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Are Barre Workouts Really Effective? Mallika Parekh Spills The Beans

It's time to raise the Barre. Wellness expert and owner of Physique 57, Mallika Parekh tells us all about Barre.

If you are someone who doesn't like to lift heavy weights, and probably gets perturbed by the idea of entering a gym, then you are not alone. There are multiple fitness alternatives to the gym and if you are inclined towards dance-inspired workouts, then it's time to raise the fitness bar with a new form of exercise - barre.

Barre was created in 1956, by Lotte Berk, a former ballerina and a dance teacher, in London in 1959. After injuring her back, Berk got the idea of combining her ballet barre routines with her rehabilitative therapy to form an exercise system Originating from the elegant dance form Ballet, Barre is a new form of fitness that is making its presence felt in India. Although the fitness regimen still remains a part of a niche audience in the country. While some believe this to be a low-intensity form of workout - that is incorrect is it a HIGH-intensity low-impact workout and the intensity can be scaled up depending on your fitness level.

Physique 57 started by Mallika Parekh in Mumbai, is one of the first barre studios that popularised the fitness regimen. To know more about barre, the benefits and the history behind opening up the studio, The Style List spoke to Mallika Parekh - a health & wellness expert, and the owner of Physique 57 India, a barre-based workout that originated in New York and launched in Mumbai in 2018.

Barre is a relatively new form of exercise that has been introduced in India, tell us a

little about Barre?

Barre is a form of exercise that is primarily distinguished from other fitness activities by the use of a ballet barre during various parts of the workout. It originated with a German ballet dancer named Lotte Berk, who combined low-impact, small isometric movements with rehabilitative exercises, using a ballet barre for support. Physique 57 offers a signature and proprietary barre-based method, which combines isotonic (large) movements with isometric (small) movements, and blends the most effective elements of cardio, strength training and stretching to redefine one’s body from the very first class.

At Physique 57, each 57-minute (or less) group or private class combines the best of proven interval training techniques, then kicks their effectiveness up a notch. The workout uses one’s own body weight as resistance to target and overload muscles to the point of fatigue and then stretches them for relief. This ground-breaking process is known as Interval Overload. Physique 57’s version includes muscle-defining arm exercises, intense thigh and glute sequences, waist-chiselling ab exercises and fluid stretches to heat up (and cinch) every inch. Every Physique 57 class is structured to maximize each minute and move – with constantly updated choreography, bliss-inducing music and beats, and motivating instructors dedicated to keeping participants going strong on the path to their fitness goals.

What made you decide to open up a Barre studio in India?

I started my fitness journey with Physique 57 in 2011. As a double Masters in Medical Science and Public Health, I was working on a healthcare venture in India, when I quickly learned that fitness was a growing industry here, but that there was a gap in the market as far as boutique and specialised fitness was concerned. I believed in the science behind the Physique 57 method and felt strongly about having our trainers go through extensive and intense training within the method before they could coach clients. Physique 57 caters to all individuals, including those with injuries or bone density issues which are common amongst the Indian population. With the brand being born in New York City, I quickly convinced the founders, Jennifer Maanavi and Tanya Becker, that there would be a demand for this method in India, and thankfully they trusted me to bring the franchise here.

What is the difference between barre and Pilates?

If you’re trying to decide which fitness method is best for you, or you think a mixture of techniques would be ideal, consider a barre-based method. It incorporates its own positive reinforcements in tone and alignment due to the support of the ballet barre, along with some of the benefits from both yoga and Pilates. Barre will help build and strengthen your muscles, improve your core strength and help contribute toward a long, lean aesthetic due to immediate postural improvements that last a lifetime. Unlike yoga and Pilates, which can sometimes take weeks and even months to see visible results, Physique 57 participants start seeing results in as little as eight workouts, especially given the cardio-focused movements we incorporate. Another positive aspect of a barre workout is the upbeat nature and feeling of community and camaraderie that is a natural result of the barre atmosphere. Unlike yoga and Pilates classes that often require quiet self-reflection, having fun is encouraged in barre classes. There are plenty of opportunities for quiet concentration when you are focusing on correct form and alignment and the tiny muscle movements that are working your entire body from head to toe during every class. Your arms, abs, thighs and glutes will quickly reflect the results of your hard work. Unlike yoga and Pilates, barre at Physique 57 incorporates aerobics into each workout to strengthen your cardiovascular system and help you maximise caloric burn. Physique 57’s ability to give you an intense cardio workout while remaining low-impact is another desirable benefit of the program.

What are the benefits of Barre?

Barre has many proven benefits, however, what I can specifically attest to is the benefits of the Physique 57 barre-based method:

  • The Physique 57 technique is superior to other exercise methods because of the innovative philosophy of Interval Overload training, precisely choreographed to produce maximum results in minimal time. Interval Overload brings muscles to fatigue with low weight, high rep sequences and then stretches for relief. The result is longer, leaner muscle with little risk of injury due to its low-impact, high-intensity nature. This trait becomes especially important for those that are dealing with injuries or have long-term bone density issues because its sustainable nature doesn’t prohibit this population from keeping up with their fitness goals.

