Retail and Development

Review: We tried a Barry’s Boot Camp workout. Is the fitness program worth the hype?

Barry’s CEO Joey Gonzalez is in town from Los Angeles for the grand opening of the Charlotte boutique fitness studio. He hi-fives students on their way into class.
Barry’s CEO Joey Gonzalez is in town from Los Angeles for the grand opening of the Charlotte boutique fitness studio. He hi-fives students on their way into class.

International fitness boutique Barry’s opened its first North Carolina location this weekend in Atherton Mill (2140 South Blvd.). The studio, which has officially dropped Boot Camp from its name but not its signage (so you can just call it Barry’s), has a cult-like following and is known for its high-intensity time-effective workouts and luxurious boutique feel. Since announcing its arrival in Charlotte, it’s been criticized for its high prices. That didn’t seem to deter too many people from trying the so-called “Best Workout In The World,” however — on Saturday morning, its opening day, the space was full of sweaty students.

So, critics + a cult-like following means that people either love it or love to hate it. Does it live up to the hype? CharlotteFive decided to investigate.

Why did Barry’s come to Charlotte?

CEO Joey Gonzalez told CharlotteFive the company decided to bring Barry’s to Charlotte after he was bombarded with requests for a Charlotte location through emails, social media, and fans hopping into his DMs. Many transplants from places like New York and California and Charlotteans that travel for business have checked out Barry’s and wanted one at home.

“It was a combination of Charlotte residents traveling and visiting Barry’s during their travels and then the different cohort of people who’ve moved to Charlotte from places like New York City because there’s a big finance world here. Finance and fashion are kind of our two top industries (that our clients work in),” Gonzalez said.

Changing up the weekly routine

Barry’s invited Melissa Oyler and Jillian Mueller to try out a workout this past weekend. For Melissa, that meant skipping her weekly tradition of hot yoga followed by Smelly Cat coffee, all in walking distance of her house in NoDa. Jillian also typically avoids leaving NoDa on weekends and usually uses the PMR at Home workouts on the Sweat app coupled with a jog around NoDa. Barry’s seemed like a close equivalent to her typical workout, but the added accountability of being in class.

We hopped on the light rail at 36th Street station and took off via light rail. The studio is an easy half-mile walk from the East/West station, and it’s also near a couple of parking garages (including Publix). The walk from the rail trail on a Saturday morning was quite pleasant: We meandered through South End Market and window shop at all the new Atherton Mill retailers who are either open or close to opening: Madewell, Uniquities, Lululemon, Dry Bar, etc.

First impressions

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The lobby at Barry’s is large, open and with plenty of room. That’s helpful, as each class holds up to 50 people, so they all come pouring out of the fitness room (at right in photo) at once. Melissa Oyler

We arrived at Barry’s feeling nicely warmed up after the chilly autumn walk. Melissa felt like an urban explorer for the day — she had a backpack full of yoga clothes for her next workout at Yoga One Dilworth, shower essentials and clothes for the rest of the day. A Barry’s team member immediately spotted the yoga mat and extended a warm welcome, asking about her yoga practice. Attention to detail, check.

The lobby is large and modern, with a chic and polished feel. Tables across the large lounge area were full of trainers and customers chatting over smoothies.

Come to burn calories, stay to shop: Barry’s has partnerships with Nike and Lululemon, and the walls are lined with their branded chic workout apparel. We’re calling it here, now: Barry’s sweatshirts will be a fashion staple this fall/winter.

Locker Rooms

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The women’s locker room at Barry’s includes Dyson hair dryers with several attachments, toiletries, lotion, bobby pins and q-tips. Melissa Oyler

The women’s locker room is bright and big, lined with mirrors and with about-as-private-as-you-can-get toilets (with floor-to-ceiling lockable doors). To hear this locker room compared to a four-star spa would not be a stretch. The counters are stocked with amenities such as Dyson hair dryers with several attachments, toiletries, lotion, bobby pins and q-tips. One girl said she would come to Barry’s just to get ready for work in the morning. Not the worst idea.

As with other boutique fitness studios around Charlotte, you don’t need to bring your own lock — just put your stuff in an available locker and program your lock code right there.

Fuel Bar

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At Barry’s Fuel Bar, order your smoothie before class and it’ll be waiting for you after your workout. Melissa Oyler

The fuel bar is a fancy touch. Here’s how it works: order your smoothie before your workout. While you’re getting your booty kicked, your drink will be made, conveniently charged to your card on file and will be waiting for you when your workout is over.

We each tried a smoothie from the fuel bar. Jillian had the Skinny PB (Peanut Butter, Vanilla Whey — you could also choose chocolate whey — and almond milk). It was delicious, but not worth $9, she said. Melissa had the Simply PB (Banana, Peanut Butter, Vanilla Whey and Almond Milk) and she added spinach. It was also $9, and she paid more than that for a Green Hornet smoothie from Green Brothers Juice later that day (including tip), so she didn’t have a problem with it.

Working out in the Red Room

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The workout room at Barry’s has treadmills along one wall and strength stations in the center. The dark room with a red light is a signature of the boutique fitness studio.

Ok, let’s get to the real reason we got out of bed on a Saturday morning. The workouts are held in a large, dark room with red lighting.

As many as 50 people can take a single class at a time, and with people swapping stations throughout the workout, that’s going to take some coordination. At check-in, you’re assigned a number (Melissa had T-12 and Jillian T-13, meaning we started on treadmills numbered 12 and 13. A third friend taking class with us started with strength training, so her number was F-10, for floor station 10).

