Tagged: barre

Happy 2013!

Here's to 52 more!

Here’s to 52 more!

As I checked into my first workout of the year at Physique 57 today, I hit my major milestone of 52 straight weeks of exercising! Looking back, some of said weeks were a tad light (read: I barely got to class once), but I’m crazy excited that I managed to show up to sweat at least once a week, every week, for the whole year.

This year marks the first time since college that I’ve sustained a consistent exercise program for more than a few months. In fact, I experienced many fitness “firsts” in 2012…these were some of the highlights:

  • PILATES! I actually took my first Reformer class on New Year’s Eve in 2011, but I had my first-ever private session with my favorite teacher in January 2012 and started taking class every week after that. Boyfriend and I go to her class in Brooklyn every week, and I never want to give it up. My core strength has improved like whoa, and most of my old nagging sports injuries have faded. Meanwhile, Boyfriend’s back never bothers him anymore, and he has all sorts of arm muscles now. Thanks, Joe!
  • Taking my first Lotte Berk-based barre class at P57 in February under the guidance of the amazing Holly. I am still not sure if barre is the best workout for me, but it’s true that there’s nothing else like it.
  • My first experience with truly athletic yoga– FLOW with Erin Jacques and Amanda Murdock at SLT Yoga. I left a sweaty, melty mess. I really need to take this class more.
  • Finding, and becoming obsessed with, fitness review blog/platform RateYourBurn. I am a RYB fiend and will talk the site up to anyone who will listen to me, as it’s hilarious AND useful.
  • Trying my first-ever spinning class at Flywheel. I was saddle-sore for like a week afterward (tmi?), I almost had two asthma attacks, and my wonky knees don’t take well to cycling, so I haven’t been back. But it was an adrenaline rush I’ll never forget.
  • Trying Reinvention Chair at Chaise23. My arms were sore for days afterward from pulling on those bungees!

Other firsts included The Bar Method, Pure Barre, Barre3, Pilates ProWorks, aerial vinyasa at Om Factory, Refine Method, a whole bunch of new-to-me yoga studios, Gaga, and some Pilates mat and tower classes. I don’t even want to think about how many MindBody accounts I’m currently juggling.

Perhaps the most meaningful “first,” however, was finding Simonson Technique dance classes, initially at the Joffrey Ballet School and then at Dance New Amsterdam, its real home. Every teacher I’ve had has been phenomenal, and I always leave class feeling limber, inspired, and excited to return. Dance (excluding Zumba) isn’t a calorie-torcher like Refine, spinning, or SPX, but it is my very favorite way to move.

With my injuries and exercise-induced asthma, not every workout spells rainbows and unicorns for my body, so I had some serious fitness ADD this year as I tried to figure out what worked best for me. I am trying to be more focused now, but I’m still going to keep experimenting with my schedule and trying new classes. (I’m especially excited for Lithe to come to town.) Let’s see if I can keep this fitness streak going for another 52 weeks…

Cheers to good health, friends, food, and sweat in 2013!

Stay classy: Barre Essentials at Pilates Proworks

Barre Pro

Unlike this lady, everyone in my class was wearing pants. [Source: Pilates ProWorks]

Despite my recent moratorium on Lotte Berk-based barre classes, I decided to use the last class of my FITIST 4-pack on a “Barre Essentials” workout at Pilates ProWorks on 14th Street. I’d recently read some enthusiastic reviews of Barre Pro– the PPW version of Lotte Berk– which raved about how different it was from the usual suspects, thus piquing my curiosity. I had been to this studio once before for their Pilates Pro class and enjoyed it, but felt kind of like I was going to fall off and die the whole time…my balance kinda sucks, and I don’t do that well on elevated Reformers even in non-Pilates-on-crack classes, so in Pilates Pro my flailing truly reached new heights. Anyway, I was wary of going all-out with Barre Pro  since I hadn’t taken barre since August. Also, I feel more Amateur than Pro in basically everything fitness-related, so Essentials felt right for me.

Looking back, I definitely made a good choice. There was only a small group of us in the studio, half of whom were attending the class for the first time. The moves were all familiar, and a few felt a tad easy-ish, but overall I got a much needed ass-kicking in a way that eased me back into barre mode.

