Seattle Culture

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

By Sheila Cain February 16, 2017


This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Seattle magazine.

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.

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