The workout room has treadmills lining one wall and strength training stations with step platforms on the floor. Lighter weights are on the wall by the door and heavy weights on the opposite wall. Mirrors line the entire room to enable you to check your form — and you look yourself in the eyes while you’re running on the treadmill. This is motivation gold.

Each class lasts 50 minutes and consists of equal parts cardio and strength training, with recovery stretching at the end. The cardio portion of the class consists of interval training done on treadmills facing a mirror. Strength is performed on the floor with free weights and steps.

You’re trading spots at various times, and there was some confusion in the workout room. At one point, Melissa headed to the weights when she should have been back at her treadmill spot. All easily corrected, and to be real: hardly anyone even noticed (except the girl at the weight station, but both laughed it off and moved on).

Weights/cardio combo

“It’s been proven scientifically that the best thing to do is actually a combination of heavy weights, low reps, and light weights, high reps. So we kind of throw it all together in a blender and give you something of everything,” Gonzalez said.

Every workout is different, so if you’re in beast mode and decide to do two classes a day, you’ll get a different workout each time.

“A lot of studios today are delivering the WODs (workout of the day). Barry’s is very different. It’s original content. If you take the 9 a.m., it’s different than your 10:15, and it’s different than the 11:30. What different classes do is they shock your body, so your body never gets used to any one type of workout,” said Gonzalez.

Pro tip: The Woodway treadmills are instantly responsive, so if you turn it on and hit “6”, don’t expect it to slowly ramp you up like a typical treadmill. You are instantly running 6 mph — so try to keep up.

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Barry’s CEO Joey Gonzalez chatted with CharlotteFive after our workout class. Melissa Oyler

Saturday morning’s workout

Our class on this particular day, taught by Gonzalez, consisted of four alternating 12-minute cardio and strength intervals.

Jillian: I was tired after I left, but didn’t feel like I had hurt myself or was going to fall over after leaving class. I was able to make adjustments easily for a shoulder injury I am recovering from and didn’t feel limited. The trainer shouted out suggested speeds and weights for each exercise, but no one is walking around checking your speed. Beginners could easily adapt the treadmill exercises to run at their fitness levels or drop down to lower weights if necessary.

Melissa: I liked the energy in the room — it feels almost like a nightclub. The motivation was great and I much preferred it to working out under fluorescent lights or even natural sunlight: This allowed me to power up and go. Even with 50 people in the room, I got corrected on my form once and Gonzalez demonstrated the move in front of me twice. This helped me to feel I was getting boutique-like attention. For strength training specifically, I might prefer a class from a smaller boutique such as Madabolic, with smaller class sizes and more individual attention. But when it comes to cardio, running is my baby, so I am drawn to the Barry’s treadmills. I would go back any day to work on running speed work — and the weight training is a nice bonus.

Yeah, but what’s it cost?

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Once Barry’s whips you into shape, you’ll want to spend all your money on new clothes. Fitting, then, that there is a large retail presence at the boutique fitness studio. Melissa Oyler

A bright and shiny new workout studio can rain down all the glitz and glamour it wants, but if it’s charging L.A.-like prices in Charlotte, how’s it ever going to work? This has been a regular criticism from Charlotteans ever since Barry’s opening date was announced.

“I’m so glad you asked that question,” Gonzolaz said. “I’d like the opportunity to set the record straight.”

The most expensive option at Barry’s is a whopping $320 for 30 classes in a month, and this is the price that has received the most criticism. (Fun fact: the same membership is $525/month in New York City.) But this is not the only choice: drop-ins, class packs and other memberships are also offered.

As you pick your jaw off the floor, think about it logically: The $320 is for 30 classes in a month. Who is doing 30 weight-training classes every month? Cardio classes, maybe, but not weight-lifting.

Clearly, there are at least some people that will want to go this frequently, or else this pricing structure would not even be offered. But for the rest of us: Let’s check out the normal-workout-person rates. A single class is $29. A 5-pack drops down to $27/class, a 10-pack is $26/class, a 25-pack is $25/class and a 50-pack is $23/class. You have a year to use class packs.

For monthly memberships, 8 classes a month is $180, 12 a month is $225, 16 is $260 — and of course, 30 a month is $320.

“I get it,” Gonzolaz said regarding the criticism of the priciest option. “If I suddenly heard about a workout opening in my city for $320 a month, too — I’d be shocked.”

For class-to-class comparison to other boutique fitness studios in Charlotte: Pure Barre drop-ins are $25 and Flywheel classes are $28 — not too far off from Barry’s $29 rate.

Barry’s arrival in Charlotte is part of the boutique fitness boom happening in cities across the United States. “Taking a group fitness class, it turns out, is one of the few things you can’t order from Amazon,” the New York Times wrote in a recent article about Barry’s and other boutique fitness studios, some of which are charging upwards of $40 a class.

Is it worth the hype?

After all the sweat, the fancy locker rooms, the convenient smoothie bar: would we attend again?

Jillian: I like variety in my workouts and will drop in for a Barry’s class every one in a while. Making Barry’s a regular part of my routine isn’t possible with my current budget, but this class helped me push myself harder than I usually do. I loved how time-efficient the class was, and the small touches throughout the studio and locker room made working out a fun experience. The fact that Barry’s is also within walking distance of my day job makes it more likely that I’ll go back.

Melissa: Yes. I’m a runner who doesn’t focus often enough on speed work, so this was a good challenge. I don’t do weight training often enough, and I loved the slow burn I felt all day Saturday and waking up to Sunday’s good soreness. I liked the treadmills. I liked the energy in the room, and I like any workout I can get to via light rail. I’m a journalist on a journalist’s budget, though, so I will likely pick up a 5- or 10-pack and make it last as long as I can.