The teacher, Jackie, did a great job of cueing and explaining the moves, and it felt like I was really under the care of a bona fide Pilates instructor (which she is!) rather than some rando dancer.

My favorite part about the class was the dance-y warmup, which made it feel like I was in a jazz class and got my heart rate up. The warmup was followed by arms, thighs (sometimes WITH arms), glutes/seat (I muddled through the standing seatwork because of a hip injury but relished the extreme side-butt fire during the floor section), and abs with the squishy ball under the small of our back (also had some trouble with abs because of my bum hip, but I did my best). Each section was also punctuated by planks: regular-flavor, spiderman planks, mountain climbers, etc. There was definitely more of a cardio aspect to the class, and I found that both terrifying and delightful. One thing I’m glad that we didn’t do is “round-back” abs under the barre, which have felt gimmicky and potentially injurious in nearly every other Berk-based class I’ve done.

The class as a whole felt like an awesome hybrid of mat Pilates, sports conditioning, and Lotte Berk. This might have been a result of the class being beginner-level, but I also liked the slightly shorter sets…most barre classes I feel like I’m putting myself at risk for an overuse injury from all the reps, but this felt a lot safer.

Verdict: I’ll be back! Excited to try Barre Pro, 30/30, and Barre X (barre + TRX combo, what!!) in the future, too.

An evolving routine

See? I didn’t stop working out between July, i.e. my last fitness-related post, and November, I swear! However, the hurricane two weeks ago DID have me stuck inside for almost a whole week and I have to admit, I wasn’t at all proactive when it came to seeking out opportunities to take class. I didn’t even bust out my Tara Stiles yoga DVDs. It was basically laziness central in my apartment. As such, I was surprised that Foursquare gave me a 43 weeks-at-the-gym shoutout when I checked into my first post-storm Pilates class at Ellie Herman Pilates. EHP is Boyfriend’s and my new favorite Pilates studio as it is gorgeous, offers tiny classes, and is about a 10-minute walk from our apartment. Anyway, it felt amazing to stretch, move, and sweat away some of the Halloween candy I shoved in my face while trapped inside. (I REGRET NOTHING.)

What I actually mean to write about, though, is how a few months ago I abandoned the never-ending stream of Lotte Berk-based barre classes that I took all summer, and my workout-of-choice mostly shifted to yoga– a mix of both vigorous vinyasa and slower alignment-based classes.

I made the change in my routine for two main reasons: one, I was starting to experience knee pain after taking Bar Method classes, even with modifications for my injury, and two, the expense of attending class even once a week was becoming unsustainable when added onto my dance and Pilates classes, which always take priority. Oh, and I also just plain fell back in love with yoga! I took a literally breathtaking Flow class with Erin Jacques at SLT Yoga, which totally kicked my ass and reminded me why I got into yoga in the first place. Since that class in August I’ve also found some great teachers in two of my neighborhood yoga studios, Mala Yoga and Area Yoga. (I’m making a serious effort to fall in love with Brooklyn studios…I have spent the past 11 months going into Manhattan for workouts several times a week, and really, what’s the point of both living and working in the better borough if I’m always trekking into the city?)

To be honest, I’m not sure if I’m ever going to go back to barre class. In my time as a barre devotee I noticed my quads, calves, hip flexors, and IT bands getting tighter, all of which I need like an extra hole in the head. My arms got way toned, but my triceps muscles got super-tight, like to the extent that I started experiencing nerve entrapment. And I honestly can’t stomach the thought of the crazy muscle burn anymore. For now I’m looking for a better balance of strength and stretching, and I feel like I get enough of both from yoga and Pilates. Barre-based workouts have worked wonders for many ladies, including some of my friends, but I guess my weird body can only handle so much isometric work.

And that kinda sucks. Because seriously, guys, my arms were looking AWESOME. >.<

Pulsing and shaking at The Bar Method

Playground balls, when can we use you?!

On a sweltering day in late June I made my way over to the sole NYC location of The Bar Method on Spring Street in SoHo. When I got out of the elevator on the second floor and entered the ridiculously gorgeous space, I was immediately and warmly welcomed by the front desk staff and Amy, my instructor and co-owner of the studio, who had one of her staffers show me around. I chose a locker, changed, and carried my key with me into the studio to hang on a hook.

