A few months ago, I started a new job with a political consulting company. One of the things I really like about it is being surrounded by people who are healthy and active, but not judgmental. Several of them are really into Barre classes. Barre is a challenging, non-impact workout that focuses on ballet-like movements to help sculpt and tone your body.
Image: ChrisHaysPhotography via Flickr
Like those who are really into CrossFit, Bikram Yoga and other programs, Barre-supporters are evangelicals for their program. Several of my coworkers go a couple times a week. The studio they go to, The Bar Method in DC, recently had free classes, so I had no excuse not to try out. Well, except for one.
Can I even do it?
Given that I'm plus-size, I wasn't really sure if my body would even work that way. A lot of the movements involve balancing on your toes. There was also a movement called "The Pretzel." Something told that wouldn't be easy. They assured me that it would be hard because it was my first time, but that I would be able to adjust movements to my comfort level. So, I signed up.
When I arrived, along with several coworkers, the teacher put me right in between my firm's two partners, both barre experts. Anxiety was now at an all-time high.
After a warm-up, we lined up at the ballet barre and began calf lifts. After the first 20, I could feel my legs cramping up. The teacher corrected my form and told me to make movements smaller.
Guess what? Smaller, controlled movements are even harder. You know what else? After 5 minutes or so, you just have to give up on making sure your over-sized t-shirt covers your tummy. (Let's be honest, no one thinks it's covering a flat stomach, so let it go.)
Then came the "seat" work. This works your glutes and just about every muscle required to stand upright. I was shaking. With a boss in front of me and behind me I was determined to not wimp out. My legs were shaking. I noticed my boss's legs were also shaking. They said this would happen if you're doing it right.
Then I saw spots. That probably wasn't normal. I've fainted several times in my life, so I knew what was coming. I tried to push for one more minute. The last thing I wanted to do was cross the studio to the door and signal to the entire class (and almost half of my coworkers) that this was something I couldn't do.
Then the tunnel hearing started. It's like being in a car tunnel and hearing traffic above you. You can't make out individual sounds, just a rush of background noise.
I let go of the barre.
I tried to remain composed as I walked across the studio to the exit. It seemed like 100 yards. I pushed the door open and struggled to remember where the locker room was. I looked for a door, any door, to escape and heave or faint in private. I didn't notice until I was standing over the sink that one of the instructors had followed me in. She asked if I wanted to go to the bathroom. Yes, I answered. I somehow made my way to the bathroom. I didn't even care that I didn't close the bathroom door. I grabbed the sink as I felt my legs go out from under me. I went from seeing spots to seeing nothing at all. I fell to my knees. That is to say, the next time I remember seeing anything, I was on my knees.
I think it only lasted a second or two. It reminded me of when you're hungover or drunk. All the anxiety about being on a dirty bathroom floor was gone. I wanted to wipe the cold sweat off my face, so I clumsily grabbed the first appropriate thing, a discarded towel from the basket on the floor.
The instructor asked if I wanted any juice. "Or water is fine," I said. I tried to stick the straw into the Capri Sun she handed me. I gave up and just handed it to her, like a frustrated child. She handed back the assembled juice. I took a long sip. I then remembered that I didn't have lunch that day and only had two Diet Cokes (and hardly any water) since breakfast. It was 4:30 p.m.
After I finished the juice, the class was more than 2/3 over and they were on floor exercises. The lights were off, so I thought I'd join back in for the cool down. It wasn't exactly a cool down though. There was still ab work and "back dancing." Oh, and back dancing? Pretty much a nice way to say hip-thrusting.
By the time the hour was up, I was exhausted. I was embarrassed that I had to leave the class in front of my coworkers. I was reminded that now that I was back to working full-time, I was more out of shape than I had been during my unemployment when I could workout during the day.
But on the bright side: Free juice!
I've now taken two more Barre classes. I make sure I eat and drink lots of water before the class. I still struggle with some movements. During The Pretzel I can't do the full range of motion. I have to do girl push-ups. When it's time to stretch, I use the strap to help me along. But, I also bought barre socks with non-slip soles that give me extra stability.
And I'm okay with all of that because at least I'm trying. It's a lot more than I was doing a few weeks ago. My recovery time is improving and soon I know my range of motion and intensity in the various movements will also improve.
Don't be intimidated by the lithe, dancer bodies in Lululemon tops that barely cover one of our boobs. Be sure to find a Barre studio with knowledgeable instructors who correct your movements. I've seen several gyms add Barre classes to their schedules, but they might not be trained in the proper technique. Also, push yourself (within reason, of course) because there's no better feeling than going from "I don't think I can do this" to "I did it!"
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