Thursday, May 19, 2011

Plies and Rond de Jambs: Review of Figure 4 At Pure Yoga

I spend an inordinate amount of time on Well and Good NYC, the popular health and wellness website. Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula, the women behind it, are always at the forefront of all that is health, fitness and beauty-related in New York city. From time to time the two ladies arrange free classes for their loyal readers. In the past these highly popular classes have ranged from a spin class at Flywheel Studio to a Barre3 class (led by its founder Sadie Lincoln, Madonna's trainer) at the Lincoln Square Lululemon store (which I also had a chance to attend) to yesterday's Figure 4 class that took place at Pure Yoga on the West side. Needless to say, spots in these classes are highly coveted!

So what is Figure 4 exactly?  In essence, it is Kate Albarelli's interpretation of a barre class, melding aspects of classical dance training, Pilates, yoga and free weights. The name "Figure 4" itself comes from the stretch that ballerinas perform.

Figure 4 stretch. Source:Velo News

Kate has a formidable dance and fitness background. She has danced with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet (Farrell is my all-time favorite ballerina and it totally slipped my mind to ask Kate what working with her was like), and the Met Opera Ballet, and has also been a fitness instructor at Physique 57 and Core Fusion, the two main barre class studios in New York city.

Kate Albarelli
Kate created Figure 4 exclusively for Pure Yoga, and the class made its debut in early April to glowing reviews. This was no surprise as Kate had a reputation for being one of the more popular instructors while at both Physique 57 and Core Fusion.

Currently, the class is only offered at Pure Yoga West. With yesterday's torrential downpour, and the mess that is the subway during rush-hour, it was a miracle I made it to the studio in time. I wrote about my experience at Pure Yoga East earlier this week and the west side location was no less impressive. Walking into the serene space immediately made me feel tranquil.

Source: Pure Yoga

Thirty or so Well and Good NYC readers waited patiently outside the studio as Kate and a few assistants were setting up for the class. The walls of the studio are lined with two barres six inches apart from each other and each spot at the barre is equipped with a ball and a yoga strap. Mats were laid out in the center of the room, and next to each mat was a set of heavy weights (4lbs) and one light weight (2lbs).A soft cushion and a "Pilates magic circle" (a spring circle that functions as a resistance training tool) lay on top of each mat.

The Pilates Magic circle we used in class

Kate instructed us to take off any socks as the class is done in bare feet. She then asked us to find a spot at the barre as that is where the class would begin. We started with a warm up at the barre with some side stretches and leg lifts and then plunged straight into the thigh section. This sequence differs from the standard barre class which traditonally starts with arm exercises. Kate explained her reasoning for this as follows: the thighs are the body's largest muscle group and working them  in the beginning will jump-start your metabolism, keeping it high throughut the class. Works for me.

We started the thigh section facing the inside of the room, with our backs to the barre, in a demi-plie with our heels together and feet apart. Once positioned we began a series of pulses and holds, first with our elbows on the barre for support and then with our arms up in the air, all the while engaging our core for balance. Next we turned around and faced the barre and repeated the sequence. Pulsing and holding. Going deeper into a plie. Again pulsing and holding. Then going into our deepest plie and pulsing there and holding for 10 seconds.  It is as painful as it sounds, but in a good way! We transitioned into the flat back chair pose (in this position the arms are stretched out holding the barre and the body squats into a chair position, while keeping the back straight) and again performed many many pulses and holds. The thigh section in a barre class is the hardest part of the class and this class was no exception. Any time Kate would sense a dip in morale she would immediately urge not to give up, provide gentle encouragement, and promise that it would be over soon!

After a well-deseved stretch we moved to our mats and commenced the arm series. We started out with triceps kickbacks with the single 2lb weight, along with other variations of triceps exercise, before moving onto the 4lbs weights to work the biceps and shoulders. I have a new appreciation for 2lb weights which I don't think I have ever used before. The high number of repetitions left me sufficiently challenged, and this morning my triceps actually feel sore.

After some push-ups, planks and triceps dips, we lay on our mats with the cushion supporting our lower back and the magic circle gripped between our thighs and started the first of the two abdominal sections. We  began by keeping our shoulders slightly elevated off the cushion, also known as the curl position in barre class terminology, and holding our abdomen in this contracted state we started to raise, lower and cross our arms in front of us. This was followed by small crunching forward movements of our upper abdomen, all the while keeping a tight squeeze on the pilates magic circle. Not only were we strengthening our core but the simulataneous action of compressing the pilates magic circle allowed for a fantastic inner thigh workout. I like exercises which target more than one body part at the same time and this exercise really hit the spot for me.

