I've never met a bar I didn't like. Then last night, I came face to face with my biggest fear: my first attempt at a popular class based on the barre. Ballet? That's for the graceful and twiggy. (No really, there was an actual Rockette present.)
Figure 4 is a barre-inspired class designed to complement the body lengthening and strengthening benefits of yoga. Offered exclusively at Pure Yoga in Manhattan, it's the brainchild of former professional ballet dancer Kate Albarelli and involves a blissful blend of classic dance training, Pilates, yoga and light free weights-think one to five pounders.
If not for the uptown vibes that define Pure's studios or the promise of a plié-worthy physique, then check out my 10 other reasons to try out Figure 4, which I bring to you after grunting through a session of my own. After all, what've you got to lose besides an hour of your night and inches from your abs, arms, glutes and thighs?
1. Safe strength training. Figure 4 uses your own body as resistance most of the time, building strength without overusing muscle fibers. When weights are used, they're light and typically don't exceed five pounds. If you use proper form, injury is a rarity.
2. Props for props. From barre to ball to cushion to mat, there's never a dull moment during a Figure 4 workout. The fact that you don't spend too much time lifting, pulling or squatting using any single prop makes the 60-minute class fly by in a breeze.
3. Beauty, not bulk. Planks, push-ups and abdominal and gluteal work help to target, train and stabilize muscles that are lodged deep near the bone rather than the outer muscles. The result? A longer, leaner figure.
4. Top notch instructors. Hands-on help from some of the best instructors in Manhattan ensures an effective workout with tangible results. Last night, Kate reminded me several times not to arch my back, both to make sure I was performing the barre movements safely and to help me build a more pronounced six-pack.
5. Avoid muscle memory. Figure 4 continuously surprises your muscles by constantly changing the pace at which the pulses are performed. Many of the movements follow the beat of the music blaring throughout the room, making the exercises easy (and fun!) to follow. No slacking here!
6. Build strong bones. Women bear a majority of their weight in the hips; for men, the same is true of the back muscles. Figure 4 uses isometric exercises that bolster bone density in the foot, knee, hip and back joints.
7. Toughen Up. Don't get discouraged if, during your first class, your knees shake incessantly. It's normal; even gym rats and yogis should plan on working muscles that haven't gotten this much love and attention in years. As Kate says, the shaking may never stop, but the exercises should become easier with time. Three classes weekly, for two to three weeks, should produce marked physical results.
8. What's in a name? The name "Figure 4″ was playfully derived from a stretch ballerinas use to work muscles in the gluteal region. You'll do this stretch at the end of class, though runners, cyclists and other athletes may be familiar with the position too. Simply lie on your back, bring your knees toward your chest, and place your right foot on the outside of your left knee. Switch.
9. Toning and tunes. Nothing elevates a workout like a solid soundtrack of groovy music. If that's the case (which I'm almost certain it is), then Figure 4 is definitely worthy of a Grammy or three. Last night's playlist included Aqua's Barbie Girl (throw-back!) and a remix of Alanis Morissette's Unwanted.
10. Yes, it is for you! As a new and enthusiastic student of Figure 4, I can now confirm that no, one does not have to be "ballerina skinny" or at all elegant to participate in the class. (Anyway, I am sure that with a little practice, these attributes will come.)
Have you tried out Figure 4 at Pure Yoga? Did your knees shake as much as mine? What advice would you give newcomers to the class?