Pure Barre Torture

I have never been particularly susceptible to peer pressure. Even though it meant stifling my high school social life, I wouldn’t hesitate to pass on the murky depths of a red Solo cup, and sometimes even the parties themselves. Growing up, even my musical preferences could not be molded by my friends’ influences. My iPod may have been filled with Top 40 songs like everyone else’s, but with music from 30 to 40 years before the existence of Limewire downloads and bewigged pop stars. Yet when my friends Annie Loppert ‘16, a design technology major, and Paige McCarthy ‘16, a communication disorders major, pushed me to join their trendy workout class Pure Barre, I lost my usually steadfast footing. Maybe it was the dust gathering on my sneakers, or maybe the Instagram Paige recently posted of her flawless six-pack abs that convinced me; either way, I found myself agreeing to test out a class. To my credit, however, my efforts to resist were admirable.

“I don’t want to pay for a class before I even know if I like it,” I explained to Paige and Annie with feigned frugal regret. At a steep $23 per individual class or $100 for your first month of unlimited classes, I felt this a reasonable limitation for a college student. No fitness membership is cheap, but Pure Barre on Newbury Street—or at any of its locations— will make you sweat just looking at their pricing menu.

Lucky, or not, for me, Paige has earned the title of LTB girl. The acronym stands for the Pure Barre motto “lift, tone, burn” and is the name of its student ambassadors. Considering the strength and motivation needed to even take the class, let alone be noticeably proficient at it, earning the title is a major accomplishment. For Paige, the title is a testament to her dedication and skill. For her friends, it means getting a free first class and a friendly face to help introduce the unique movements taught at Pure Barre. For me specifically, it meant the evaporation of the one legitimate reason I had to duck my friends’ invites.

As I took my place on the floor, I thought my suspicions about the group workout class were confirmed. Women of varying ages filled the studio in overpriced yoga clothing. As they stretched and preened before the wall of mirrors, I noticed not one hand bare of polish, and an abundance of glittering bangles, diamond rings, and blowouts. I never knew a real, worthwhile form of exercise that allowed so much jewelry and makeup.

Moments after the double glass doors shut, sealing us in for the next hour, I understood my mistake.

The instructor entered and put on a headset microphone similar to what you might see on a mega-church preacher. When she cranked the upbeat music, everyone leapt to their feet. When she instructed everyone to tuck, press, or squeeze their seat, they quickly complied. Over the weeks that I would return to this hellish nightmare, I would come to recognize its unique language—even if I could not always get my body to understand it. To tuck is to squeeze in your lower abs to the point where it juts your hips forward. A press works the upper abs and is achieved by squeezing your core as if you were about to receive a blow to the gut. To get the lengthened muscle tone of a ballet dancer, Pure Barre has you complete hundreds of squats while standing on your tip-toes with hips tucked under while grabbing the ballet barre mounted on the wall and leaning your upper body back fully. The seat, I should have guessed, is a euphemism for the butt I sat on for the many months before Pure Barre started kicking it.

The class is structured around four different areas of the body. After the brief warm-up, you complete a series of small, repetitive movements for your arms and back, thighs, “seat,” and abs. The transitions are fluid, allow no time for recovery, and never seem to occur until a few minutes after you’re sure you will puke from the searing pain. That first class was so much of a whirlwind I was left without the strength to fake a smile at the instructor who asked about my experience. I was aware of both Annie and Paige watching me with expectant smiles, eager to gauge my reaction to the class Annie repeatedly assured me was “addicting.” The face I gave them assured her I did not feel the same way. At least, not initially. After wobbling to the T, I pulled out my phone and tweeted, “Pure Barre is the devil.”

Two days later I was laying in bed waiting for my body to recover from the torture I put it through. Despite the lactic acid aches ravaging the better parts of me, the pull to return to Pure Barre was relentless. It’s a strange phenomenon to hate something so purely with every fiber of your being, literally, while also being drawn to it. The intensity of the class earned my respect, and even though I was easily the most pitiful person in the class, I felt compelled to go again and get better. I signed up for my first month of Pure Barre that day.

After completing my first month, I can’t regard my relationship with Pure Barre as having improved significantly from the first painful class I endured. When asked, I still explain the experience of taking a class as the most torturous hour of fitness I have ever encountered. I continue to put myself through it, however, because even better than the physical improvements is the undeniable satisfaction of accomplishing something so challenging and so far outside of my comfort zone. My goal has always been to just finish the class, and struggling through each round of 60 minute masochism has proven quite addictive. Just don’t try to get me to admit I like it.