Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Comparing barre studios

I recently completed my 30-day trial ClassPass membership that I won from Katie. During this time, I took a total of 17 classes, of which 16 were barre classes.

Feeling the burn with the deceptively simple-looking barre exercises

I wanted to share my experiences on the studios that I visited. Before I begin, here are some overall thoughts that applied to every barre studio:
  • There wasn't any single barre studio whose workouts consistently challenged me more than any other studio. At each studio, there might be more emphasis on working a certain body area one day versus the next. Every barre studio had times where the class felt more or less difficult on a day-by-day basis.
  • While some of the studios had general class formats (e.g. warm-up followed by arm-work, then thigh-work, then ab-work, etc.), no two classes were ever alike.

Now, here are my thoughts/reviews on each studio. I've listed them in alphabetical order by studio name.

The Bar Method
Visits: 4*, all of them at the Loop location
Pros: Roomy facilities with an ample locker room and shower facilities/supplies; friendly, welcoming staff and instructors; very detailed emphasis on form; the instructors were unscripted in a good way; the Loop studio is SUPER convenient for me
Cons: The instructors call you out on your form in front of the whole class. E.g. "Emily, square your hips. Mary, lift your arm more. Jane, relax your shoulders." This could be embarrassing for some. Also, there was no transition time scheduled in between classes (e.g. one class ended at 6:30 while the next one started at 6:30), which could make things a little hectic.
Summary: After I got used to how the instructors corrected everyone's form, I appreciated the strong attention to detail. I found the atmosphere and ambience to be comfortable. From what I can tell, Bar Method offers the lowest-priced "new-client" price ($75 for the first month, compared to $100 elsewhere). Because of this and the great location, I would be interested in getting a Bar Method membership in the future.

The Barre Code
Visits: 4* (two at the Michigan Avenue location, two at the River North location)
Pros: Diverse class offerings such as Barre-dio (barre + cardio), Baryasa (barre + vinyasa yoga), Burn (barre done in a heated studio); accordingly, the classes had the most changeable format of any that I attended; convenient-to-me studio locations; stylish facilities
Cons: The instructors placed almost zero emphasis on proper form; when pushing students to work to the max, they were too over the top for my taste; none of them made any effort to personally interact with students or get to know them; the facilities got very cramped during class transition periods.
Summary: While I got a good workout during my classes at the Barre Code, the studios felt very impersonal to me. One of the reasons I go to workout classes in general is for the live interaction. If it wasn't for that, I'd just do a workout DVD at home. However, at Barre Code, I got almost no acknowledgement from anyone. I almost felt like I was just following a live workout video. For this reason, I would not want to get a Barre Code membership.

The Dailey Method
Visits: 3 (two at the Bucktown location, one at the Lincoln Park location)
Pros: The Bucktown studio is gorgeous - very spacious and zen, and everything you could ever ask for in a locker room facility is provided. Both locations have onsite childcare services, for those who need them. Both instructors I had at the Bucktown location were detailed and knowledgeable. One of the instructors I had at the Bucktown location is a Radio City Rockette, so she was incredibly inspirational!
Cons: The instructor I had at the Lincoln Park location seemed noticeably less-experienced, e.g., she would mix up left and right, her cues were off, she fumbled to explain things a few times. The Lincoln Park studio wasn't nearly as nice as the Bucktown location. Classes at the Bucktown location were very crowded.
Summary: I was surprised by how different my experience was at one location versus the other. I was focused on barre-intensive workouts, but the Dailey Method included a wide range of floor and mat exercises with a comparatively smaller portion devoted to barre. I would actually prefer a stronger focus on barre exercises. Because of this, and because the locations are not the most convenient to me, I would be 50/50 on getting a Dailey Method membership.

Pure Barre
Visits: 4* (three at the Old Town location, one at the Bucktown location)
Pros: Instructors made a strong effort to greet everyone personally and compliment you by name; they come by your side to correct your form individually with the microphone turned off; very consistent classes and instructors; the Old Town location's student population was nicely diverse. One Old Town instructor introduced me to some other students within the class, which was nice.
Cons: There were times when the music got so loud I had trouble hearing the instructor. Both locations I visited have no private changing area other than a single bathroom, and both only have open shelves to store your belongings. Neither location has lockers, locker rooms, or showers.
Summary: I'd taken classes at Pure Barre in Bucktown before, so I knew what to expect in advance. In my opinion, Pure Barre classes feel the most like a soiree versus a workout class - which is a good thing. If Pure Barre had locations that were more convenient to me, I would be interested in getting a membership.

In addition to the above, I visited Zen Yoga Garage once for a yoga barre class, and I visited Bare Feet Power Yoga once for a yoga class. It's tougher for me to evaluate these two studios given the single visit to each, but here are my thoughts on both:

Bare Feet Power Yoga - The yoga class I took here was the only non-barre class I attended during my ClassPass membership. The facilities were very small. It had only one bathroom, no changing facilities, and a miniature reception area with open shelves for students to store their belongings. The class was insanely crowded, to the point where I was very uncomfortable. I was afraid that I was going to get kicked in the face by the person in front of me, and I couldn't move freely for fear of hitting those next to me and behind me. The instructor taught the class using only yoga language without providing further explanation. If you were a beginner to yoga, you would probably be completely lost. Even though this studio is just a few blocks from my home, I would probably not visit again.

