published Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Exercise method emphasizes small movements for big results

Katie Benson, right, and Jill Cavan stretch during a Pure Barre workout under the direction of owner/instructor Amanda Holmes. The class incorporates ballet, pilates, yoga and weights.
Katie Benson, right, and Jill Cavan stretch during a Pure Barre workout under the direction of owner/instructor Amanda Holmes. The class incorporates ballet, pilates, yoga and weights.
Photo by Tim Barber.

When Jill Cavan was diagnosed in 2009 with choroidal melanoma, a rare cancer of the eye, she knew she needed to take action.

"The diagnosis for melanoma is not great," she said, "so I knew I needed to make my body as strong as possible in order to fight metastasis."

It took her more than a year to find an exercise program that suited her.

"I hate exercise," she said. "I've tried gyms, I've trained trainers, I've tried walking. I've tried a lot of different things over the years, but I could never find anything I could really commit to."

Finally, in February, Cavan discovered Pure Barre, a workout that combines free weights, ballet and Pilates to tone the body through small, isometric movements.

"It's specific," said Amanda Holmes, a Lee University graduate who owns the Pure Barre studio off East Brainerd Road. "Every movement is to target a specific muscle group."

Pure Barre was founded in Birmingham, Mich., in 2001 and boasts locations in 21 states.

"Pure Barre has absolutely changed my life," Cavan said. "It's a workout I can really enjoy doing. And I can feel the strength of my body, the muscles toning. It's transformed my body and my mind."

While Cardio Barre and other aerobic ballet classes are gaining popularity in larger cities, Pure Barre is not a cardio class. However, Holmes said, the heart rate can increase, leading to a 400-500 calorie burn over the course of an hour.

In a Monday morning class, Holmes wore a head microphone and spoke to match the syncopated rhythm of the high-energy music playing over the speakers.

Standing at the barre, the ladies assumed the "water ski" position, leaning back with bent knees, small red balls squeezed between their inner thighs, as a remix of Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" blared.

Holmes instructed the students to rise up on their toes. Calves trembled as muscles strained.

"Fight that shake," she called out.

In addition to the balls, which are used for thigh and seat exercise, Pure Barre makes use of resistance tubing and light, handheld weights. While Pure Barre is intended to tone the entire body, certain exercises target the abdomen, thighs and seat.

"I never realized how effective the smaller movements are," said Ashley Tutton, 25, owner of the Pixie Hair Bar Salon in North Chattanooga. Tutton, who recently completed her second week of classes, said her fitness goals are to stay healthy and tone her body.

Pure Barre, she said, keeps her interested and challenged, in a way that differs from her typical routine of running, weight lifting and spin classes. "It's a lot of fun," she said. "It's a different approach. I pretty much like it from beginning to end."

In between working each set of muscles, Holmes guided the women back to the mat to stretch. According to the Pure Barre website, this is done "in order to create long, lean muscle without bulk."

"It sculpts my entire body," said Rachel Richards, 32, a dancer and model who has been practicing Pure Barre for about a year. "I've noticed muscles I didn't know I had before."

Pure Barre can also help increase flexibility.

"Trust me, I was never that flexible before," said Cindy Stanford, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom who can do the splits, an ability she credits to Pure Barre. After knee surgery, Stanford was unable to do any impact training, but wanted to keep up an exercise routine. Pure Barre, she said, gives her a full body workout without aggravating injuries.

"Even doing the same routine over and over, it still challenges you each time you go," she said. "You find yourself pushing yourself a little bit more each time."

To exercise the lower abdominals, the students sat against a wall and pulled one leg up, the other extended out in front of them.

Holmes said any move can be made beginner or intermediate, depending on the needs of the individual.

Cavan said when she began, completing each exercise was nearly impossible.

"But I'm able to see the progress," she said. "Pure Barre is a matter of doing it to your own level. With my health, at my age and my weight, I knew I had to go into it slowly."

Cavan has also lost 10 pounds and a full clothing size, a boon she considers bonus to the real benefit of her experience.

"To lose the weight and to lose the inches and to fit in your clothes is a wonderful thing," she said, "but what I'm working for is not vanity, it's overall health."

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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