Last night's class took place at Exhale, a combination spa-yoga-barre studio in the heart of Chicago. I've never done a barre class before, but have heard lots of raving about how great the workout really is, so I was very eager to jump in on the latest trend. At the same time, I haven't done much strength work in a while, and I was worried I would struggle with the class.
I made a new friend: Natali from The Race that Never Ends!
I arrived super early, as Exhale is pretty close to my office and I could easily pop right on over, so I got to take some time to check out the studio before the masses descended. Exhale is located above a corner storefront, and they have made excellent use of the space! The main entrance takes you right into a little yoga/wellness shop with the main counter running the length of the narrow space. Every person from both Class Pass and Exhale was incredibly helpful and super sweet, you couldn't look in any direction with seeing smiles! Although the lobby and store were kind of pressed into a narrow space, the room still had great flow and, on a non-party night, is probably more than ample space for regular business. There are Buddhas and Hindu figures throughout the space, augmenting the feeling of serenity exuded by the general decor - and tickling the fancy of this Asian art historian turned fitness buff!
Exhale is pretty much a full-service facility, offering not only lockers (with built in locks, so you don't have to bring your own), but also a retouching station fully equipped with brushes, hairsprays, tissues, and anything else you might have forgotten at home! You can shower (they provide towels and flip flops) right there on-site as well. I didn't look much into the spa section, but if the locker rooms are any indication, I bet the spa services are top notch!
Finally, we got to enter the workout room for our class. As expected, the entire room was ringed with a ballet barre. Exhale provides thick mats to cover the beautiful hardwood floors, handheld weights for various toning classes, and fabric straps for stretching. Each of us set up a small little station (we were pretty crammed in, but we made do) and waited eagerly to jump into the workout!
John really knew how to push us... HARD.
About thirty seconds in, Natali and I just looked at each other, faces full what can only be described as stunned intimidation. This class was going to be TOUGH! If you've never heard of barre fitness, here's what it's all about: agony. Tiny little pulsating movements that work muscles you didn't even know you had, until all you can do is laugh when your instructor moves on to the next seemingly impossible position and movement. We were full force in this class, no stopping to rest, no backing down the intensity - just hardcore workout from start to finish. I struggled, I know Natali struggled, looking around there were plenty of people falling or having to take pauses to reset, but we ALL pushed through it and finished the workout! It was easy to keep pushing with John (our instructor) constantly willing us forward, talking strength right into our muscles and encouraging us every step of the way!
Finally done with the excruciating - but certainly incredibly effective - workout, we sweated our way back into the lobby for some photo booth fun and a nice surprise: Loop Juice! These guys brought samples of several juice blends for us to try, including green juice (spinach, kale, parsley, celery, ginger, cucumber); red+lemon (beet, carrot, apple, ginger, pomegranate, lemon); and wake-up shot (ginger, lemon, cayenne). I tried the red+lemon and it was goooooooooood! I didn't try the green due to my cucumber allergy, and avoided the wake-up because of the cayenne, but I hear they were pretty darn good too!
All natural, fresh squeezed juices!
All in all, the experience was super fun! Got a great workout, met some new people, tried some new things, and went home happy! Best part? I get to do it all again tonight at Flywheel, a stadium cycling studio right down the street!
Photo credits for the in-class images and the Loop Juice photo go to Joel Maisonet, who provided his services throughout the evening and also happens to be a pretty cool dude.