I have no idea what took me so long to write this review. Maybe I just assumed it was too obvious. Maybe not talking it up was a futile attempt to keep my beloved 6:30pm classes from getting filled up. Whatever it was, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. Part of the reason I write this blog is because I want to share my love of health and fitness- and hopefully inspire others to love it a little more too. Physique 57 is the kind of workout that gets you hooked. And although it’s by no means a newbie on the fitness scene, it still rocks my (grippy) socks, and deserves a shout-out on any blog I sign my name to.
Physique 57 is a barre method class with studios in both NY and LA, as well as a growing DVD series. Hopefully if I write a glowing enough review, they’ll open one in San Francisco in the near future. (HA! Look at my jokes. But seriously, please guys?) Physique has streamlined its class offerings to focus on what it does best: hardcore barre workouts offered in 4 flavors depending on experience level: Beginner, Mixed, Intermediate, and Advanced. They also offer a handful of other classes including Physique Mat (a barre/Pilates hybrid), Yoga, Formula 57 (a great class with a focus on core stability), Prenatal, and a new Cardio class that I’m dying to take. I’m going to stick to the bread and butter barre workouts here, because a) I love them, and b) I’ve taken like 500 of them so I feel like if there’s anything that I’m qualified to talk about, it’s this.
About 2 years ago I set out to get in tip top shape for my wedding. (You can never be too fit while wearing a tight white dress. Never.) My friend Christine suggested I try out her beloved studio, Physique 57. It was expensive, but I figured I could justify it as a short-term wedding expense and then go back to my dank but free basement gym in a couple of months. WRONG. I got hooked. And I’m not even a little sorry for it. Not only does it give me a fabulous workout every time, but I also leave class practically euphoric- giggly from the endorphins, great music, and satisfaction that I get from conquering round-back chair.
Ok, enough jibber jabber. Onto the workout.
Though the specific exercises performed in each class vary a little, they follow a strict formula that keeps all your major muscle groups engaged throughout the 57 minute workout. First, arms. Using 5-8 pound weights, each major arm and shoulder muscle is worked to the point of fatigue. It’s a fast and furious segment that ensures arm jiggle is a thing of the past.
No matter how strong I think I am, the thigh section of Physique 57 class murders me every time. Typically performed facing into the bar in various chair, water ski, or curtsy positions, this section is dedicated to pulsing in small movements to take your thigh muscles to the point of total decimation. Pulsing “up an inch, down an inch” is excruciating, but the personal satisfaction that comes from staying in the exercise through the entire series without breaking is really empowering. (An epic love/hate relationship…) The section ends with a sassy little exercise called thigh dancing: propped up on your shins, you use quad and core strength to pulse/dance through a 60-second burst of calorie torching. After that, you’ve definitely earned your stretch. Savor it, however brief it may be. And foam roll when you get home. Your quads will thank you.
A seat workout comes next, in which various tush muscles are isolated and pulsed to the point of fatigue. This is often the segment in which I really appreciate the instructors’ corrections, as little shifts in your positioning and posture go a long way to working the correct muscle group. As with all exercise, form is critical, and can mean the difference between a super effective workout and injuring yourself. P57 instructors are really wonderful about making gentle corrections, too. They lovingly shame you into lifting your leg higher, pointing or flexing a little harder, and eliminating that last bit of bend from your knee. My personal favorite seat exercise is the pretzel. My attempt at an explanation will likely make it sound like cirque de soleil, but easy this tutorial will get you pretzel-ing like a pro.
Final push: abs, which is choreographed in 3 parts to ensure all parts of the core are hit. Part 1: you lie flat on the floor under the barre, arms holding onto opposite ends of a stretching strap, legs in the air and lifted in various toe taps, scissor kicks, and bicycle curls. This segment targets the deep lower abs. (AKA my arch nemesis since around the age of 13.) Part 2: round-back. The standard position in this exercise is with your upper back up against the wall, lower back slouched in a c-curve, arms pressed up against the bar, legs held up by your ab muscles. This position has never felt good or effective for me or my hip flexors, so I (along with nearly half of the class) perform this section flat on my back, head propped up by a playground ball, hands gripping the sides of the mat for extra core engagement. More foot shuffles, taps, and scissor kicks ensue. It doesn’t get easier over time. Sorry. Part 3: With the aid of a yoga mat, a squishy pad for lower back support, and sometimes the playground ball and stretching band, the final abs segment of class is an intense pulsing marathon made up of modified crunches, kicks and turns. Class ends with some back exercises, a few rounds of hip thrusts, and a lovely final stretch.
How the Physique 57 instructors keep a smile on their faces through the entire class is beyond me. They are upbeat, encouraging, and SERIOUSLY impressive. I don’t care about the fact that they all have careers as dancers and fitness instructors- when I’m in class I want to be as good as them. If only there weren’t mirrors everywhere proving otherwise, I’d swear I’m almost there. (I’m not. Not even close. In fact, the woman in her third trimester next to me in a recent class put me to leg-lift shame. I should just stop talking now.)
One final note- The NYC instructors are all top notch, but I highly recommend taking classes with Lindi, Cassie, Alexander, Antonietta, and Brigitte if you have the opportunity to do so. Also, P57 recently launched new online workouts, available on demand. I’ll miss the helpful in-person correction, but am really excited to give this a try.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, a steady rotation of a barre method class (like Physique 57), an interval/strength based workout (like Refine Method), and good old fashioned cardio (like running or elliptical-ing) makes up my exercise sweet spot. What’s yours?