I did the 8-week DEFINE Barre challenge – here’s how it transformed my body

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  • Digital Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot is a convert, now able to work out in a sports bra for the first time ever...

    I have never been a fitness person (I didn’t even own a pair of non-fashion trainers until last year), but I have always longed for a toned body – the kind you can only achieve from having exercise as part of your regular routine.

    When I was challenged to an eight week programme at DEFINE London therefore, I knew it was my chance to earn the body I had always dreamt of.

    The New York style barre fitness challenge is spearheaded by celebrity trainer Ashley Verma, owner of Great Portland Street’s cool barre studio, DEFINE London – and refreshingly, it’s all about body positivity.

    ‘Define don’t diet’ is their tagline, encouraging participants to focus on exercise rather than food restriction in order to achieve their body goals – anti diet, pro strength is the message I received.

    Immediately I was interested, but as someone who has never experienced body confidence, I didn’t expect a huge difference, hoping for an improvement in my sleep and stress levels at the very least.

    I could not have been more wrong. The eight weeks completely transformed my physique – and solved my stress and sleep problems too.

    Where was I when I started?

    I wasn’t overweight when I decided to embark upon the eight-week New York style barre fitness challenge last year, but I was out of shape. I have never been toned, and no matter what size I have been at any point in my life, I have always been flabby. Where my friends’ skin was taut, mine was soft and podgy and I had never had muscle definition, something that scared me away from bikinis for well over a decade. In short – I was in desperate need of tone and a huge injection of body confidence.

    Where was I when I finished?

    The difference was huge and despite starting as a serial FAD dieter, the two months converted me, reassuring me that eating full meals and building muscle could make my body look the best it ever has. But it wasn’t just mental – my whole body transformed. My arms and shoulders were chiselled and toned, firm even when they weren’t flexed. My legs had definition for the first time ever, my bum was pert, and while my stomach is my biggest problem area, I felt able to work out in a sports bra with my abs exposed, something I have never felt comfortable enough to do before. I had lost weight and had gained a lot of muscle and self-love. It was a success.

    Here’s everything you need to know about Ashley’s DEFINE London barre method and how 8 weeks of it changed my body…

    What is DEFINE London barre?

    People often think of pastel tutus and plies when they hear the word ‘barre’, but don’t be fooled. The DEFINE method may centre itself around the ballet barre, but each 50-minute session is a full body workout. The sculpting workout incorporates cardio with low impact, high intensity movements, targeting every body part. It is full-on body conditioning and you will leave each session feeling stronger, more powerful and like you’ve used every single muscle in your body.

    What sets DEFINE apart from the other barre offerings in my opinion is the lovely team and community. I think barre has a reputation of being intimidating, with a lot of the general public assuming you have to be a size 6 dancer to fit in. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyone – whether they’re male or female, plus size or petite, beginner or expert can walk into DEFINE and be wholeheartedly accepted. Everyone knew my name, from the receptionists and instructors to gorgeous big boss lady Ashley, and they would all greet me like an old friend and compliment me on my progress.

    What classes can you do at DEFINE London?

    DEFINE London offers an array of exercise classes, with a combination of all promising the best results. Their hero class is undoubtedly the original barre class, coming in beginner, mixed and advanced levels. The original mixed level barre class was my personal favourite, but don’t be fooled – you will come away from every class feeling the burn.

    DEFINE Mat classes incorporate hand and ankle weights to ‘intensify muscular structure and build extra strength’, DEFINE Glide classes use Core Flytes – state-of-the-art gliders to torch your muscles in a combination of isometric moves and cardio sprints, and DEFINE power is all about cardio – a lot of weights and jumping. DEFINE barre balance classes eliminate body imbalances and get deep into muscle weakness by replacing the sturdy floor with a Bosu Ball, DEFINE Vinyasa is all about yoga, strengthening the body and improving posture, and for those pressed for time there’s DEFINE express, a condensed 30-minute lunchtime burn session.

    My DEFINE London diary:

    WEEK 1

    Monday: Personal training session to start with Ashley
    Wednesday: Beginner’s barre 
    Friday: Mixed level barre 
    Sunday: Mixed level barre

    DEFINE’s founder Ashley Verma talked me though all the moves in a personal training session to start me off and measured me so I could see my progress. My first actual barre class was with the lovely Alexandra Shieron – something that I enjoyed so much that I made a beeline for all of her classes. My first couple of classes were seriously tough but enjoyable. And in the shower after my second class, I could see a muscle in my leg that I have never seen before.