I was the only first-timer in Amy’s class that day, and she watched me like a hawk throughout the hour. She had the special talent of making me feel welcome and noticed, but not unfairly singled out. New students definitely get called out at Bar way more than at Physique 57, where I’d heretofore taken all of my barre classes. In fact, there are way more callouts over the mic than corrections given with the mic off, and after reading others’ reviews it seems to be somewhat of a signature feature of Bar. Some people may be really turned off by that, but I personally like hearing corrections given to others because I can use them to adjust my own positioning. Usually I’m making the exact same mistake, or some variation thereof, of the student getting corrected. I also appreciate corrections given to me. In a dance class, corrections mean that the teacher sees potential in you and knows you can do better, so my inner teacher’s pet loves this shizz.

I was a little nervous about the class because it was labeled Mixed (Bar actually only offers Mixed and Level 2 classes at the NYC studio) and I’m still firmly in Beginner land at P57. I needn’t have worried too much, though, because the class proceeded at a manageable pace and Amy’s verbal instructions were superb. The class was definitely doable, albeit very challenging. Amy was always there to make sure we were working as deep as possible, and her firm, confident adjustments to my form, especially during arms and seatwork, were amazing. At one point she also murmured “nice tuck” in a surprised tone (then proceeded to adjust me even more).

Now, moving on to the class itself.

The class began with standard leg lifts, then we moved into assorted triceps exercises, bicep curls, and did a ton of pushups and some dips. Even though I only used 2 & 3 pound weights, the section felt NUTS and I wanted to cry, especially when Amy came around and correct my form during the isometric triceps extensions. Talk about burning.

The stretch on the barre after the warmup kinda hurt my ankle, but I adjusted my position and it felt better; I liked how ballet-y it was, with the quarter turn and side stretch.

The thigh section was incredibly slow and rough while it lasted, but actually ended pretty fast; I was honestly expecting more, even though I shook and trembled like whoa. I missed having the playground ball to squeeze between my thighs. (I’ve since gone to two more classes and none of the teachers have ever used the basket of playground balls sitting in the corner…what’s up with that? I need a little inner thigh playground ball action in my life!)

Seat work was less varied than at P57; we only did sets at the barre and no floor work, but it was totally killer. My glute medius shriveled up and died. There was more of an emphasis on an aggressive tuck, it seemed. One annoying thing– during seat work, when we were standing with a hip against the bar and our arms crossed in “seatbelt,” my supporting leg and hip started aching and my foot actually got pins and needles. Something was off with my alignment for sure. I wished I had the playground ball wedged between my body and the barre, like some P57 teachers tell us to do, because my alignment felt off. (However, I was able to adjust myself in subsequent classes and it’s since gotten better. I think. We’ll see.)

The abs section was kind of frustrating for me; I couldn’t feel my transverse abdominis connection during flat back or round back, but I know that I need to work on my breathing in order to really turn on the muscles. My neck also ached during curl because I was having trouble supporting my head. (I’ve since started to put extra foam under my back during curl and have been totally fine. Phew.)

We did some back dancing before the final stretch, and it was especially brutal after all the other work we’d done. When we got to stretching at the end I wanted to weep with joy. Speaking of stretching: something I liked way more at Bar vs. P57 was that all of the stretching in the class seemed wayyyy less rushed in this class. At P57, even in Beginner classes, I sometimes feel like I’m just throwing myself from position to position, and I worry that I’ll injure myself with all of the super-fast transitions. I felt like Amy really respected the importance of stretches between sets and didn’t just blow through them in two seconds apiece.

One tiny logistical complaint: While I majorly appreciate not having to bring my own lock, the key system seems clunky. The only possible upgrade to the incredibly lush locker room would be to install programmable combination locks! I say this because a girl walked away with my key by accident, so I was just standing by the board of keys looking dumb as the next class came in until she ran back in to return it. Blerg.

Overall, Bar felt more like a really strict, focused ballet conditioning class to me, whereas P57 kinda feels like a sorostitute workout party. And I actually think I liked both, but my dance nerd self likes anything that feels more ballet-esque. At Bar I loved the heavy emphasis on form, and I was really motivated to go inside myself and find the strength to push through the exercises. I think that because of this, I ended up taking far fewer breaks than I usually do at P57. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I did kinda miss my quasi-cheerleadery P57 instructors’ positive, chatty banter, but I appreciated Amy’s awesome cueing and on-the-beat counting.