Source: NYTimes

Next we moved back to the barre for gluteal work which in this class consisted of leg lifts which were performed bent over at the barre and then the remaining exercises in this series were performed lying down on the floor. I love doing gluteal work on the floor. One would think that it would be easier since you are working against less of your body weight while lying down, but I have never felt this to be the case. It may be because it's easier to properly position yourself while on the floor and that way you feel you are effectively working the correct muscles. When I am standing against the barre, there is so much more to think about; tucking your hips, holding your core, making sure your hips are not drooping to one side, before I even start feeling my seat. Either way, by the end of this section, my glutes were on fire! Definitely my favorite part of the class.

The second and last abdominal series was done at the barre with us lying on the ground with our legs straight up in the air, pulling down on the yoga strap (which is hanging off the barre) for support and raising and lowering our hips. This tough exercise targets the hard-to-get-into lower abdominal muscles. After a few more moves for our core we ended the class with pelvic tucks or hip lifts, but these were done with a slight variation, with the magic circle encircling our upper thighs. We pushed outwards on the circle as we tucked our hips. This small variation gives the exercise an extra kick.

I loved the class and thought Kate was amazing. She is so upbeat, and super-friendly with a smile at all times. Her cues were spot-on. All I had to do was listen in order to get into and transition between positions. This is not always the case in barre classes as positions are very precise and verbal cues are not everybody's forte. I have been to classes where I have to constantly sneak a peek at an instructor to make sure I am positioned correctly. Kate also paid a lot of attention to form, walking among us, making gentle corrections. She seems to have put a lot of thought into the sequence and choreography and this is evident when you take the class. The music was great also and really helped to keep us going. I loved the addition of the pilates circle in the pelvic tilts-the extra resistance really made it more fun.

The Good:
1. Instructor: I can see why Kate was such an in-demand fitness instructor at her previous jobs. Not only does she lead a great class with well-timed cues, she is super sweet to boot. She really seems to want you to get the most out of your workout, and you keep going because you don't want to disappoint her!

2. The class: While the class is similar in its fundamental make-up to other barre classes, Figure 4 is distinguishing itself, firstly, by the switching up of its class sequence and secondly, by the use of its own particular choice of props. The class was fun, set to great music and ended too soon.

3. Facility: The Pure Yoga West space is gorgeous, and it seemed less crowded than its east side counterpart but that could have just been a function of the rainy weather we were having that day.

The Not-so-good:
1. Membership-only: Figure 4 classes are membership-only. However, there will be a 6-month membership option for those who do not want an annual commitment.

2. Location: Currently offered only at Pure Yoga West but when I spoke to Kate she told me that classes are set to begin at the east side location in July

I really enjoyed this class and loved Kate's positivity and upbeat nature. I would love to take another class. I think this particular class was toned down a little in its level of difficulty because it was for a special event and most of the attendees were taking it for the first time. I was told by a Figure-4 regular that normally class is much harder.

On a final note, I just want to say what a great job Melisse and Alexia from Well and Good NYC did in planning this event. Not only did we all get to experience the phenomenal Figure 4 class, but there was a fun little after-party. I got to meet fellow bloggers Melissa, Ashley and Kristene (all of whom write fun and inspiring health blogs and I am sure will be writing their recaps of the class). Aestheticians from Tata Harper were on site giving mini-facials. Yvette Rose from the boutique cleanse company, Joule Body was also there handing out cups of green juice and brownie samples. Needless to say, I cannot wait for the next event!

With Melisse and Alexia, post-workout


Jill said...

Girl, you've been busy! I love it. Very inspiring.

Mom at the Barre said...

Jill: I try! Would love for you to join me in a class some time.

Pink Lady said...

Sam, I love your reviews. They are so detailed and allows the reader make an informed decision. This is one barre class that I would love to try. And I like that pics.

Mom at the Barre said...

Thanks, Pink Lady! :-)

Amber said...

As always - great review! I would LOVE to try this class. I took Core Fusion with Kate at exhale the last time I was in NYC and she is amazing. It's obvious she put a lot of thought into this class - doing thighs first just makes complete and total sense.

Dori said...

This is such a great, in-depth review! You captured the class perfectly. Did she not use the pillows for abs?

I am SO excited for this to come to Pure East. I have a one-month membership to use at Pure and I am waiting for Figure 4 to be more convenient to me. Kate is just the best. Sad to have lost her at Core Fusion, but thrilled for her to execute her own creative vision.

Mom at the Barre said...

Amber: You should totally try it the next time you are in NYC!

Dori: Thanks, Dori! So jealous of your one-month membership! I thought Kate was awesome- I loved how down-to-earth she was. We used a cushion which did not mold into our lower back so I am presuming it's not the pillow you are referencing?

daniellaprice30 said...

I've tried pilates yoga several times and I'm just so glad at how much fats I lost. Good thing I didn't continue my liposuction in New York because I can shed pounds with this relaxing workout.

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