It’s a workout that has attracted the biggest celebrities and gained a reputation as THE place to be if you want to push yourself to the limits. As most global brands do, it started with a crazy dream. Barry Jay founded this fitness craze together with his partners in West Hollywood in 1998 and has since opened dozens of studios in 15 states and 15 countries (including Norway, the UAE and Qatar). It has attracted celebrities like Jessica Alba and Jake Gyllenhaal, David Beckham, Adriana Lima, and Harry Styles (who was rumored to have been recently in the DC Studio – unconfirmed)
Barry’s can be summed up as this: a red room, blasting music, a motivating instructor, and everyone going so hard you would think it’s the Hunger Games.
The DAOFitLIfe Guide to Barry’s follows (note: all views are my own opinion and not supported by any outside organization).
I dabbled in Barry’s when traveling for work and hungry for a gym-like workout without having to join a gym. A huge advantage of boutique studios like Barry’s is that they are very convenient to book when you are on the move through major cities. When I went to New York in 2015, the first thing I heard when I mentioned I liked to work out was, you HAVE to go to Barry’s. I immediately booked a class at the Tribeca studio, and was mesmerized by the beautiful people, merch and the alluring red of the room. The next day, I had trouble sitting on the toilet.
This visit, I went right in my backyard – in Washington, DC, to the Barry’s studio located right in the middle of Dupont Circle, where you can go from a workout right to brunch or happy hour. It is also right off the metro, so you can easily make a morning workout happen on our way to work.
The Vibe – Bougie for Beasts
When you walk in, you see what is the typical magazine cover of a boutique studio, with some added percs. A smoothie station where you can pre-order a drink for after class is there. The front desk staff is warm and welcoming. The amenities are geared towards busy working professionals. Checking in you can toss your stuff in a locker with numerical combinations. If you need to change after work, there is plenty of room in the locker room to do that with additional hairbands and Oribe beauty products if you need to freshen up on the away to work. There are fully equipped showers, too.
The class itself is kind of like being in a club – loud music, sexy lighting, and lots of sweaty people gyrating around you. My instructor for the day was Nazinga, a sprightly powerhouse with a big voice. The instructor has the challenging job of coaching two groups of people in two different parts of the workout. The pace is quick but luckily if it is your first time, the instructor does a mini crash course with you right before the class starts.
You book your specific spot on the Barry’s website, and you can either start on the tread or the floor (where you do strength work), and you will switch back and forth three or four times between circuits. The floor spots all face a mirror and have different pieces of equipment, which include a bench/step and weights.
In DC, one class runs you $34, but Barry’s has great deals for new clients – for example, you can buy a 3 class pack for 50 dollars. You can buy class packages of three, five, 10, 25, and 50 — but there is no monthly membership option (if you are into SoulCycle, you are familiar with this model. It might be extra if you are like me and paying for an Equinox gym membership, but you can definitely pop in once in a while and mix it up with buying either a single drop in or a five-pack. (hey, investing in looking and feeling good is totally worth it – less risky than crypto!)
You can also take Barry’s classes at home, The studio recently launched Barry’s X, its digital platform that offers its signature strength and cardio-based workouts in both on-demand and live format.
The 55-minute workout is a hybrid of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), running, and strength — but at a fast pace and with no breaks. You go back between the “tread” and the floor about 3-4 times. Pro tip: do NOT look at the bright red clock.
The class types are divided by the category you want to focus on, as follows:
- Arms and abs
- Lower body focus
- Chest and back
- Abs and ass (their wording, not mine:)
- Full body focus
When you arrive, you go to your booked spot. I prefer to start out on the floor, but others view the tread as a warmup for the weights.. You do get a few minutes of a warm-up, but it is very quick. My jog over to the studio elevated my heart rate, so I was ready to start with weights. If you need a primer on how to decide between cardio and weights, check out my companion post here:
The style of treadmills at Barry’s is the Woodway variety. If you have never been on a Woodway, which you can have at home or find at any above average gym, you are missing out. Woodways give you a very light step and provide excellent support for your knees and joints. Generally, the tread section is very HIIT-based — so you’ll run at certain speeds for, say, 90 seconds with 30-second sprints and then a chance to recover. This generally lasts just under 10 minutes before you go back to the floor again.
I am a yoga and pilates gal, so going at a 7.0 + speed like it was called out for the sprints was not my thing. I never got the treadmill higher than 6.0 as we sprinted – but that was enough for me. The Woodway makes you feel like you are flying, anyway. The great thing is that even though I didn’t have my speed in the ranges being called out during the sprints (like up to 10.5, yikes!) I didn’t feel any judgement from the instructor or my fellow class-goers. Nor did I have any clue what they were doing. We all face the mirror, literally facing ourselves. Everyone is very much in their own zone. The nice thing about Barry’s compared to a similar venue like Orange Theory (see my review here) is that there are no metrics or leaderboards to make you feel like you didn’t reach some target or draw any comparisons. My target was to get out of my yoga comfort zone and had a total blast.
The floor is not a break, and there is very little lying down exercises. I chose to do the lower body focus, so it was very much a leg day (my least favorite)
Even if you are a gym rate s, the floor section of a Barry’s class still manages to test your strength. It’s not concentrated bicep curls or simple squats – it is compound movements that get the blood pumping through your entire body. These are usually accompanied by pulses and long holds, WHILE the tread teams are doing a 30-second sprint, for example. It’s sometimes a slow burn, but very tough. Luckily, you have your own station so there is very little chance of stepping on anyone else’s toes. Once you book a spot it is your assigned spot and you only share it with your companion on the tread you will be using, unless you booked double floor.
If you are a busy person who doesn’t want to think about it and still get a hard workout, Barry’s is a great option. As I was getting ready for class, I spoke to a doctor who is a frequent class-taker. What he said he loves about the workout is he finishes seeing his patients, zips over for the early evening class, is done and able to go home without even thinking about it. The class goes quickly, so you don’t have time to dawdle or think too much – you are in the zone.
It is a hard workout, but it is also very customizable based on where you are at in your journey. You can totally listen to your body and decide where you edge is. You will know when you found it when you start to feel the burn and the sweat dripping down your back. As you take more classes and learn the lingo and the pace, you have the opportunity to dig deeper.
The only thing I would say is that I personally do not think this is an every day kind of class. Even though the workouts focus on different body parts every day, it is very hard on your body and you end up being very sore, especially if bootcamp type of workouts are not your thing or it has been a while for you. It is very important to take time to do additional stretching after the class is over, because the cool-down is very brief.
The other slight con is that this workout makes you hungry like a starving wolf. Remember, one of the biggest exercise myths is that you can cover weight management with exercise alone, as I explained in the below article. I nourished myself with a large bowl of greens, chicken breast, and a nut butter wrap for dessert. Drinking a lot of water after the class is a must, as is eating salt because you lose a lot of both during the workout.
I loved my experinece at Barry’s, and I will be back, but I am definitely looking forward to a few days off and yoga classes to stretch out my muscles.
The Hardest, Most Effective Workout in the World (Harvard MBA Student Perspectives)