Amy also knew everyone and clearly cares about her students. I overheard her asking people about their vacations, talking with a monthly unlimited member about her progress, etc. It definitely seems like they invest a lot of energy in their clients. That stuff gives me the warm fuzzies inside. After class, Amy asked if I’d enjoyed myself and if I could see myself coming back, and then offered me a great deal on the newcomer’s unlimited package. Of COURSE, in my dreamy and self-congratulatory post-workout state, I immediately took her up on the offer.

I took a couple of weeks off after that first class because I was super-busy and bopping in and out of town for the following weeks, but I recently went back and took two classes with Kristin, whose classes I also loved. After tonight’s class, I’m finishing my first week of the package (Wednesday-Tuesday) with three classes under my belt. I hope to hit it 3 times per week for the rest of this trial month. After that, I’ll reevaluate. Right now I can see myself continuing to attend classes at both Bar and P57, depending on whether I’m feeling more disciplined or in more need of cheerleading. But who knows? By that time I could potentially fall even more in love with the lush Bar studios and super-caring teachers, drink the rest of the Kool-Aid, and buy a membership. I’ve increasingly enjoyed myself as I’ve become more accustomed to what’s going on, so that’s definitely a possibility.

How about y’all– has anyone else been pulsing/shaking/sweating/crying lately, too?

Fitness explorer or dilettante?

24 weeks

Achieved tonight at a dance class.

As the year goes on it becomes more and more apparent– and amazing to me– that exercise is once again assuming a prominent place in my life. I look forward to my workouts and miss them when I skip them (although an extra rest day here and there is quite welcome). After being a devout indoor kid and couch potato for the first 15 years of my life, overtraining an under-conditioned indoor kid body for 7 seasons as a high school and college fencer, getting way too obsessive about diet and exercise after college, undergoing multiple rounds of physical therapy for various old injuries, and hopping on/off the yoga bandwagon more times than I can count, I’m taking great pains to make sure that my newfound exercise habit is varied, safe, and sustainable in the long term.

Now that I’m close to my goal of a full half-year of weekly workouts, I’m also becoming more sure of what kinds of workouts I like, so that I can make sure that I keep up the fitness thing for the second half of the year. So far, I have learned that I thrive in thoughtful, high-energy, and non-competitive group classes, especially those with an emphasis on linking breath to movement– or at least those with instructors who REMIND me to breathe. My winter/early spring obsession with ballet has faded, and I’ve discovered an intense love for Simonson Technique, which allows me to work within the limits of my body type and bone structure. I love Pilates more than ever and look forward to my weekly class (especially with Boyfriend at my side). I’m finding that with the right instructor, I kind of secretly heart barre classes. I even found my way back to the yoga mat a handful of times in the past 2 months. And as I mentioned recently, this week Boyfriend and I are heading to our first Flywheel class ever.

With all of these endeavors going on, I have begun to worry that I am too much of a dilettante/dabbler. I have been going to one barre class, one Pilates class, one or two dance classes, and sometimes a yoga class every week. Is this too random for me to see results? Would it be better for me to take, say, 2-3 barre classes and drop Pilates and yoga? I hesitate to say yes, because I feel great. My clothes are fitting way better than they have in recent memor, I can see visible biceps muscles upon flexing for the first time ever, and my calves look damn good. I also think my workouts complement each other. The strengthening of barre and Pilates finds a nice counterpoint in the movement of dance and stretching of yoga, and I have read too many exercise physiology articles at this point to in good conscience sign myself up for a regimen of 100% isometric training. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether I’m missing out in comparison to my friend who hits up Physique 57 every day, or the coworkers who alternate thrice-weekly spinning with twice-a-week power yoga.

