Workout

Forget everything you thought you knew about barre

This week we went to Jane’s Soulbase to try out a nice relaxing Strong Barre class with Alex Hipwell. Needless to say, that was wishful thinking…

If you’re sick of Berlin, then go to Jane’s Soulbase. It’s the ultimate antidote to the grimy back alleys and smelly U Bahns and graffitied doorways of the city. Because John and Jane’s is the very opposite to all of that. From the moment I step foot on the weaved wicker carpet and into the softly lit reception area I am engulfed with a sense of serenity and wellbeing. Just being here makes me feel good. So I can only imagine how I’ll feel after my workout. 

Jane’s Soulbase opened in summer this year with the simple aim of providing a wellness oasis to health-focussed Berliner’s. I check-in with my USC app, climb the stairs and outwardly gasp as I step into the waiting area outside the studios. Egg-shaped chairs covered in white pillows dangle from the ceiling. A curved sofa sits in the corner with a little table and cushions so soft I wonder how I’ll ever get up again. There are clean, fluffy towels rolled up on dark mahogany cabinets and stacked up in baskets and there’s a tea station that streams out an aromatic camomile concoction that tastes like relaxation embodied. 

The changing rooms deserve a blog post all to themselves. They’re spacious and luxurious with gigantic mirrors leaning against the walls. There’s a line of make-up stations with professional lighting and baskets full of hairspray, moisturiser and deodorant and the showers have been designed to replicate monsoon season in the Amazon rainforest. To put it bluntly, Jane’s Soulbase is a wellness paradise. But do not let the pink decor fool you. The classes here will push you to your absolute limits. 

Today, on this crisp and wintery Wednesday afternoon, I am here to try a Strong Barre class with Alex Hipwell. If you do not know who Alex Hipwell is allow me to introduce you. She is no ordinary fitness instructor. Originally from Australia’s Sunshine Coast, Alex Hipwell has trained at professional level in a variety of sports since she was 14 years old. She’s completed multiple Iron Woman competitions. She’s won bodybuilding competitions at a national level. She’s trained as a professional netballer and for 14 years worked as a professional dancer. She has won multiple awards and trophies and is now a Nike Master Trainer. She designs her classes herself, using all her experience and knowledge from the world of dancing and bodybuilding. So yes, Alex Hipwell is no ordinary trainer, and today I’m trying out her Strong Barre class.

Alex pokes her head out of the studio room. “Come in!” She says. “Grab a kettlebell and two dumbells.” About 20 of us, a mixture of men and women, nervously file in and grab our weights. Alex stands with her legs hip width apart in the centre of the room. She’s petite, with blonde curly hair swished to one side and big hazel eyes that make direct and unflinching contact with everybody in the room. Her presence is powerful, her self-confidence palpable, which makes sense – she looks as though she’s been sculpted out of marble. This is a woman who knows what she’s capable of, who’s spent most of her life finding out what it’s like to reach her very limits and then push even harder. And this means she knows exactly what we’re capable of too – and she will not let us get away with anything less than 100%. 

We stand on our mats next to the ballet bar with our weights and kettlebells close by. “Why have you all got the lightest kettlebells?!” Alex says. “This class is going to challenge you. And if you start shaking, that’s good. If you shake, I love you. Now let’s begin by lying on our backs – how nice is that?” 

I am aware that this will not be nice but her confidence and humour is contagious; it’s as though she’s channeling her relentless energy straight into me. We lay on our backs and begin with guided deep breathing exercises, and then through to a warm up of downward dogs and high planks. That shaking thing she mentioned kicks in right away. She keeps us in high plank for an outrageously long time. “Don’t you put your knees down!” She says to the room. She speaks in short, explosive sentences, motivating as a whip-crack. 

Our first exercise of the class involves more high planks. We hold until we shake and then we kick a leg back, then in like a plank-crunch, then lift up into downward dog. It is, and I do not say this lightly, outrageously challenging. My arms are vibrating like a power-drill and a man near me is making alarming noises; I can hear the sweat drip drip dripping on to his mat. And this is only the beginning. “Okay release.” Alex says and the room collapses with a collective groan.

We grab our dumbbells and give our abs and arms a break by going into a sequence of deep squats, combined with pulses and heel lifts which target the glutes, designed to give you a 10/10 butt. “You’re all going to look fantastic naked,” Alex says. She has a playlist of  lyrically-appropriate bangers – one song gets a big laugh with a chorus that repeats “Why does it hurt so much?”

“Okay grab the bar,” Alex says. “Put your heels together. There’s a million dollar note between your heels and it’s a windy day. Do not – I repeat do not – let it blow away.” Alex shows us how we bend our knees, keeping our heels together so we work hard-to-reach muscles in our legs. “Now pretend you’re sitting in a chair and pulse.” The man near me looks like he’s being tasered. Sweat streams down his face and his teeth are clenched so hard I’m surprised they don’t crack into pieces. Pain sears up and down my legs. I’ve quite literally never pushed myself this far, never felt my muscles burn this much. But that’s the magic of working out with Alex Hipwell. She will take you to your limit and then show you how much further you can go.  

Alex guides us through low-lunges, hip-raises, bicep curls and tricep extensions. We pulse, squat, raise, dip. She sets every one of our body parts on fire and then, just when we think it’s over, sets them on fire a little bit more. But what’s most impressive is that, throughout the entire class, every single person in the room has a smile on their faces. 

As we cool down Alex congratulates us. “Well done for showing up for yourselves,” she says. “That’s absolutely awesome.” She says that we’ve done a fantastic job, that she’s proud of us, that she knew we could do it. And that’s when it hits me. What makes Alex Hipwell a truly remarkable trainer isn’t just because of her background in sports – it’s because she believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. 

Check out Jane’s Soulbase for a full list of classes with Alex Hipwell and other inspiring teachers.

And Urban Sports Club has tons of Barre partners across Europe. Take a look at our site to see what’s on in your area. 

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