Brace yourself for the onslaught that is a Barry’s Bootcamp workout. This will hurt
I’M SITTING in a dimly lit West Hollywood gym, recovering with some of the US’S best trainers, along with models, politicians and wannabe actors. We’re all different, yet for a few minutes all the same: out of breath, a mess.
Not long off the plane from Sydney, it’s hard to fathom I’m at the epicentre of a global fitness craze. I’ve just finished my first session of Barry’s, the high-intensity treadmilland weight-based workout arriving in Australia this month. And I’m hooked. But it took the whole session to win me over.
Just an hour earlier I’d been met by the impossibly white smiles and cannonball biceps of the Barry’s staff. Their enthusiasm is the perfect complement to their Yankee hospitality, and I can’t wait to get cracking to shake off the rapidly intensifying symptoms of my jetlag.
The studio doors swing open as the previous class wraps up, and in an instant my impatience gives way to excitement as a horde of sweatsoaked bodies tumbles out. Everyone looks equal parts shredded and rattled. It seems, on first impression, that the bold promise of a Barry’s session – 1000 calories torched – might hold up.
The Barry’s story reads like the epitome of the American Dream. A small-time boot camp that grew from humble beginnings (an exposed toilet once occupied the centre of the original gym in West Hollywood), Barry’s has expanded in 20 years to boast more than 40 studios across the US, UK and Europe. And now its masters have Australia in their sights, with the first gym about to throw open its doors in central Sydney.
“We don’t just roll in and do it the same way every time,” explains Barry’s CEO Joey Gonzalez, clearly aware of the difficulty he may face trying to crack the crowded Australian fitness scene. “When we launched in Milan, we replaced smoothies with double espressos to meet the needs of locals. We can’t do ice in our London studio because it’s too cold.”
Affirms Australian head of operations Heston Russell: “We can’t roll out a cookie-cutter studio. We have to create an experience bespoke to the Australian environment. No studio has ever closed. The barrier to entry is higher in Australia, but we’ve had almost two years on this project.”
Regardless of location, Barry’s core values and training principles don’t change. The classes happen in the trademark “Red Room”, upon entry to which you’re instantly confronted by a row of treadmills lining a wall. Globo Gym-style steps are positioned around the room, and a fires-of-hell glow engulfs us. It’s all rather clinical on first impression, but the intention soon becomes clear. While unusual, the red lighting creates a sense of anonymity, as though there are no standout performers and we’re all on a level playing field. In a Barry’s studio, everyone is a champion, and thanks to the lighting, you could easily be tricked into thinking you’re as jacked as the guy next to you. I’m not.
FACE YOUR DEMONS
To kick off my full-body workout, I’m stationed on a treadmill, a soft introduction in theory, though I’m immediately confronted with my own reflection in a full-length mirror. It’s another well-designed psychological ploy: when you’re running in a class, hurtling directly at your own image, you’re given no option other than to face yourself. And as corny as that sounds, the psychology works. An hour of glaring into your own eyes forces you to contemplate your existence, your reason for being here, or at the very least, your fitness level.
Six minutes on the treadmill is doable, especially with speed variations at your fingertips. I’m sprinting for 30 seconds, then walking for a minute – perfect for stoking the metabolic fire.
I’m then welcomed to the floor by head trainer Blake Bridges and instructed to pick up a pair of dumbbells for a six-minute strength phase. Any illusion I was under that there would be a chance to catch my breath is scotched. Barry’s runs a tight ship, and you’d better not just be along for the ride.
How heavy should I go with the dumbbells? I scan the room for the gym equivalent of a pacer and find my choice is limited to guys who are either ripped or extremely ripped. So I end up following the lead of the nearest Barry’s body, who of course reaches for the heaviest weights on the rack. (This specimen turns out to be the buff Republican Senator Aaron Schock, who’s been on the cover of the US edition of Men’s Health.) I have an inkling I’ve gone too heavy.
We’re immediately thrust into a series of goblet squats, lunges and man-makers, over what seems like the longest six minutes in history. I’m left begging for a return to the relative tranquility of the treadmill.
“We’re thrust into a series of squats and man-makers . . . the longest six minutes in history”
We repeat this back-and-forth between treadmill and weights another three times to round out a solid 55 minutes of conditioning, during which we’ve hit every major muscle group. Jetlag be damned! I was determined to thrive in the darkness.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
It becomes obvious why Barry’s counts Kanye West, David Beckham and Justin Bieber among its regular clients. Not only is there the beauty of anonymity in sweating among a group in a darkened room, the session serves as an effective workout requiring minimal independent thought. Barry’s definitely has value for the committed trainer, not as the entirety of your program but as a kick-arse supplement.
Group fitness is not my preferred method of working out, and I’ve always believed nothing beats a personalised program. After all, what are the chances that the other 30 people in this class have the same fitness goals as I do? I highly doubt the Victoria’s Secret alumni beside me wants to pack on 10kg of muscle by the end of the year.
However, there is something comforting about surrendering all power for a hour and letting an instructor guide a mindless version of myself through a brutal HIIT workout, using aspects of strength from my regular programming whilst tapping into some rarely used features of my aerobic capacity.
There isn’t a whole lot of technical guidance at Barry’s, and there’s definitely the assumption that clients are aware of common movement patterns and the physiology of the human body. The pace is frantic, and correcting individual technique would throw a huge spanner in the works of this fitness machine.
Added to this, Barry’s workouts are unapologetically difficult and at times quite intricate, providing a likely step-up if you’ve been your own personal trainer for a while.
“It’s not for people who don’t want to work hard – that’s the distinction,” says Gonzalez, analysing Barry’s place in the market. And the more I talk to Gonzalez, the more I see how this works in their favour. It’s obvious that the idea behind Barry’s isn’t to be so exclusive that people feel too intimidated to join. It’s to be so inclusive that they hold everyone to the same high standard.
It’s a fresh take on fitness, combining luxury and sweat, and it’s likely to drive demand for premium workout experiences. If Australian-born fitness cult F45 were to have a love child with luxury health spa Equinox, I’d imagine the outcome would be something along the line of Barry’s.
“You would think that if that’s how you message clients, people would be reluctant to come,” says Gonzalez. “But really what it does is improve the success rate for us. When people come they’re committed to change and they’re ready to do ‘the thang’.”
‘The thang’ Gonzalez refers to is a killer workout . . . and hopefully the resultant Barry’s body. And with a total of around 25 minutes of interval-based cardiovascular exertion, combined with another 25 minutes of strength work, ‘the thang’ works.
THE RED PLANET: THE WARM GLOW SPREADS A VEIL OF ANONYMITY AND EQUALITY OVER ALL TRAINERS, EVEN IF IT’S ILLUSORY.