Los Angeles loves its barre classes. Studios like Pop Physique and The Bar Method are springing up all across the city, but I only have eyes for Physique 57. I was first introduced to the workout by a friend. I didn’t know anything about it except what she’d told me: “It’s is the hardest, most challenging workout you will ever do.” (Did I mention we were in bootcamp together as she was telling me this?) “But it’s also the most effective. And somehow it manages to be fun too.”
I went in having no idea what to expect. Throughout my first class, my legs shook from start to finish. If it hadn’t been so painful, it would have been fascinating. I’d never seen or experienced anything like it, and I have tried every bootcamp, pilates class, yoga class, dance class, workout class under the sun. The next day, I couldn’t walk. As soon as my muscles recovered enough, I went back. That was three years ago, and I’m still going.
Physique 57 was born in New York, a high-octane barre-based workout that truly does transform your body (in just eight classes). It’s been described as pilates on crack, but this doesn’t begin to do it justice. From their website: “Our signature Physique 57 class incorporates cardio, strength training, stretching and recovery (all with a ballet barre) for a 57 minute workout that systematically improves flexibility and endurance, while strengthening and sculpting muscles. Which means you’ll look as good as you feel.”
Hollywood has embraced the workout, and it’s not unusual to see celebs in class (Sofia Vergara, Demi Moore, and Zooey Deschanel are all fans). The instructors are terrific, the staff is lovely, the clientele is serious, dedicated, and loyal. It really is, as one article described it, a cult. I now think of it as my exercise home.
Recently, my cousins were in town from Wisconsin, staff writer Lizzy Meade and her mom, Germ Creative Director and resident Ninja, Shannon Duval. When I told them I wanted to take them to a beginner’s class, they had no idea what was in store for them.
Here’s how it went:
Jennifer: So, here we are at Physique 57. Please don’t be scared.
Shannon: Right now the WOW is keeping scared at bay.
Liz: Everything looks so fancy!
Jennifer: Welcome to Beverly Hills! You all will be fine. Kyle is awesome. He’s a wonderful teacher, and if all else fails, you can comfort yourselves by looking at him (author’s note: Kyle is insanely good-looking).
Liz: I think it will be more intense!
Shannon: Hehe, we won’t tell Sensei or you’ll have a rough class next week. (To Jennifer) I’ve never taken a barre class. What’s it like?
Jennifer: It is the most terrible, horrible, amazing, wonderful workout. Ever.
Shannon: So, in the middle of it I will hate you?
Jennifer: Yes, but we’re family so you have to continue loving me.
Shannon: And at that point I look at Kyle?
Shannon: Sweet. Liz, we do not condone you looking at Kyle.
Jennifer: We absolutely do not condone it.
Shannon: He is for instructional purposes only.
Liz: You guys are strange.
And class begins…
Shannon: Um, there is not a clock in here…. There really should be a clock in here.
Jennifer: Don’t worry. We only have five more minutes of arms, followed by two sets of thighs (not counting thigh dancing), two sets of glutes, three sets of abs, and a few other things in between—push-ups, tri-cep dips, forearm plank…
Shannon: Those few other things better include lying on the floor in child’s pose.
Jennifer (smiles and thinks): Oh dear God. This is beginner’s, but it never really gets easier, does it? Must set a good example for Shan and Liz. Must look poised and calm. (Wipes sweat from upper lip and back of neck. Concentrates on breathing.)
Shannon (grits teeth and thinks): Two rounds at Nationals did not feel like this! *&^*&!!!!
Liz (gradually turning pink): When is this going to end…
Shannon: Ok, I can do this part… But maybe not this one… Uh-oh, here comes Kyle, no breaks… Wow, Jenna is good at this… Thank god, something I can do…
Jennifer: Kyle is such a good teacher– always helping everyone with form… Shan and Liz are going for it. So proud! So… OWWW… Sigh. *#$@ thighs.
Liz: I bet they are not doing anything this hard at home.
Shannon: I didn’t know I had that muscle, hmmm… Ok, gotta admit this is a great workout and I’m going to feel very virtuous the rest of the day.
Liz: It looks easier for Mom and Jen than for me.
Jennifer: Why do I do this?
Shannon: Why does she do this? Of course, if I come out looking like Jen….
Shannon: I’m glad my back is to Liz. I don’t think I have a happy look….
Jennifer: It would be so much easier to not do this. I wonder if blood is thicker than P57. I hope so.
Shannon: Oh god, I just realized what the 57 means…. And that’s why there’s no clock.
Jennifer: Did Shannon just growl at me? Will she tell her mom who will then tell my mom? (Author’s note: our mothers are sisters.)
Shannon: I am so telling on Jennifer.
Jennifer: Okay, must stop and catch breath and shake out thighs before they give out… Look at Shannon go– so proud. Look at Liz!
Shannon: In what universe was this a good idea? !#$*!!!!
Liz: (attempts breathing)
Kyle: You can do anything for ten seconds. Ten, nine, eight…
Shannon: Is that true? I really don’t think that’s true.
Jennifer: Remember those words when you leave the studio. They are very wise and can pertain to life. You can do anything for ten seconds. Anything for ten seconds.
Liz: (attempts breathing)
Shannon: Beginner’s what? What the hell?
Kyle: Fifteen seconds till the change. Just fifteen seconds and we’re on the floor for the rest of class. Don’t stop. You can do anything for fifteen seconds.
Jennifer: Sweet. Mother. Of. Pearl. It’s every man for himself now… Liz, Shannon, I’m sorry.
Liz: (attempts breathing)
Shannon: (attempts breathing)
Jennifer: (attempts breathing)
(as class finally winds to a close)
Shannon: Child’s pose!
Liz: I wonder what time the Harry Potter store closes.
Jennifer: I’m so glad we took pictures before class. This is not pretty…
Shannon: Wait, I think, wait — was that the hint of a cool down? Wow, Jenna still looks good. Liz is returning to normal color.
Jennifer: I’ve made it. And they’ve made it. We’ve all made it. Shan isn’t growling at me anymore. Ahhhh…
Shannon: Hey, what’s this? I feel really energized and ready to go… I feel…… nicer.
Jennifer: And we’re done. And it was awesome. I feel awesome. So lovely and floaty and flexible and strong. Did I just drop 20 pounds? As soon as we get out of here, I’ll check tomorrow’s class schedule…
Jennifer (speaking): Let me just start by saying I love you both…
Shannon: That was great!! More! I want to come back!
Jennifer: We could take another one right now.
Shannon: What do you think, Liz?
Liz: I want to go to the Harry Potter store.
Jennifer loves yoga, belly dance, hiking the sunny California outdoors, and, most of all, Physique 57.
Shannon is a second-degree blackbelt in TKD and National Champion Women’s Full Contact Stick Fighter. She is currently ranked #3 in the World in her division. She will never look at a ballet barre the same way again.
Liz is a black belt in TKD, a karate green belt, and key player on her undefeated middle school volleyball team.