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It’s difficult to talk about Pop Physique without first talking about butts. They’re everywhere — plastered on billboards, posturing on signage, hovering beneath the website’s class pricing options. It’s impossible to book and take their signature hour-long barre class without coming face-to-face with at least one gratuitous image of a tush; even the website’s browser tab icon is a miniature rump sporting lime green panties.
It’s all intended to be sexual, without a doubt. Their branding has this hipster soft-core vibe to it, with white-flashed photo shoots of girls in solid leotards, emulating American Apparel’s ‘80s-inspired fashions and Terry Richardson’s dynamic iconography.
First timers must wander in thinking, "What happens in there?!," and the answer is even more surprising than what one would readily assume. It’s a barre class — a pretty standard one, in fact — that happens to differ in every single way from its competition, except for, perhaps, the movement.
Founder Jennifer Williams, a professional ballet dancer-turned-pilates instructor, created Pop Physique with her brand developer husband, Deric. The concept emerged in 2008, bringing the sharp new brand’s signature Pop Sculpt workout to Silverlake residents ahead of the boutique fitness boom to come. In the past eight years, Pop Physique has spread to 19 locations throughout Florida, Maryland, New York City, and California; it is wildly popular in Los Angeles in particular, with a tush-toning location in nearly every single neighborhood.
Pop Sculpt utilizes the Lotte Berk method, a technique first developed in the ‘50s to give non-dancers the body of one: high tush, tight inner thighs, strong core, toned arms. Like The Bar Method, Pure Barre, The Barre Code, and similar nationwide chains, the results are the same and movements are similar, but the way Pop Physique goes about achieving them is completely different. Plainly put, they’ve nailed a particular vibe in a way no one else has been able to: they’ve somehow made plié-ing cool.
The class begins with a floor warm-up that includes a high-knees, a quietly vigorous plank series, tricep sections, shoulder work and bicep toning, the latter of which requires a lot of small movements with two or three pounds of assistance. From there, you’ll head over to the bar as a staff member clears your weights (which always feels terribly posh), stretch, and get to it. The actual movements vary for each class, but you’ll cover thighs, butt, core, and upper body each time. At the end there’s an extended ab section — the "slouching against wall and pushing up on bar while tucking" version, if you’re familiar — some more tush exercises, and a final stretch.
If you’ve ever taken barre before, this may not sound so different. The variety here isn’t in the small toning motions but wholly in the environment. The weights are bright shades of purple, the balls are neon pink, the instructor’s teal mat is the only way to differentiate which cool girl is working and which is working out. The floors are nice, the decor is begging to be Instagrammed, even the non-slip socks are stylish.
Going to one of Pop Physique’s studios feels like spending time with barre’s fly older sister, the one who sneaks out in the middle of the night to smoke cigarettes at the 7-11, instead of a ballet fitness class lead by a former dance team captain. There’s something so refreshing about a woman seriously pulling off a butt-length braid instructing you on where to stick your leg, rather than a peppy teacher shouting "up an inch, down an inch, feel those shakes and quakes!" In fact, the staff is deeply stocked with could-be gal pals; even Brooklyn 99’s Stephanie Beatriz is a former instructor.
The tone is actually so casual and relaxed at Pop Physique that I often feel embarrassed to be sweating, as though we’re doing something other than exercise. Nothing — the instruction, the movements, the explanations — references fitness or emphasizes future muscle definition, even though that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re all there working our asses off quite literally, and still, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a teacher said the word "sweat" or "burn" or "tight" aloud.
And then, of course, there’s the Pop style. While Pure Barre practically demands you wear ankle-length leggings, Pop Physique doesn’t give a hell what’s on your body so long as you’re wearing socks. As a Lululemon-wearing boutique exerciser, I’m constantly shocked that the abounding uniform among its stylish visitors is mostly pajamas. You know those big, baggy t-shirts you had to abandon upon the birth of athleisure? Rejoice: they’re totally still a thing here.
There’s never a mention of looking leaner, nary a lecture of "getting the body you desire." We’re here to tone; whatever the hell you’re looking for is your own personal journey. And still, I’ve seen more ex-ballerinas here in a week’s time than I’ve seen anywhere else.
Classes mostly come at $25 pop — pricing is higher in New York and lower in Long Beach and Florida — but only fools pay full price. Within the past month, I’ve purchased two packages for the studio near me as part of their #PopNoir Black Friday offering, came close to snagging a $100 30-day package for new clients and would have grabbed one of their 5-for-$39 Groupons if I didn’t stumble onto one I’d purchased and forgotten about from 2014 in the process.
I have so many pre-paid classes under my belt (at $8 a pop!) that I forced myself to avoid their New Year, New Butt discounts (one week unlimited for $30, two weeks for $55, three weeks for $75), and somehow still happened to miss both their Naughty or Nice holiday sale and Thanksgiving Keep The Pies Off Your Thighs promotion, which offered 5 classes for $45 or 20 classes for $200 each.
You’d think discounts like these would come from a fitness mini-corporation crying out in financial ruin, but they’re not — Pop Physique recently opened a second Venice location on one of Los Angeles’ most expensive retail streets, an additional Los Angeles location in Pasadena, and a two-studio space in Manhattan, its first in NYC. A recent job listing references a plan to open over 15 new locations, nearly doubling the amount the company holds already.
Pop Physique’s prices are a fun house of speculation over how a studio can quietly operate that far below stickered price without ever faltering on the experience. Even the pens so-called "Pop Virgins" use to sign first-time waivers are on-brand — and yes, they feature a leotard-clad tush.
They’ve thought it all through — the imagery, the decor, the class. It’s fitness as experience, not exercise, and when you add that it’s practically the Bed, Bath and Beyond of butt work (discounts galore!), well, it makes for one hell of a non-workout.