Physique 57 Mumbai, a barre workout studio, spread across 3,500-sq-ft inside the Four Seasons Residences, Worli, is every bit premium. The two workout spaces look like plush ballet studios, complete with bars, mirrors, foam mats, cushions and sweat towels. The comfortable dressing rooms are equipped with showers, lockers, and stock towels, bath wash, also a hair dryer and large mirrors. Besides the reception area, they also have a fashion rack, displaying some classy and some funky activewear.
But the best part of businesswoman and medical science and public health graduate Mallika Parekh’s Physique 57, an Indian franchise of the reputed barre fitness brand in the US, is its one-hour-long sessions.
The fitness regime, drawn from ballet, offers a perfect setting for a rejuvenating workout using a ballet bar, yoga mats, hand weights, exercise balls, resistance bands, comforting yellow ambience lights, uplifting music and most importantly, the ever-smiling, energetic instructors.
The low-intensity, high impact workout emphasises on form, alignment and core engagement to target sets of muscles in isometric exercises. It’s a great way to sculpt your body, build strength, stretch and burn some calories. At Physique 57, the instructors gently nudge you to push yourself, always ensuring that your form is correct and that your body feels worked and free at the same time, a rare combination.
Born and raised in the US, Parekh missed Physique 57 when she started travelling to Mumbai while working on a health care project to develop short-stay hospitals in India. Healthcare globally is increasingly moving towards outpatient settings or to settings where you don’t have to stay in the hospital for too many nights, says Parekh. “The multi-speciality, tertiary models, which are very popular in India are becoming obsolete in the West because people know that it is safer for them to go home rather than be in the hospital where there is higher risk of being infected,” says Parekh. Her goal was to bring that awareness to Tier-I, II and III cities. Changing people’s mindset was a big part of it, and while doing so Parekh asked a lot of questions about women’s health, orthopaedics and lifestyle diseases.
In the process, she learnt that there was a focus on fitness and increasing awareness on preventative health, but options of fitness that helped people get in shape were not necessarily well fitted for Indian bodies. “I spoke to many women who attended boot camps, gyms and had personal trainers and, yet, would often get injured. Some were too intimidated to try high-impact workouts,” says Parekh.
Knowing that Physique 57 was low-impact, but high intensity and result-oriented, she got in touch with the founders in New York and opened the first studio in Mumbai last year, three years after moving to the megacity.
But before taking the business decision, she and her team did their research to gauge the viability of the premium fitness enterprise in the country. They found that women were increasingly becoming more in-charge of their health, becoming co-decision makers in the family, were aware of fitness and preventive health and wanted options.
The Physique 57 studio here delivers the same experience as studios in New York, Los Angeles, Manila, Dubai and elsewhere. “Physique 57 is a very strong brand. It is not another gym where you have to figure it out yourself,” says Parekh. “Over here, you get personal training in a specific setting, for which the instructors have to take a 300-hour long, proprietary training in the US.” Thereafter, the instructors have to regularly participate in feedback and tutorial sessions. “They are constantly kept abreast with whatever Physique 57 is offering to its clients globally.”
But the clients and their needs vary. Indian consumers want more information, more personalised attention in a group setting and have questions outside just the method. For instance, guidance on diet, personal injuries, etc.
While Parekh’s team addresses the questions, they ensure not to take the focus away from the workout. Unlike a few other fitness studios, Parekh has stayed away from offering mixed packages such as spa treatments. “Physique 57 globally has been a space where you do your workout for an hour, which is a long time, and go,” says Parekh. “When I first started, I didn’t want to necessarily distract and I don’t want to distract from the method. Of course, health and wellness involve so many things. But at the end of the day, what we do here is so specific and so effective that I don’t want to dilute from that.”
Currently, there is a lot of information out there and what Parekh hopes to do is get the correct information out. “Get the facts and science and stick to it.”
Incidentally, Parekh has tweaked the prices a little for the Indian clientele. “Ours is a little bit lower than most of the markets, if not all,” says Parekh. Currently, the minimum ten-session package, valid for three months, costs Rs20,000. The average price of a group workout in the growing fitness industry in India is varied. “We try to stay in a range that people are comfortable paying a personal trainer in a premium health club or a gym. That’s where we have placed ourselves,” she adds.
For a premium setting, the right space is crucial. Parekh searched for long, went back and forth to many spaces, before finalising the studio in the luxury, serviced apartments building of Four Seasons. “Physique 57 is a premium brand and so is Four Seasons,” says Parekh. “The aura when one drives into the gate gives a different experience. You know that you are investing in your well-being, giving yourself that one hour to feel mentally and emotionally good. It is a safe place and that’s why we chose it.”
Parekh claims that the response from Mumbai has been better than at some other global centres, and she and her team have met all the targets for the year. She, however, refrains from getting into the specifics. The studio has made a conscious effort to target both the genders and welcome all, and currently have working professionals, students, homemakers, retired people from different backgrounds sweating it out at the studio. “We have packages that are more economically viable for people who want to make this a part of their lifestyle,” says Parekh.
To sell these, Parekh tries a mix of digital and micro marketing to target different groups with different needs — pre-natal, post-natal, working population — and has also hosted promotional events to get people to come to the studio and experience the workout.
Parekh now plans to expand her business and open studios in more locations in Mumbai and other cities in India. “As beautiful as it has been to have a studio here (Worli), accessibility has been really, really key for our clients. My next goal is to make this much more accessible and I think that if people have an option closer to them, it’s easier to make barre fitness a part of their lives. It’s now about bringing awareness to the brand, tell people what we are and how we are different and get through the door.”
This is how it started
Barre was created by ballerina Lotte Berk in London in 1959. After injuring her back, Berk combined her ballet bar routines with her rehabilitative therapy to form an exercise system. In 1959, she opened The Lotte Berk Studio in her West End basement. English actress Joan Collins and American singer Barbara Streisand were among her students.
One of Berk’s students, Lydia Bach, introduced barre to the United States and opened the Lotte Berk Method studio in New York in 1971, where it operated until 2005. Instructors from the studio went on to found some of the major chains providing barre classes including Physique 57.