    WEEK 2

    Monday: Mixed level barre
    Tuesday: Mixed level barre
    Thursday: Mixed level barre
    Saturday: Mixed level barre

    I was hooked on the mixed level barre class – I absolutely loved it – and I did it solidly on week two, too scared to try any of the other classes yet. I was seeing results though, with a noticeable difference to the muscle definition on my arms especially.

    WEEK 3

    Monday: Mixed level barre
    Tuesday: Barre power
    Thursday: Barre mat
    Saturday: Mixed level barre

    I could see an improvement in barre. I was holding my plank for longer, needing to break less in-between the weights sets and able to stretch further. My legs were toning and I could see results in the mirror. The barre mat class was the hardest yet – my first experience with ankle weights – and I was aching a lot the next morning, but I was enjoying myself. In fact, I was going before work, after work and even on the weekends, I was setting my alarm to get there for the doors to open.

    WEEK 4

    Monday: Mixed level barre 
    Tuesday: Barre glide 
    Thursday: Mixed level barre 
    Friday: Express barre

    My shoulders were looking really good, and clothes were fitting my body much better. Barre glide was hard work, but the most I have felt body working yet – the next day I felt like I had fallen down a flight of stairs, but I welcomed the delayed onset muscle soreness. My body was literally transforming before my eyes and people kept commenting on my weight loss. I had actually only lost a couple of pounds, but given the muscle I was putting on, my body looked better than it had before.

    DEFINE London Founder Ashley Verma with Digital Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot

    WEEK 5

    Monday: Personal training session and measuring with Ashley Verma
    Wednesday: Mixed level barre
    Thursday: Mixed level barre
    Saturday: Power barre

    I kicked off week five with another personal training session with the lovely Ashley, followed by half-way measurement time. If there’s one thing that will get you motivated, it’s results. I had lost four inches from my waist and a couple from either thigh. That was the boost I needed and the perfect inspiration to keep going. I was feeling stronger, leaner and I was feeling a difference with each class.

    WEEK 6

    Monday: Mixed level barre
    Tuesday: Barre balance
    Thursday: Mixed level barre
    Friday: Barre glide
    Sunday: Mixed level barre

    I managed five classes in week six – and I loved all of them. Barre balance was my hardest class yet – balancing on a Bosu ball instead of a sturdy floor makes it a lot more difficult, but I decided to commit to it in my last two weeks too as I was definitely feeling the effects. The most exciting part of my sixth week however was when I managed a personal first – I took off my baggy t-shirt for the class and worked out in just a sports bra and leggings IN PUBLIC. This was a huge deal for me and my proudest part of the whole DEFINE experience.

    WEEK 7

    Monday: Advanced level barre
    Tuesday: Barre balance
    Friday: Barre glide
    Saturday: Mixed level barre

    I started off week seven with my very first advanced level barre class – I had delayed on signing up for it because the word ‘advanced’ scared me. I needn’t have worried – yes, it was much tougher than the mixed level class I had fallen in love with, but everyone was just as welcoming. I would recommend a couple of weeks of barre before you give it a go, but I definitely could have (and should have) tried it out sooner. My most noticeable changes were my arms and legs which were looking leaner and stronger every day, but I noticed this week how defined my face looked too.

    WEEK 8

    Monday: Mixed level barre
    Tuesday: Barre balance
    Wednesday: Barre mat
    Thursday: Advanced level barre
    Friday: Barre glide
    Sunday: Mixed level barre

    I went for it on my eighth week, managing six classes. I was gutted to end my DEFINE challenge – I fell in love with the team and studio – but they left me in fantastic shape to motivate myself. I was sleeping well, I was feeling strong and healthy and I was looking lean and fit. I lost five pounds over the two months, but despite actually being a similar weight to when I started (thank you new muscles), I felt like I had lost a stone.

    DEFINE London Founder Ashley Verma with Digital Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot

    Does Barre really work?

    Barre is a tough workout and it does get results, but you do get out of it what you put in – at least that’s what I found. One class every now and then will help you steadily tone but if you want to transform your body, you need to be attending an array of DEFINE London’s classes at least three times a week.

    What should I wear to barre at DEFINE London?

    Leggings, a top, sports bra and a pair of grippy socks to stop you slipping about are all you will need. Don’t worry if you don’t have any – they sell plenty in the reception area. But for certain classes, you will need a pair of trainers.

    How can I book barre at DEFINE London?

    DEFINE London has 72 classes running weekly at all times, and you can either pay as you go with credits or purchase a membership.

    DEFINE London
    82 Great Portland St, Fitzrovia,
    London W1W 7NW
    020 7580 4444

    I would happily say the classes at DEFINE London are my favourite that I have ever experienced, and if you can’t find me at any point this year, the chances are that’s where I will be.

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