  • The Physique 57 technique includes more cardio exercise than any other barre workout and is faster-paced than its competitors while maintaining immense focus on proper form, alignment and precise movement execution.

  • Studies done by a Department of Exercise Physiology at a US university showed that Physique 57 produced greater changes in lean body mass over a four-week period than aerobics, Pilates, yoga, or running—a feat all the more impressive because it is done without using heavy weights or equipment.

  • Physique 57 is also an excellent workout for expecting mothers, and for those who are post-natal. In fact, Physique 57 was voted the best prenatal workout by New York Magazine and is recognized by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology as a safe and effective method to stay fit, both while expecting, and after delivery.

How has the Indian market responded to the new style of exercise?

I launched the Physique 57 brand first in Mumbai as it's now my home city, and I also found Mumbai to be a city with great demand for a form of fitness that was sustainable throughout a person’s life. While there has been increasing awareness all over the country of the importance of fitness over the last decade, Mumbai is less pedestrian than many other cities in India. People are accustomed to visiting gyms or studios for fitness in Mumbai, but I wanted to create a space that felt empowering, healthy, and important because fitness is, in fact, an investment in oneself. My instinct about this has indeed paid off, as we welcome more and more clients to our studios in Mumbai. What's more, during the lockdown, we introduced virtual classes which widened our reach to an audience of fitness enthusiasts across the country. It's been truly gratifying to see the response the Physique 57 workout gets from clients across the country - which further fuels my goal to expand nationwide, very soon!

The motto that stuck with me most throughout my process of bringing Physique 57 to India was actually the brand tag line: Sculpting Bodies, Changing Lives. With every frustration that comes with setting up a new business, that too in a new country, or anytime anyone wondered why I felt strongly enough to bring a fitness brand to India with my background as a scientist, I went back to the fact that this method would indeed change lives which is what I set out to do for my entire career. I was filled with countless stories from other countries of how Physique 57 truly strengthened clients, both physically and mentally and changed their lives as a result. From cancer survivors, bone marrow transplant candidates, clients with congenital defects, speech defects, mental health illnesses, and C-section recoveries, to professional athletes, this method created a community of changed lives for those that engaged with it. From my own experience, I knew it was certainly more than a gym, a boutique fitness studio, or simply about sculpting bodies, and the enthusiastic response I have seen from clients since we launched has cemented this belief and determination.

Would you call Barre a low-intensity form of workout?

There can sometimes be a common misconception that barre is not an intense workout. To the contrary, Physique 57 specifically, is HIGH intensity but low-impact. This is immensely beneficial to any body type, as it prevents injuries while still showing significant results, over a short period of time, provided you are consistent with your workouts. The beauty of a barre-based workout like Physique 57 is that it is designed to be rehabilitative in nature. This means that there really are no draw-backs, whether you are recovering from an injury, pregnant, post-natal, young, senior, inexperienced, or a professional athlete. It is a rare form of exercise vetted by some of the most brilliant physicians in the world to be safe and effective for a vast range of people. One could only argue that our beginner-level classes don’t cause a tremendous sweat when in our temperature-controlled studio. It’s important to point out that sweat and heat have nothing to do with an effectiveness of a workout, muscle tone or weight loss—sweat is merely the body’s way to regulate temperature and consists of water content that is immediately replaced once you replenish with hydration. However, if you still want to sweat it out, level up and we’ll deliver!

Does it target smaller muscle groups and is it a good form of cardio?

With Physique 57’s interval overload method, you get the cardio benefits of high intensity interval training in addition to all the sculpting and lengthening, since the workout effectively targets both larger and smaller muscle groups. This will spike your heart rate, boost your endurance, and make you break a serious sweat! Another perk of incorporating cardio AND toning together is the major caloric burn you get as a result. A typical Physique 57 workout burns up to 650 calories depending on your body weight and fitness level — significantly more than other forms of exercise, including 1 hour of Pilates (390 calories), 1 hour of spinning (300 calories), running a mile (100 calories), or swimming a mile (400 calories).

Do you plan to expand to other cities in India in the future? If yes, can you share a few insights?

We have some exciting plans in the pipeline to expand throughout Mumbai as well as in other cities across India. While the Physique 57 method is truly best experienced in-studio, the last two years have taught us how effective our virtual classes have been – which means that nationwide reach to fitness enthusiasts across the country will continue via our virtual classes. We have recently launched our brand-new studio at Kemp’s Corner in South Mumbai and also have a pop-up location in Juhu. We are working hard to open studios throughout India. Stay tuned in the coming months!


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