Test Drive: Barre Crawl

Ballet-inspired exercise classes have been around since the 1950s when Lotte Berk pioneered her limb-sculpting method. But the past few years have seen a huge resurgence. Claims that the intense workouts will transform your body into the ideal dancer’s body have catapulted the trend to full-on cult status (no word yet on how much credit Black Swan can take for that). We enlisted Alexia Brue, co-founder of Well & Good NYC and barre expert (she’s tried them all!) to give us the lowdown. Armed with her advice, we prepped our ballerina buns, threw on our Lululemon spandex, and headed off to four different NYC studios. Here’s our take on the fitness craze.

Know Before You Go

There are just a few things you need to know before jumping into a barre classe. First, Brue says that for the most part “creators of each method are pulling from the same common tradition – they’re all influenced by the Lotte Berk Method.” In fact, several of the most well-known classes were started by former Lotte Berk instructors who combined their experience with yoga, pilates, and isometrics to form hybrid styles. But before you start thinking that these ballet-inspired classes are the easy way to a whole new body, Brue warns (and we experienced first-hand) that they’re no cakewalk. “It can be incredibly painful and each class is different. It hurts just as much every time you take a class, so you won’t plateau,” says Brue.

On the practical side, you’ll definitely need a bottle of water and you should plan to shower after class. “You do get sweaty, and your heart rate gets up way more than you would think. It’s much harder than a Pilates mat class.” Also, don’t forget to check ahead of class about appropriate footwear. Depending on the studio, socks or sneakers may be required, whereas bare feet are de rigueur at others.

The Traditionals

We began with two of NYC’s more longstanding barre studios: Physique 57 and Exhale Core Fusion. Both offer a similar high-intensity workout focused on arms, thighs, butts, and abs. Peppy music and a quick pace keep workouts fun. Ultimately we loved both these classes. Physique’s muscle breakdowns were more difficult but the hour spent at Core Fusion flew by.

Best For:

Anyone interested in toning muscle quickly with targeted exercises in an upbeat, motivational setting.

What You Can Expect:

To feel the burn. You’ll work muscles you didn’t know existed until they started shaking.

Locations:

Both Physique 57 and Exhale Core Fusion have several NYC locations but anyone can get the workout at home with their DVDs.

The Zen

Next up we stopped by Pure Yoga for their new barre class, Figure Four. From the gorgeous wood-floored studio to the soothing music, this experience was incredibly calming and zen-like. Founder Kate Albarelli kept a balance between stretching and flexing muscles so we never felt pushed over the limit. Our sore muscles the next day spoke volumes though!

Best For:

Yoga enthusiasts who want more rigorous strength training in a similar environment.

What You Can Expect:

To get personal attention and guidance during the class and walk out feeling refreshed.

Locations:

Just a few months old, Figure Four is only taught at Pure Yoga’s Upper West Side Manhattan location at the moment.

The Cardio Barre

Our last stop on the tour was new boutique studio, Bari. The intimate class was by far the most cardio-heavy of the bunch, with grapevines and lunges interspersed with pushups and crunches. Resistance bands and the barre were used briefly during our session but founder Alexandra Perez and her instructors mix it up every class.

Best For:

Anyone looking for a fun, dance-like, cardio workout with lots of strengthening exercises throughout.

What You Can Expect:

To work up a sweat and work your entire body. Look out this month for new micro classes that focus on specific muscle groups.

Locations:

The first Bari Studio opened recently in NYC’s Tribeca neighborhood and another will open shortly in East Hampton for seasonal classes.

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