If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m shamelessly addicted to Pure Barre. I try to go 4-5 times a week, and it’s become my oasis from the BS of day-to-day life. So, if you’re looking for a completely unbiased post, this isn’t it- but don’t give up on me just yet! I’ve tried my best to include the pros, cons, what to expect, and why I became such a huge devotee.
Pure Barre really prides itself on the concept that anyone can take Pure Barre. Technically, this is true- I’ve seen women (and a few men!) of all different ages, fitness levels, and trimesters (okay, that one’s just for the ladies) take Pure Barre classes and come back for more. However, the class is pretty intense if you’re new to the whole group exercise scene. In Chicago, there are roughly 4 million group exercise classes to choose from all with varying levels of intensity. I’ll be honest- I’ve never ventured into the other 3,999,999 studios so I can’t say where Pure Barre falls on the spectrum, but it’s not a “quiet stretching class” like I once overheard a girl’s boyfriend say. Before he attended a “Bring on the Men” class and nearly died.
I drove past the Pure Barre studio in my hometown thinking “I should try that” for a year before I ever got up the guts to actually try it. I had taken a handful of yoga and pilates classes at our local sports center, but I had never seriously gotten involved in group exercise. The little boutique studios that had started popping up all over really intimidated me, and I didn’t see myself jiving with all of the Lululemon-clad, perfect-bodied women that I assumed filled the classes.
I joke that I’m horribly uncoordinated and have no athletic ability which I maintain is somewhat true. However, I was actually a competitive swimmer through college, and I spent a large chunk of my life in a pool or gym. I maintained a small exercise routine once my swimming career ended, but that all went out the window once I started grad school. Unfortunately, I also found out I had pretty significant scoliosis around that time, and my doctor warned me that keeping my core strong would be really important for pain management. Yeah, she was right.
Allow Yourself to Be a Beginner
I knew I wasn’t in great shape the first time I stepped into a Pure Barre class, but I couldn’t believe how weak I actually was. It was like I hadn’t engaged my core muscles in four years, and my body was going to remind me of that every move I took. I slid backwards during the plank, lost my balance during the thigh exercises, and could barely stand on one leg long enough to do the seat moves. It was a rough wake up call, and I was definitely a little demoralized walking out. However, knowing this possibility ahead of time, I had purchased the one-month intro pack, thus virtually forcing myself to go back.
I didn’t tell anyone when I started taking Pure Barre classes, and I’m not the type to send out a call for all friends/family/coworkers/neighbors/girl at the mall to come join me. It was really something I was doing just for me, and I appreciated having the time to myself (while I nearly died) during those first few classes. There’s part of me that’s still an athlete at heart, and I really pushed myself to just do a little better than I had the previous class.
I think the most addicting thing about Pure Barre is that you truly get better every single class. As much as I’d like to think it’s because you genuinely get stronger each time, it’s also because you start to learn what the eff is going on. The first class is a total blur, and it’s confounded by the fact that everyone around you seems to know exactly what to do before the instructor even gives the direction. (Spoiler alert- it’s the same 2-3 warmups for a 3 month span, and then everything gets changed again.) I started to figure out the general flow of the class (warmup, arms, thighs, seat, abs, and stretching), and I’m someone that can definitely push myself a little harder when I know the end is coming soon. I continued to have a love-hate relationship with it, but it slowly began to fall more on the love side after the first 3 months.
The most miraculous thing that’s happened? My back pain is virtually gone. I have a really active job, and my back pain was getting to the point that I was afraid it was going to impact my work performance. Now, I don’t worry about that anymore, and, if I wake up with pain, I know I can get rid of it by going to class. I’ve spent a huge amount of time (and money) on physical therapy and chiropractic services which are great but don’t necessarily give you the tools to manage pain on your own. Now, it’s great to have a routine that both supports my body and prevents that constant fear of injury.
Alright, so here’s the part most of you are probably waiting for- did it give me those long, lean muscles that are so heavily advertised? I’d say yes! However, the changes in my body were probably a lot more noticeable to me than anyone else for awhile. That’s partly because I was carrying some extra weight at the time, and it’s hard to see abs developing when, uh, they’re buried pretty deeply. That being said, I could feel that the muscles below my belly button (aka those dang lower abs) were getting much stronger, and my whole lower back and hips just seemed a lot more defined. I’ve always had skinnier arms and legs so the definition there was probably the most noticeable to other people. Once I shed about 30 pounds before my wedding, people definitely noticed, and it was nice that the physical changes were completing the mental ones. I finally felt strong and capable during a physical activity which I had lost in the years since I stopped swimming.
