When Kate Arnold and her husband decided to move to Washington from Chicago last year, she wanted to live near a studio that offered the Bar Method. But that posed a real estate challenge: One didn’t exist. “My life had started to revolve around going to classes,” says Arnold, who had transformed her body with the ballet-inspired exercise regimen. So she realized the only solution was to open a franchise herself, which she did last week.

What it is: Using a ballet barre, light weights and lots of tiny pulsing movements to sculpt your muscles isn’t a unique fitness concept. (See box.) But this 10-year-old program stands out for its commitment to safety, says Arnold, who notes that Bar Method creator Burr Leonard collaborated with physical therapists to develop the sequences. There’s an emphasis on spotting and correcting, so instructors are remarkably hands-on. “I told you we were going to get close,” Susan Fanelli told her class on Friday as she adjusted their bodies into the proper positions. And although the exercises are hard, the floors are not. The Bar Method studios feature plush carpeting placed on top of exercise matting, which makes for a comfy surface.

Moves: Every class begins with “leg lifts,” which is a kind of march. Just be sure to raise your knees high and point your toes. Latecomers need to do these first no matter what the rest of the class is doing (but if you’re more than 10 minutes late, you’re not allowed in). Next, you’ll pick up 2- or 3-pound weights for high reps of arm exercises.

Then it’s time to cozy up to the barre, where you’ll alternate between exhausting muscles and stretching them. You’ll clench it while you drop your butt into an imaginary chair and pop your heels off the ground. You’ll hang onto it for balance while tucking your pelvis and squeezing a piece of foam between your legs. You’ll grip it while you lie on the floor, and raise your toes toward it. And you won’t be sad to leave it for an abs and back series.

Workout: If your muscles are trembling uncontrollably for most of the hour, you’re doing it right. The thigh portion tends to be particularly challenging. “That’s where we get grunts,” Fanelli says. But that’s what students are looking for, says 36-year-old Susan Howard, who attended three classes last week. “Your legs are shaking, and that makes you feel like you’re working,” she says. Worried about working too much? There are modifications for most moves to alter the difficulty level (push-ups can be on your toes or knees, or leaning on the barre).

Crowd: Even on the first few days in business, classes were packed — so be sure to sign up online ahead of time to secure a spot. Some folks have sampled the Bar Method in other cities or have heard about it from friends. Others are just stumbling in off the street, thanks to the prominent downtown location. Expect the instructor to learn your name to greet you and cheer you on during class. “It’s a much nicer experience if I say your name, not ‘you in the purple shirt,'” Fanelli says. And as Arnold expected, the studio’s students have skewed female. That’s why dudes don’t get a locker room (although they do have access to lockers and bathrooms).

Bonus points: Before and after class, you’re invited to take advantage of the “stall bars.” They’re two ladder-like structures you can climb and then dangle from to decompress your spine. It’s a bit different than when you hang out at other fitness studios.

Time for a Barre Crawl
Have you heard the one about the woman who walks into a barre? If not, you will soon. D.C. already has a number of ballet barre-centric offerings at several studios all over town, including B. Fit (1339 14th St. NW; 202-332-0377, Bfitdc.com) and Xtend Barre at Fuel Pilates (3214 O St. NW; 202-333-0071, Fuelpilates.com). But that’s just the beginning of a bevy of options. “The barre workout hasn’t hit this area with full force yet,” says Jill Warren, who’ll be bringing Barre3 (Barre3.com) to Georgetown this fall. The method’s known for promoting a neutral spine — no tucking your pelvis for exercises. Time will tell which brand will get into first position.

The Details
The Bar Method is at 750 9th St. NW. Beginners are welcome at all classes. Your first class is $10, and then it’s $24 per class, although package deals are available. Socks are required. Get more details by calling 202-347-7999 or visiting Dc.barmethod.com.

Photo by Kevin Dietsch