast, which keeps it exciting.

Before I dove back into the carpeted land of terror to give it another shot, I was under the impression that Pure Barre was exclusively for hopeful and current housewives. My opinions weren’t necessarily proven wrong — the lighting in there makes every wedding ring sparkle like the fucking Hope diamond — but I never realized how ageless this workout can be. Pure Barre’s appeal is so universal that it almost doesn’t make sense. Some people are mad toned, others are "starting their fitness journey", and everyone is mixed up into a group where there’s somehow no delineation between the two. Even better, with movement that’s so minimal and internalized, no one can tell if it’s your first or hundredth class, making it a boutique rarity of getting a good workout sans intimidation. Someone who hasn’t worked out in five years would feel more comfortable coming here than a regular gym, which is something I never expected from a place that is telling me what workout costume to show up in. (Seriously guys, I am not into these leggings rules.)

You ever hear about those women who get c-sections and bounce back like, two weeks later? This is that kind of workout. You’ll never have to do a burpee or swing kettlebells and you’ll still get strong. (Sigh of relief, right?) Having always thought exercise didn’t count unless you left looking like you’d slid down a waterpark ride of pure sweat, I wrote Pure Barre off completely... and then I tried to walk the day after class. The 55-minute workout isn’t deeply challenging, but it is sneaky-hard. You use 2 or 3 pound weights for arms, you even grab a rubber playground ball, but somehow, it works. Most moves happen within an inch of space. The tucks and bends and shifts are so small that you tuck tinily and scoop internally and, I don’t know, things tighten. Some other studios will have you hold movement that doesn’t quite feel like anything but muscle fibers tearing; here, it’s working without an emphasis on your legs "shaking and quaking" like they’re having tiny seizures.

The setup of the class is pretty pimped out, too: the teacher adjusts you, a studio employee magically swoops in to cleans up after you and brings you mats, the instructors are better at explaining concepts than I’ve ever been. The methodology here is just better than elsewhere. You’re not just sliding down a mat against the wall and hoping your "lower abs" are working while you’re daydreaming about the almond milk latte you left in your locker for after class. You’re really working — even if you’re not moving very much at all.

By the end of my first class, it became apparent that, weird, Pure Barre seems to be targeting all of my soft spots. Each time we switch to a new region, it’s another problem area. And then, it hits me — maybe the reason I didn’t like it here wasn’t the socks or the lack of free towels or even the goddamn anti-shorts policy. It was that it actually is hard, that I am somewhat weak, and that this is what I need to be doing.

Sure, I still contend that no one should ever have to work out on carpet, but 10 minutes later, I walk out with my body still clenched like a drug smuggler's asscheeks. My posture is instantly corrected, and I’m not pooped like I am after a cardio class here. The result is immediate, and for that, I guess I could get used to wearing leggings.

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