Non-impact exercise program long popular in NYC is gaining fans in region
CAPITAL REGION It’s a desperately cold night in Albany, but at Good Karma Studio, five women are working up a sweat.
“Looking good,” says their instructor, Jessica Lubin.
Dressed in T-shirts and black yoga pants, the women step up to a shiny metal ballet barre that stretches horizontally along the bright lime green wall. They stand up very straight, their backs to the barre. Arms rest along the barre, while hands grip the barre tightly for balance.
“On your toes. You’re nice and tall,” Lubin says.
Standing on tiptoe, the women lift one leg, then the other, high into the air.
“Bend and kick, bend and kick. Nice and long. You are like The Rockettes,” says Lubin.
The women laugh, but they don’t turn their heads or look at each other. They are too busy concentrating and pushing themselves through the exercise. One woman pauses and lifts a hand from the barre to swipe perspiration from her forehead.
Lubin’s students are not dancers. And this isn’t a yoga class.
It’s called barre, and it’s a fitness class that’s just beginning to take off in the Capital Region after migrating from New York City.
“It’s a combination of strengthening exercises for the upper body and the core and lower body strengthening at the ballet barre. It’s a complete muscular endurance workout,” says Emily Clausi, owner of e-studio in Latham and Clifton Park, which has 12 barre classes on its schedule.
“The unique thing is that it’s nonimpact. You are not jumping and stressing the joints. It’s really muscular endurance training,” Clausi says.
“It’s very cardiovascular. Your heart is beating fast. You are rockin’ and rollin’ the whole time,” says Jessica Lustig, who operates The Hot Yoga Spot at Stuyvesant Plaza and offers 60 classes a week, including 10 to 15 barre classes.
“They are all very basic movements: leg lifts, squats, plies, reminders about alignment. It’s more of a challenging workout than a challenging class,” Lustig says.
Running the gamut
Barre students use floor mats to do Pilates-type exercises, then move to the barre for dance-inspired exercises. Straps, resistance bands, small hand weights, kickballs and other props are used both on the floor and at the barre.
“Every class is different. There are countless things that you can do with barre,” says Lustig.
Lubin, an Albany native who lived in Manhattan for more than a decade, opened Good Karma in 2011 and offers four barre classes.
She first heard about barre about eight years ago in New York City.
“Barre started popping up everywhere. This has been around for a long time,” Lubin says.
Physique 57, a luxury fitness studio with sites in New York, Beverly Hills and the Hamptons, became known for its barre classes, attracting celebrities like Kelly Ripa, she says.
“Madonna’s huge into it,” says Lubin.
In the Capital Region, there are only about a half dozen places where students can take barre, but the number of students and instructors is growing.
Clausi, who got her barre training at Physique 57, says that she was the first Capital Region studio to install a regulation ballet barre three years ago, and now she is training barre instructors.
“Right now, there are very few places doing it,” says Lustig, a Long Island native, “but word is spreading quickly. I’ve even heard of a YMCA adding it.”
The Hot Yoga Spot is also training barre instructors, and, in March, a second studio is opening in Clifton Park. In the late spring, Tracey Mallett, the world-renowned British-born fitness expert, will be coming to The Hot Yoga Spot to certify instructors in her “Booty Barre” technique.
At all three studios, most of the students are women. Good Karma has “a young group” and “women in their 40s and 50s,” says Lubin.
“Predominantly it’s women, but we have more men trying it and realizing how hard it is,” says Clausi. “The youngest is about 14. Our oldest one might be 70. Lots of college students.”
At The Hot Yoga Spot, “it’s mostly women 20 to 45,” says Lustig. “It’s the workout after you have a baby.”
And why do women like barre?
“They like a good workout,” says Lubin. “They like that they sleep better at night. Many of them feel more flexible, stronger, more confident in body and mind.”
Women are always looking to trim their midsections or lower bodies, says Clausi.
“That’s a big draw. But what people really enjoy about it is that they get results very quickly. Losing inches, tightening everything up and really elongating the muscles.”
Barre students get pumped because instructors play high-energy music, says Lustig, unlike yoga classes, in which the music is soft and relaxing or Pilates, which is sans music.
“When you do the reps, you want to die, but when you leave, you feel so good. And you see the results,” says Lustig.
On that cold night in Albany, after a tough but satisfying workout, two of Lubin’s students were eager to share their thoughts about barre.
“I couldn’t motivate myself to do something like this. It’s an overall body workout,” says Katie Sieg of Albany, who moved here last fall from Phoenix.
“You got the cardio, the strength and the flexibility,” says Ashley Hames, a yoga student from Clifton Park who took her first barre class last October.
“She does something new and different every class. She kicks my butt every time.”