Zen Yoga Garage - As the name would imply, they mostly offer yoga classes. However, I had an excellent instructor for my yoga barre class. Her cues were impeccably good and her music selection was fantastic. The facilities were nice but I wasn't quite clear on whether or not you were supposed to bring all of your own equipment, or if it was provided. The website didn't specify, either. But if I had the opportunity, I'd definitely like to check out more of their class offerings in the future.

Other notes:
  • I had intended to check out Exhale Chicago and a couple of other studios that offered barre classes, but didn't make it. Location was a big factor.
  • Pure Barre was the only studio where I had an instructor more than once. At all of the other locations, I had different instructors for every visit.
  • I've read some reviews saying that barre classes are full of teeny-tiny women in their 20s who are all decked out head to toe in Lululemon attire. While I can see why people would say this, there were definitely certain locations where this was more true than others.

On a final note, I was thrilled with the results that I experienced from the barre classes. They targeted all of my areas of weakness, especially my hips and core. The barre classes gave me much quicker body changes in just a month compared to what running has done for me over several years.

This runner may have found a fitness pursuit that will give running a run for its money (pun intended)!!!

*ClassPass only allows you to take three classes per studio company per cycle; however, each cycle is 28 days and my membership was 30 days. In case anyone is wondering how I was able to take four classes at three places, my extra two membership days counted as a new cycle of classes. I took advantage of this at two places. I was able to schedule a fourth class at one other studio through what was probably a system glitch.


  1. I took classes at Pure Barre in Orland Park. I ended up getting a 2 week trial because I'm a blogger. I just never forked over the money for additional classes. BUT...I just signed up (yesterday) for a month unlimited. I'm going to start going in November once all my marathons are over!

    1. That is so awesome that you got a 2-week trial at Pure Barre. Hopefully you took full advantage of it! If I had gotten one, I'd try to go every day. Congrats on signing up for a month unlimited, too - you must be so excited to get started! I think Pure Barre is a FANTASTIC way to work out post-marathon. Congrats again on your Grand Rapids marathon PR!!!

    2. It was the beginning of marathon training so I still had to run. I think I went 3 times one week and 2 times the next week. Going more than 3 times a week is hard for me. My goal when I go for the month is to try to get 3 times a week in.

    3. Three times a week is plenty! When I first got underway with ClassPass, I had very high aspirations of attending five days a week. After my first class, I was reminded how tough the workouts are! It definitely takes some time to get the body acclimated to them!

  2. I've neverr done barre, but I'm planning to get a crash course on how to incorporate similar moves in my classes next month. I can't wait!

    1. Natalie, I think you would love barre! The exercises look so simple, but they are so challenging and so effective. I can't wait to hear what you think!

  3. Super interesting! I've been to PB (the River North location has an extra changing area and secure lockers), Bar Method (loop!), and Barre Code. I'm going to Exhale tomorrow but PB is still by far my favorite and I believe the most effective workout...but yes, the music does get horribly loud.

    1. Nina! Congratulations on your killer performance at the Chicago Marathon! I remembered that you've done a lot of barre classes before, and would love to hear more of your thoughts from your own experiences, too. I'm curious what Exhale is like! Thanks for letting me know that the Pure Barre River North location has more extensive facilities - this is super helpful for future reference!

  4. I was going to ask how you managed to get four classes in at all these studios! I'm SO glad you put this together. I just started my month of ClassPass on Monday, and while I'm really looking forward to trying out all sorts of studios, I've also found myself a bit paralyzed by all the options. This insight is super helpful! And it's fascinating to hear that you saw your body change in such a short period of time. I know barre classes advertise that, but obviously there's a big difference between what's advertised and what actually happens, you know? Thanks for this post!

    1. Bethany! Congratulations on tearing it up at the Chicago Marathon! I read your recap back when you first posted it but haven't commented yet. Thank you for the positive feedback and I am glad that this post was helpful! Seriously, these barre classes are no joke. I understand now why they push the new-client specials, because once you get going you can really get sucked in to KEEP going, in my experience. =) I am super excited to hear what studios you try out with your membership!!!

  5. I couldn't agree more with your take on the different studios. Bar Method was always my favorite when I lived in the city, because I felt like I got the best workout due to the constant corrections (which, at first, I hated). Also, having taken a bunch of these classes while pregnant, they paid the most attention to me in terms of safety and modifications. When I take other classes (PB, BC, etc), I find myself correcting my own form based on what I learned at BM!

    1. I am glad that we share similar opinions! I felt really awkward the first time I went to Bar Method because I got called out every five minutes. But as I got more experienced, the call-outs got less and less frequent, which felt good. Just like you, I also correct my own form at other barre studios based on what I learned at BM! I know you were planning on starting ClassPass right after the marathon, have you already begun? I am looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts, too!