The other drawback that comes along with this variety of boutique fitness classes is the overwhelming cost. I really need to get a handle on my fitness budget– I know it would be more responsible to just commit to a membership somewhere or maybe drop the more expensive classes *cough*Physique*cough* in favor of relatively budget-friendly yoga. I briefly considered, but ultimately decided against joining Equinox, because I just can’t stand the gym vibe, and refusing to give up my Pilates and dance classes renders the financial incentive nil. I also sometimes entertain the idea of joining the SoHo location of Exhale, but I worry that I wouldn’t go enough, or that I’d incur an overuse injury from only doing Core Fusion (although I know there are several varieties therein). Whyyyy do I not have a trust fund earmarked solely for overpriced boutique workouts?!? 😛

Today I also found myself wishing that I had a consistent workout buddy. Even though I’ve been doing all of these group classes, the vibe at some studios can be pretty cold, and I’m naturally shy– introducing myself to the girl next to me is never easy for me. Most of my friends either work out in the morning at studios far away from me, belong to full-service gyms, or don’t exercise at all. I have been talking Physique up to some of my coworkers, but none have taken the bait yet. A friend to grimace at from across the studio would be really nice. However, it’s clear that most people are there to get in and get out. I suppose I’d better get used to it…or grow some balls and start introducing myself to the ladies sitting/standing/shaking next to me.

A return to biking and blogging

A gorgeous Bobbin Birdie

I only WISH this were my bike. As it is, I’m riding something far less lovely.

This first month of summer has really been flying by– mostly because life has been so damn busy during the past few weeks. Boyfriend and I moved to a larger apartment last weekend– a real, live one-bedroom, woo! I’ve also been hard at work in class, although though this moving business has thrown a real wrench into my whole “20 workouts per month” plan. As of June 15th I’d only worked out a measly six times: 2 barre classes, 2 yoga classes, a dance class, and a Pilates class. LAME! (However, I did spend the entire weekend of June 8th packing, lifting, and unpacking giant plastic boxes of my belongings, so I’m inclined to count that as exercise as well.)

Luckily, last week I managed to claw my way back onto the wagon and completed 5 workouts almost by accident. At this rate, the end of the month will see me almost catch up to my stated goal of 20 workouts, as opposed to having the goal fly by, untouched. So that’s better than nothing.

First, I enjoyed a great, sweaty Simonson Technique class on Tuesday at DNA. On Friday I attended a great second class with Sarah G. at Physique 57 SoHo, but was crushed to hear her say that she”ll be moving out of the city soon. I suppose this will be my chance to branch out and try the classes with Lindi, Antonietta, Emily T., Cassie…all the instructors I keep hearing great things about but haven’t yet tried. Saturday brought me my weekly wonderful dose of Pilates with the equally wonderful Karina Michaels at Reforming New York. I sweated the hour out with Boyfriend and a former co-worker, after which we rewarded ourselves with ‘wichcraft in the park. Mmm.

Now, if you possess rudimentary counting skills, you’ll notice that I only worked out 3 times between Tuesday and Saturday. This brings me to my final 2 workouts of the week– two surprise bike rides on Saturday and Sunday afternoons! After lunch on Saturday, Boyfriend and I headed up north to visit my mom’s place. When we arrived, she brought out a couple of old hybrid bikes that had been sitting in the garage for 10+ years, and said we should try them out. If we liked them, she’d have them tuned up and would bring them to the city for us the following week.

The bikes seemed to be generally the right size for us, so we brought them to the gas station and filled the tires, before (at my behest) walking the bikes to a quiet-ish street to begin the ride. My cycling skills are, to put it lightly, MAJORLY WEAK. I can barely manage a hand signal without losing my balance. But after warming up for a few minutes in an empty church parking lot, I rode about 5 miles that afternoon. Not all at once, mind you…we kept stopping to check Google Maps. It’d been a long time since I’d navigated the side streets of my hometown by car, let alone bike. The following day, I defied my aching sitz bones to do another quick 3-miler to and from the beach. While I’m still a little shaky alongside cars, especially at intersections, I think with some practice I’ll be more confident on the bike. I’m definitely going to start out on the park bike paths and greenways in Brooklyn before attempting to ride on the street. It’ll be a work in progress.

