This year, my running buddy, Beth, and I decided that it’s finally time to add some real cross training to our schedule. So, this weekend, before we began our running schedule for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, we tried out Pure Barre to kickstart our cross-training.
It went something like this:
At the advice of some friends, we arrived early so that we could get oriented to the studio and find a spot towards the back of the room where we could make fools of ourselves in peace. We’d been warned that, no matter what kind of shape you’re in, your first barre class is kind of a disaster.
And, oh yes, Beth’s friends were definitely telling the truth about that.
We arrived at 8:10 for an 8:30 class only to find the front door of the studio locked. The instructor quickly came out, unlocked the door, apologized for the lateness of the receptionist, and disappeared to finish the class that was currently underway. We signed in, filled out the forms on the new client clipboard, and watched the other members of the class come in. They arrived seemingly in uniform: black puffy coats over dark leggings with khaki Uggs. Under their winter attire, they were still identical: leggings, tank tops, and black grippy socks. I was dressed all wrong in my favorite “This year 13.1 miles is my number” running shirt and the sweats I wear to yoga. My black and green (non-grippy) socks are from St. Patty’s and say “Shake Your Shamrocks” across the top. At least, I thought, we’ll look new and not like we just suck at barre work.
As instructed, we picked up a set of two pound weights, a resistance band, and a small red ball, and sat on the floor in the middle of the room. We sat quietly watching the other women come in, many of them warming up with stretches on the floor or at the barre.
“You know,” I said to Beth, “My yoga teacher has been trying to teach us this lesson that I think we’re really about to need. He’s been trying to get us to find our pain “amusing” or at the very least “interesting” instead of negative. We’re just supposed to take note of it as an area of the body we need to work with more.”
I had no idea just how much I’d need that lesson.
The 55-minute class began right on time with our instructor greeting us all over the loudspeaker via one of those headset microphones. We began immediately and didn’t stop tucking, stretching, planking, and doing tiny foot circles for fifty-five minutes. Absolutely, zero break time. With her giving instructions over the loudspeaker with the music on, I sort of felt like I was in that montage of the 1988 National Aerobic Championship set to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” except for the fact that I felt completely incompetent and am sure I looked more like a tree branch during gale force winds, completely out of control and about to fall apart.
I can barely describe to you what we did because half the time I had no idea what we were doing. The instructor would get us into these crazy positions (most of which I couldn’t achieve fully) and then tell us to “tuck.” But she never explained what a “tuck” (“tucking?”) is so I spent most of the class bent at strange angles trying to look around the room to see if I could figure out what the f*** a tuck is but I never did. After class, I even went on the Internet looking for explanations and it didn’t help at all. So, if anyone has a good definition of this seemingly essential aspect of barre classes, please leave it in the comments.
Luckily, Beth made a friend who assured us that it takes five or six classes just to understand the movements, let alone do them. The instructor came around often and helped us get into the correct positions, or as close to them as we could manage. I had one moment of pure grace when I managed to swing my left arm back and catch my right ankle to get into a perfect stretch, it felt great for about half a second when my left thigh started to burn in such a way I couldn’t believe I hadn’t injured myself, and then when we tried to do the same stretch on the other side I flailed about as if I had no control whatsoever over my right arm. I would have felt like more of a doofus except that it was obvious that everyone in class was working so hard they weren’t paying attention to much other than their own form, pain, shaking, and the instructions from our teacher.
And, oh, the shaking. After we warmed up and moved from the floor to the barre for the first time, I got into position and my legs started shaking so hard I started to panic and assumed I must be doing something wrong. I started to come out of the position and try again, only to hear our instructor, while staring me down from across the room, say: “If your legs are shaking it’s working. Embrace the shaking. If you’re not shaking, move deeper into the pose.” What?!? Seriously?!? Why?!? But there I stayed, shaking and posing until I couldn’t take it anymore and then she brought us back to the center of the room to stretch, which felt so good. At the end of the stretching, I had to use all my willpower to come out of Child’s Pose and get back to my workout.
It was, by far, the most difficult workout I’ve ever done. For the first hour afterward, I felt like all my muscles and bones had been replaced by jelly. But I also felt calm. Truly calm in such a way I haven’t felt in weeks. I’d been really missing my yoga classes because the studio was closed for the holidays, but after Pure Barre I felt like I’d taken five yoga classes in one day I was so calm. I hadn’t been capable of thinking of anything other than class for 55 minutes and I worked so hard that I earned an exercise high more powerful than any I’ve had in months. It was a wonderful reminder of one of the reasons I love to exercise.
Even though I know how difficult the class was and have once again confirmed that I’m not very coordinated, I’m excited to sign up for more barre classes. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of the devoted who goes three or four times a week, but I could see Pure Barre becoming my regular cross training activity once or twice a week. Even though I’m sore from the new workout, I already feel stronger in my core, which will really help me as a runner if I stick with it and rise to the challenge.
As for today, I’m glad my running schedule says “20 minutes, cardio of your choice.”