Well Being

Gym Classy Lady: Finding Barre Class Bliss (And Buns Of Steel) At Exhale Spa

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Ahh, barre classes: The Jazzercise of the 2010s. They're popping up all over the country, in boutique fitness studios and local YMCAs alike. In Manhattan alone, we have Bar Method, Physique 57, Fly Barre (at Flywheel), Figure Four (at Pure Yoga), Pure Barre, Nalini Method, and today's subject matter: Core Fusion Barre at Exhale Spa. If you start typing “barre” into Google, it auto-populates with “barre classes nyc.”

But … are barre classes, exactly? What do they accomplish? And why are they so damn expensive?

I mentioned this last week at dinner with friends. One immediately piped up about her own experience at Exhale. She'd been looking for a new workout adventure to try on a Friday evening. She had plans that night but wanted something relaxing and easy for a quick post-work pick-me-up. She stumbled upon Exhale Spa's barre classes and figured, it's at a spa! How hard can it be? This is just the relaxing kick-off to my weekend I need! And off she went.

When she entered the class, she was immediately greeted by a peppy teacher and a carpeted room. If there's carpet, it must be easy, she thought. Students were required to wear socks, but no shoes; another sign this wouldn't be an intense workout.

Within five minutes, my friend realized she'd been duped. She could hardly walk that night at the bar (the kind for drinking), and was unbelievably sore the next day. She never returned to Exhale for a “low-intensity workout” again.

My experience at barre class was slightly different, but mostly because I went into the class expecting to be challenged. I've been taking Core Fusion Barre classes regularly for about six months now and have compared stories with friends who've taken other barre classes, so that pretty much makes me an expert. Here's what you should know about barre if you don't want to wind up like my friend.

EFFECTIVENESS – Overall, was it a good workout? How sweaty was I at the end (from black tie ready to fat man in Texas July)? 

5 – Classes are unofficially divided into four parts. After a quick warm-up, there's arm work with light weights and lots of repetitions, push ups, planks (which are not for your arms, but you can expect core work to be heavily featured since it's in the name) and some tricep dips. Then the class moves to the ballet barre around the studio for thigh work, which is, in a nutshell, TERRIBLE.

Do me a favor, while you're reading this: Stand up, wherever you are. Put your heels together, toes apart in a V formation, and raise your heels up, keeping them together. Now squat halfway down so your knees stick out, but keep your back straight and abs in (and don't sue me or Blisstree if you get hurt, cool?). Spend the time it takes you to read the rest of this article slowly moving up and down about five inches total (your legs should be bent the entire time). When your legs start to shake, KEEP GOING. That is good. Shaking is good in barre classes. (And also terrible.)

After thigh work, the class moves on to glutes. This is where such torturous positions as the pretzel come into play (Denise Austin recommends it!). It is at this point in most classes that I'll begin to bargain with God to get me out of the rest of this class.

Blessedly, the final section of the class is abs. And in this case, abs are the least of your troubles. Despite all the references to torture and how many of its synonyms I've referenced in the prior three paragraphs, barre classes are known for creating long, lean muscles, which will give you a dancer's body. And a rock-solid core. And who doesn't want that?

(Speaking of – are you still squatting? Doesn't hurt yet? Give it a minute!)

AMENITIES – How posh was the gym/spa/studio? From lemon water to BYO.

4 – Exhale is, as its name suggests, a spa first. Which means everything is super posh and makes you feel like you should be putting on a robe and getting a massage, not working out (this can be a little disheartening when people are going for massages next to you in the locker room, but it beats naked people, right?). The yuppie in me likes the spa vibe, though the amenities come at a price of $35 per class. Of course, classes are cheaper if you buy a package and (pro tip!) all of my classes have been purchased in 10 class packages from RueLaLa or Gilt or some other sample sale site. They seem to have a sale a few times a year, which makes it much easier to regularly attend.

STUDIO VIBE – Was the place full of lululemon or ratty old t-shirts? How awkward did I feel, from inner-Beyonce to sixth grade me?

3 – You'll see more designer workout gear in an Exhale class than you would at a lululemon fashion show, if that were a thing. But I've worn Target tanks there and not felt out of place. Like most studio classes, it can be awkward at first, but Exhale does offer “Core Fusion Barre Basic” classes geared towards newbies, which helps with the embarrassment factor.

(Still squatting? Keep your back straight and your knees bent!)

TEACHERS – Did the teacher add to or detract from the experience? Did they put together a good playlist?

4 – In six months, I've had most of the teachers and very few have been anything less than superb. They're good with (non-embarrassing) corrections and making you feel welcome and part of the experience. To some degree, that's what you pay for with the fancy classes.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE – Would I go again? What else contributed to my experience?

4 – Obviously, I am a convert. This is one class I've regularly attended for months and genuinely looked forward to each week. Over the next few months, I'm hoping to try some other barre classes so I can really compare their styles so let me know if you have one to suggest!

You may now stand up and pat yourself on the back for squatting for about a minute, less if you're a speed reader or skipped parts. Just do that for about 15 more minutes, plus abs, glutes, and arms, and you have a Core Fusion Barre class.

About “Gym Class Lady:” Inspired by my love of trying all things fitness, every other week I’ll be reviewing a workout class, fad or video. I try all these classes so you don’t have to! Have a class to recommend or a review you’d love to read? Leave me a comment or tweet me @lizlemonyall.