Belly Up: Breaking Down Seattle's Barre Scene

Belly up to one of Seattle’s many studios for this low-impact but intense core, leg and arm workout. We break down the differences between each studio below
The bright and modern Barre3 Ballard studio has cork floors and plenty of ways to modify the intense workout

There may not be a workout with a greater motion-to-muscle-burn ratio than barre. A program that combines aspects of yoga, ballet and Pilates, barre uses tiny, isometric movements and comically small weights to strengthen and lengthen muscles. The secret is in the repetition. “The goal is to fatigue the muscle,” says Mary Lytle, owner of Barre3 studios in Roosevelt and on Capitol Hill.

Barre classes can be traced back more than 50 years to Lotte Berk, a German ballerina living in London who combined her ballet barre training with rehabilitative therapy after suffering a back injury. The Lotte Berk Method was introduced to the U.S. in 1971 when one of Berk’s students opened a studio in Manhattan.

Most barre workouts start with a warm-up and stretches, then progress to the ballet barre for bends, squats, pulses and balance work. Things stop being easy when the loosely inflated exercise balls come out. These are held between the knees during a squat or tucked into the bend of one knee while working the glutes. Sweat beads up on foreheads and legs shake—a sign that your muscles are reaching the point of fatigue. The barre itself (many studios have two heights) is used throughout for balance and support during exercises and stretching. Classes incorporate abdominal work as well, during which the core is strengthened through sit-ups, planks and other belly-burning exercises. 

All barre workouts are done shoeless. Depending on the studio, socks or bare feet are recommended. Some require the use of special grip socks with rubber traction on the bottom. The type of gear used (balls, straps, mats, wedges) varies from studio to studio, but it’s all provided. Just bring yourself and a water bottle (and in some cases, a towel) and get ready to shake.

For all studios, students sign up for classes online; it’s an extra step that requires some planning, but it provides a guarantee that you won’t show up to a completely booked class. 

While running can be hard on the knees and weight training can cause problems for those with back or shoulder issues, barre is a workout that can be tailored to almost anyone’s fitness level. While some “sport” barre classes incorporate movements to elevate the heart rate, most classes are zero-impact and offer easy modifications that can make the workout more challenging (such as increasing weights or raising a plank position from knees to toes). 

Men, take note: The barre community wants you! While the practice tends to attract mostly women, the workout can be equally challenging and effective for both sexes. Some studios encourage male participation by offering occasional free classes for significant others.

Barre is offered throughout Seattle; the four studios below are the largest and offer classes at multiple locations. 

Multiple locations, including Ballard, Capitol Hill, Roosevelt, Issaquah, Bellevue and Kirkland; 

Philosophy: Barre3 orginiated in Portland, Oregon, in 2008 and is rooted in three fitness disciplines: ballet barre, Pilates and yoga. In addition to the workouts, which are accessible to everyone, there is a focus on healthy eating, lifestyle balance and community building.
Target audience: Beginners, seasoned athletes, expectant mothers, millennials and middle agers. Instructors cue ways to modify movements to increase or decrease intensity.
Length of class: A very prompt 60 minutes.
The space: Super-clean, refined, modern decor. Studio layouts differ depending on location—some are bright and airy with glass window walls, others aren’t—but consistent in all studios are cork floors, cubbies and lockers, orange barre balls, retail areas and filtered-water stations. The Ballard location has two studios.
Perks: Child care is $5/class; membership includes streaming video workouts, real-time instructor guidance and recipes (also available separately for $25 a month); sweat towels; filtered water; and in some studios, showers stocked with swank bath and body products for freshening up. What raises the barre: An acute focus on modifications for every fitness level. While other barre studios offer several types of barre classes (such as sport and advanced), Barre3 offers one type of class for everyone. 
Monthly membership fee: $145
Know before you go: Go barefoot (most clients do) or bring grip socks. Regular socks won’t cut it on the cork floors.

Bring your grip socks for Pure Barre's carpeted studios in Redmond 

Pure Barre
Multiple locations, including Capitol Hill, Green Lake, Queen Anne, University District, Bellevue, and Redmond;

Philosophy: Cutting-edge strength training; focus on innovative exercises (classes incorporate special resistance bands designed specifically for the Pure Barre practice).
Target audience: Pure Barre’s fast-paced, challenging routines typically attract more active people. Classes require considerable flexibility, but all levels of physical ability are welcome (exercises can be easily modified). Some advanced yoga and stretching moves are used that may be unattainable for beginners or less flexible participants. 
Length of class: 60 minutes.
The space: Utilitarian. Typical studios are approximately 1,000 square feet, windowless, and offer lockers and filtered-water stations. Studio floors are covered in shallow, cushioned carpet in keeping with the Lotte Berk Method.
Perks: Complimentary “Breaking Down the Barre” classes on weekends for new or interested participants, as well as occasional pop-up classes at area parks and community centers. 
What raises the barre: Cutting-edge material that is constantly evolving. “We keep our stuff fresh,” says Sami Sweeney, owner of Pure Barre’s six Seattle-area studios. Pure Barre combines input from physical therapists, ballet dancers and other experts to augment teacher training material. “We’re always changing what we’re offering in our studios.” 
Monthly membership fee: $169 
Know before you go: Bring your own sweat towels and grip socks.

South Lake Union, 224 Westlake Ave. N, 206.402.4819; Bellevue, 1032 106th Ave. NE, 425.605.5253;

Philosophy: Fitness-focused with specific attention to form. 
Target audience: Young working professionals and parents.
Length of class: 45–60 minutes, depending on type of class.
The space: Clean and modern. Studios can accommodate no more than 18 mats in each class and feature rubberized floor surfaces and floor-to-ceiling mirrors on all walls. 
Perks: Filtered-water station offering “cold” or “room temp” water. FlyBarre shares space with popular cycling workout Flywheel (thus the name), so members who choose to purchase the bike/barre package can access two workouts in the same building.
What raises the barre: Classes with an athletic feel and a strong focus on music (a chalkboard in the locker room asks students to write down song requests). “Our playlist is key,” says Amanda Vortmann, FlyBarre master instructor. “Every movement is tied to the beat of the music and the length of the song.”
Monthly membership fee: $180
Know before you go: Socks not required.

Image by Danielle Sack
Flybarre Studio (South Lake Union)

The Bar Method
South Lake Union, 124 Westlake Ave. N, 206.467.5249,; Redmond, 7525 166th Ave. NE, 425.556.5163,

Philosophy: Empowerment through strength.
Target audience: “It’s definitely a workout for the type-A, super-busy people who want to maximize their time,” says co-owner Maika Manring. 
Length of class: 45–60 minutes.
The space: Spa-like atmosphere with fully stocked locker rooms and scented oils burning in the lobby; carpeted studios.
Perks: Stall bars—wooden structures that resemble wide ladders—are located throughout the studio. Hang from the top rung before or after class to elongate muscles, decompress the spine and bring blood flow to the back. Pros can hang for a minute or two—it’s harder than it looks!  
What raises the barre: Wall of windows to the outside flood the studios with natural light.
Monthly membership fee: $185
Know before you go: Sock are required, bring your own.

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