Being a bit of a gym rat, I’ve been a devotee of just about it all—yoga, boot camp, spin class—but my current favorite is strength training. (And by strength training, I mean lifting weights waaaaay heavier than five or 10 pounds. And no, it’s not true that lifting heavy will bulk you up. But I digress …) Suffice to say, I’ve been skeptical of the latest workout du jour, barre classes. With their fondness for light weights and dainty plies, how hard could they be?
I found out during a recent trip to the latest barre3 location in N.Y.C.’s West Village. (The studio has other locations across the country, and you can also get workouts online and through their app.) Barre3, founded in 2008 by the fit and—I would soon find out—fabulous Sadie Lincoln, is a combination of ballet barre, yoga, and Pilates that purports to transform your body on the three pillars of balance, strength, and flexibility (hence the name barre3). Using isometric holds and small, controlled movements, barre3’s aim is to help you build muscle and burn fat in one low-impact workout.
I headed out for the 60-minute class during my lunch break, where, in the interest of time, I didn’t bother changing out of the tank I had worn to work that day, figuring I wouldn’t sweat that much, anyway. During class, you have the option of working with weights that range from 2 to 5 lbs, so of course I picked up a set (all the while thinking what cake this would be), and took my place at the barre, accompanied by a traditional yoga strap and barre3’s Core Ball, which is a not-fully inflated ball used during class to help with alignment and provide resistance during some of the exercises.
Lo and behold, about 15 minutes into class, I broke out into a sweat. I even panted on occasion. And my quads were sore almost immediately following class. Barre3 exposed muscle weaknesses I didn’t know I had, and Sadie later explained why: “We have a specific three-step formula of first holding the body in an isometric hold, then layering small range of motion, high-repetition movement, followed by full-range functional movement,” she says. “This formula helps traditional weight training because it helps clients to learn good alignment, balances the body by creating equal strength and flexibility, and works some of the deeper, postural muscles required for heavy lifting. ”
But even with those benefits to my traditional workout, what I enjoyed most about the class was its sense of community. Sadie worked us hard, but was sensitive to her students’ athletic ability, offering still-tough modifications for people sidelined due to injury or, as in my case, a weak post-partum core. Too, many of barre3’s employees are former students who fell so in love with Sadie’s workouts and holistic philosophy they, as one of them told me, “found a way to work for her.” Clearly, barre3 is more than just a passing fad.
So will I become a barre3 devotee? It looks likely. Though next time I take class, I intend to change my pants and my shirt, lest I return from lunch looking like a hot, sweaty—but well-worked out—mess.