Fitness classes making use of a wall-mounted ballet barre are seemingly everywhere, mixing and matching dance-inspired stretches and pliés with aerobics and strength training.
Fluidity says it stands out from the crowd by offering each client a free-standing workout station with an adjustable-height bar.
By matching the bar to your hip height, says inventor Michelle Austin, you stretch and strengthen muscles and posture in "perfect alignment," which keeps you naturally balanced and free of chronic pain.
In addition, Austin claims Fluidity allows for exercises that would be impossible on a wall-mounted bar and help achieve a long, lean dancer's body, and strengthen the pelvic floor, helping to prevent the incontinence that affects many women, especially after childbirth. Although I cannot verify that part, I can say that after two classes I found Fluidity to be great for posture, a blast to the butt muscles and a satisfying recovery workout.
In fact, every kinked-up runner and cyclist (like me) probably needs to do something like this once a week to get the body back to its natural form.
A dozen Fluidity bars sit in a wide-open room filled with gentle, calm music and women ranging in age from their 20s through 50s. Barre is not typically a guy thing; I was secretly overjoyed to see another male sneak in just as our instructor began to lead us through a classic dancer warmup designed to open our hips and release back tension. Then we began a deceivingly hard exercise routine which at times put us atop the bar, hanging from the bar or on a floor mat. It's "deceiving" because it almost seems too easy to be considered real exercise — for the first 10 seconds, that is. After that, there's hell to pay.
Grasping the bar with arms extended, squeezing the glutes and lifting a leg behind you doesn't seem difficult. But try to keep the leg aloft while "pulsing" it up and down a few inches. After 20 seconds, muscles start throbbing, breathing quickens, posture begins to corrode and tiny beads of sweat pop up. After 45 seconds you're praying for the torture to stop. After five or six such exercises — such as "water ski thighs," in which you hold the bar and lean back, then pulse — the guy on the bar next to me was a drippy, embarrassing mess. By the 10th exercise, I looked like that too.
Instructors prowl the room, laying hands on bodies, reminding us to maintain proper posture with the spine in a neutral alignment, not twisted side to side. The attention is necessary and appreciated. After all, this class is not all about burning 750 calories and sending your heart rate through the roof. It's about posture, alignment and gaining the flexibility and strength that supports it.
Day pass: $20. Free workout with online sign-up. David Barton Gym, 12100 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 836-8000, www.davidbartongym.com. Austin sells fold-up, roll-away Fluidity barres at her website, www.fluidity.com.