Now, on to the class details. The class is 50 minutes and targets the 4 major muscle groups- arms, thighs, seat, and abs. It moves quickly with short stretching breaks following the exercises for each muscle group. The instructors remind you throughout class to use proper body mechanics to protect your joints and ensure you’re getting the most out of every move. They’ll come around and tweak your movements, especially when you’re new, and they’re available for any questions after class (there’s no time to ask during so you just fake it til you make it!). I’ve worked with a lot of instructors to modify certain positions to decrease the strain on my back, and now I know how to perform the moves so I get the benefit without the injury. I really appreciate that the emphasis is truly on working from your best point and not comparing yourself to others.
So what about all those Lululemon-clad, perfect-bodied women that I was so hesitant to work out with? They’re definitely there, but the classes are composed of women of all body types, fitness levels, and exercise experience. (Oh- and the women who do have rock hard abs are also super nice and not judgey at all.) For every Pure Barre diehard there is a newbie or occasional drop-in that keeps the classes from feeling to cult-y. (You know what I’m talking about.) Everyone is also so busy focusing on their own workout that they’re truly not looking around to see what you’re doing. So, unless you’re complaining loudly or checking your cell phone (both very frowned upon), no one is going to care what you’re doing.
I know I’ve been writing forever, but I have to mention what is possibly my favorite part of Pure Barre- the instructors. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into my first class, but they are seriously the nicest, most encouraging women. I don’t do well with bootcamp-style workouts where I’m getting yelled at so I appreciate a little “Yes, you’ve got it, Kaitlin!” when that last thigh exercise is making me want to die. I currently bounce between the West Loop and Fulton Market studios, but I’ve been to 3 others and have had great experiences with the instructors every time. Their attitude definitely impacts the overall feel of the studio, and I’ve found most of the other clients to also be friendly, inviting, and encouraging. I’m not the most outgoing person when I first meet people, but I’ve met more women and struck up more friendly conversations after being in the same classes week-to-week. It’s nice to feel like you have your own little community week after week.
Alright, so there have to be some cons, right? Of course! I’ve convinced a few friends to try Pure Barre over the years with mixed results. I think for some it’s just not their preferred form of exercise. The new Empower class is more-cardio focused, but it probably won’t win over the SoulCycle devotee. I would also guess that a typical class doesn’t burn as many calories as a straight-up cardio class, and I had a friend say it just wasn’t what she was looking for. I know some clients use it as a way to supplement their more cardio-intense activities (like running), but that isn’t cheap.
That brings me the biggest hurdle for a lot of people- the cost. I’m on the 12-month unlimited plan which costs me about $170/mo (pricing can vary by studios), and that’s the cheapest option. I can justify it as it’s my only workout plan, and I take enough classes that it’s worth it. However, the shorter and smaller packages are pricier which makes it difficult if you’re someone who prefers to mix it up. A lot of studios will have monthly specials and deals, but each location is franchised so they don’t work at the other locations. That’s another downside for people, especially in Chicago where there are so many studios all over. The West Loop and Fulton Market locations have the same owner (shout out, Susan!) so they have reciprocity, but that’s not the case with all studios.
The Final Takeaway
In conclusion, would I recommend Pure Barre to a friend? Uh, duh. I have, and now I have some friends who are also equally devoted (one even became an instructor!). I think it’s a great fit for anyone who knows they could be doing a little more for their body but is intimidated by all the fitness trends that pop up left and right. There are no class levels so you pretty much jump in, figure out where you’re at, and go from there. And, take it from somebody who was pretty low on the fitness spectrum, that it kinda sucks at first, but you’ll be better within a week- and that is motivating.
This weekend is actually an open house at the West Loop studio meaning all classes are free! So, if you’ve been wanting to give it a try without the commitment, now is your chance! I’d recommend calling the studio to reserve a spot just since things will get busy. I’m planning to be at the Sunday at 11am class so maybe I’ll see you there!