My new bike is only an entry-level hybrid from 1997, so it’s going to need some modifications in order to be fit for even light city riding. I need to put a bell and lights on it just to make it legal, and I definitely want fenders and a rear rack. If I start riding the bike to the office, I’ll probably get some puncture-resistant tires (cream ones!) swept-back/North Road/townie bars instead of the standard riser bars, so I can sit more upright, and perhaps a nicer saddle. And in terms of theft-prevention, I’ll need to replace the quick-release levers on the wheels and saddle with locking hex nuts or something similar. Oh, look…now I have something new to obsess over in addition to my boutique fitness class schedule.

In other news, Boyfriend graciously agreed to sign up alongside me for our very first Flywheel Sports class. We’re taking a Friday evening class with Ryan, since every weekday evening class with Jesse, about whom I’ve heard so many great things, filled up so fast once the booking window opened. If it goes well, this summer may well be filled with more indoor and outdoor cycling than I originally anticipated. And if this is the case, I’m going to have to invest in multiple pairs of padded shorts. Or one of those donut pillows to sit on.

Stay Classy: Physique 57, take 3

The evil playground ball

Instruments of a unique kind of torture.

Last night I decided to amp up the pain factor of my workout by hitting up a class at Physique 57. This was my first time at the (um, gorgeous) UWS Physique studio, and only my third Physique class ever. I hadn’t been to a class in a couple of months, and just like the first two times, the Beginner class kicked my ass.

My teacher, Sarah M., was adorable and perky, as Physique instructors are wont to be. She was also wearing those Blake Brody in-studio flats that I’m loath to acknowledge I completely covet even though I think they’re fairly ridiculous and unnecessary. She asked if there were any n00bs to the class, if there were any of us who had taken five or fewer classes, and if there were any injuries– score! She also went around the room and took all of our names.

The class itself proceeded pretty much the way I suppose all P57 Beginner classes do: warmup with arms, followed by thighs, seat work, and abs, with stretches and pushups thrown in the mix. I experienced a minor success when at one point in the warmup Sarah shouted out, “If you feel like you could go for another 30 seconds, you need heavier weights!” I took a quick scan and realized that I did indeed feel like I could keep going…I guess the weakling 4-pounders I picked up weren’t doing it for me anymore. Hooray for getting stronger! Next time I’ll be sure to grab the standard 5-pound dumbbells.

However, moving onto thighs and seat quickly erased any delusions of badassery on my part. My quads achieved the requisite burning effect within 10 seconds of starting the thigh section. I had to take more breaks than I would have liked, and during the “curl” portion of abs the assistant came over a couple of times to encourage me to get lower. Sigh. Still, I definitely need to work on my form, so I appreciated all of the corrections I got during the seat and abs sections.

One gripe I have with P57 is the quickness of the class. I know that that’s kind of a selling point of the class- that it maximizes every second of the 57-minute class and keeps your heart rate up by moving quickly from exercise to exercise– but I’m strangely prone to muscle tweaks/cramps and if I don’t move mindfully I tend to do stupid things and hurt myself. My neck suffered a little from rushing from one position to the next (not sure what exactly I did). And due to either dehydration, a form error, plain old weakness, or some other weird reason, my left triceps muscle spasmed pretty badly during the warmup, and I tweaked it again during the last round of tricep dips. Blerg. I also wish we held stretches for longer; it always feels like we’re only doing each stretch for about 2 seconds before moving on. To be honest, a slower barre class might be better for me (perhaps Core Fusion or Bar Method?), but I’m going to stick with Physique for at least a few more classes and see how it goes.

Despite silently cursing my way through basically the entire workout, I liked the class. I thought Sarah’s verbal descriptions and cueing were strong. She came off as genuinely concerned with our form and performance, so that was far better than the slightly fake-nice instructor I had for my second class back in March. We also had an assistant in the room, and this was a boon for sure as both she and Sarah were able to make their way around the room to watch us like hawks and correct our sad beginner’s form as necessary.

Something unfortunate about tonight, unrelated to the class itself, was that I forgot my damn socks again. This happened for my first class as well. So now I’m the slightly-ashamed owner of two pairs of grippy P57 socks– one black, and one gray. (I have to admit, though, the grip is nice.)

Overpriced grippy socks...

Hard proof of my forgetfulness, times two.

Next week I’m aiming high and going for a double dose of Physique: I’m signed up for another class next Tuesday, and then one that Saturday. With any luck I’ll survive.