Bar Method SF Downtown; A Sports-Bra Scandal

Since my mid-life breakup two plus years ago, I've tried sundry methods for lifting my soiled spirit and bandaging my bruised heart.  While drinking, drugging, dining, dating, and doin it all ranked high on my list of mood enhancers, I've found that ultimately the best cure for my blues was a healthy dose of exercise each and every day.

Call me a late bloomer, but I'm pretty new to this enthusiasm for working out.  I was the girl in school chosen last for the team.  Someone who hid behind the back stop in avoidance of going to plate.  You'd surely have whizzed by me slowly walking some track while being screamed at by a disapproving gym teacher.  The popular phrase of the day "no pain no gain" did nothing to motivate me.  Exercise was for jocks, cheerleaders, and preppies; not for me. Thus it comes as a surprise to everyone, including myself, that I grew up to be someone who loves to work out.
I am proud to say, at forty years old, I am probably in the best shape of my life and constantly aspiring to increase my overall strength, flexibility, and fitness level.  Thus I was very interested when Connie, a girl-friend from work, suggested we sign up for classes at Bar Method; a studio promising "the most targeted body-sculpting workout" available.

Excited, Connie and I enrolled at the downtown SF location.  The modern lobby, lined with photographs of fit Bar Method ladies in action, was inspiring. The studio, with it's light, luxurious, spa-like feeling was comfortable and inviting.  The owner herself was working the front desk.  She was very welcoming as she introduced us to our would be instructor and ushered us down the hallway towards well stocked dressing areas and clean carpeted exercise rooms.  So far so good.  I changed into a my sports bra and yoga pants and headed into the workout room with enthusiasm.  Unfortunately, the pleasantries didn't last long.

Once in the studio, being led by an unsmiling instructor named Jenna, the mood turned serious.  Several times, as I got my bearings, the no nonsense teacher put her hands on me and aggressively forced corrections that my body wasn't prepared for.  Ouch!  They promise individual, hands on instruction at Bar Method, but this was more than I cared for.  "We don't do our left side twice Nicky!"  Jenna harshly corrected a fellow classmate.  As she continued to walk up and down the rows, praising some (even me) and chastising others for their efforts, I began to feel like she would have been more appropriately dressed in black latex sporting some kind of small whip.  My inner goody-two-shoes and avid approval seeker rallied to receive the stern teacher's encouragement, but my anti authority streak shrank under the oppressive seeming regimen.   

Despite these reservations, after my hour was up, I felt both exhausted and elated.  I could already tell how sore I was going to be tomorrow -- and I thought that was great.  Even if Jenna was a bitter pill to swallow, this booty sculpting workout was just the thing I needed to kick my ass and tone those hard to harden nooks and crannies.  Keep in mind; classes at Bar Method are pricey.  At $24 a class for drop ins, and a minimum monthly charge of $195 for unlimited classes; one would expect these ladies know what they're doing and get some serious results.  While I thought they could achieve that with a bit more levity, perhaps serious results required serious attitudes.  

As we walked out the lobby the receptionist eased my tension, calling out to us cheerfully; "thanks ladies!".   Jenna, on the other hand, didn't lift her head in our direction or speak a word.  True to form; she remained unwelcoming and cold.  Connie shrugged.  "She's just not a good teacher."  After taking classes at the San Mateo location Connie had been so excited to share Bar Method with me.  "Everybody there was so nice and encouraging" she added, confused as to why our first experience with the SF Downtown location had been sub par.  We agreed that you don't toss the whole basket of fruit over one bad apple.  We'd try out other instructors and hope for a better experience.  

Later that week I would have my chance.  I packed up all the gear I'd need for the rest of my day in the city and left my house in Oakland an hour before class was set to begin at Bar Method in SF.  I was waiting for class, thumbing absently through the pages of a gossip rag from the lobby when suddenly I felt someone standing over me.

"Excuse me" said the receptionist with a sour looking smile, "do you have some sort of shirt you can put on?"  I was confused.  "We don't allow you to take classes wearing a sport bra."  Huh?!  "Oh, I didn't know" I said simply.  "Well, do you have something else you can put on?"  the receptionist continued to press.  "No, I don't".  "Ah, well, we have tank tops you can purchase at the front, but we can't allow you to take class like that."  All at once, I felt half naked and ashamed.  Wrinkling up my eyebrows I offered, "I wore a sports bra last time I was here, and nobody mentioned anything to me.  Can't we make an exception this time?"  "Sorry" came her unsympathetic response.  

I was fuming as I walked back to the dressing area.  Sure, I could have purchased one of their tank tops and taken class; but spending more money on a Bar Method labeled shirt I didn't want after this kind of reception was out of the question as far as I was concerned.  Once dressed, I marched up to the same women, now back at her post behind the front desk and said, "I'd like to cancel my membership."  "Why?  Do you have some feedback?" she asked innocently.  I was too angry to explain so I kept it short.  "Because that was ridiculous" I declared, and walked out the door.  

After this incident I looked at the website again, wondering if the anti sports bra policy was stated clearly in their media package.  In the "new client" area I found the following advisement; "Bring socks, workout pants (below the knee) and top (tank top/t-shirt, etc.)".  To me, the "etc" is vague enough to be inclusive of a sports bra.  However, in another area -- which I'd apparently overlooked -- entitled "policies," they are more explicit about the rules for attire, stating "Exercise pants to the knee or below (compression shorts must be worn underneath if pants are loose fitting), tops that cover midriff and socks that cover the entire foot."  Thus it seems the studio receptionist  had simply been maintaining the rules of the house, but I do believe that under the circumstances, a more client friendly business would have offered that I take class as is that day, but come prepared next time.  For me, this small adjustment would have made all the difference when it came to feeling mistreated as a customer.    

I can't deny the studio their right to have a dress code, but I also can't seem to shake this unsettling feeling I have about their policies.  What is this really about?  Even my co-ed gym doesn't have these kind of strict guidelines on attire.  On a practical level, wearing a sports bra enables me to watch my own body while drilling moves and working on technique; which is an important part of the process.  Covering my midriff with a T-shirt or tank top while working on core exercises seems counterintuitive.  But it's more than that.  Isn't exercise about getting in touch with our bodies and feeling good in our own skin?  To me, what you wear when you work out is very personal, and should reflect what makes you feel beautiful, free, and comfortable to move.  Having guidelines and restrictions about attire that don't seem to be grounded in practicality; that just seems repressive. 

Bar Method, as a business predominantly run and attended by women, is in a unique position to be a safe zone for ladies to empower themselves and each other in every way possible.  Too bad this SF location has, in more ways than one, missed the boat on promoting that kind of welcoming environment for this lady.  The next week I signed up for classes at Dailey Method (also in downtown SF).  There I found a nearly identical exercise program with friendlier teachers.  And perhaps best of all, I called ahead and double checked; with the exception of wearing socks (any socks, not just the labled ones they sell at the studio) no clothing restrictions applied.  That means if I want to wear a sports bra to class, nobody is tripping.  I can let it all hang out and show off the abbs I've worked so hard for these past two years.  Besides, at forty years old, in a room full of gals and gays, I think I've earned the right to wear what I want.  Thank goodness I found a place that agrees!


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