Seattleite Spotlight: Pure Barre Pioneer Sami Sweeney

Introducing one of the newest, most innovative fitness trends to the Emerald City.

From pregnant women to physical therapy patients, Sami Sweeney believes that anyone can benefit from a Pure Barre workout – and for the last three years, the Idaho transplant has been promoting this exhausting and rewarding exercise discipline throughout the Seattle area. She currently manages the only certified Pure Barre studios in Washington, which are located in the University District, Queen Anne, and Bellevue. If you’re hoping to tone and condition before the warm months arrive, Sami says a Pure Barre routine may be just up your alley.

Growing up, what were some of your favorite athletic activities?

I was a gymnast from a young age on, and then I got into competitive tumbling and gymnastics. From there I became a cheerleader, and cheered through college. I started running around that time, but after college is when I really began running a lot.

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 11.33.57 AM
Photo courtesy of Junebug Weddings

How did earning a degree in finance and economics from the University of Idaho prepare you for the career that lay ahead?

The degree prepared me by giving me a work ethic; you definitely need a work ethic in order to be an entrepreneur. And it taught me to think critically about different business decisions. Economics focuses a lot on costs and benefits, and that has been a huge application to everything I’ve done with Pure Barre, in terms of opening studios, knowing when to expand, and looking at everything through a quantitative framework.

What can you tell us about the history of Pure Barre?

Pure Barre stems from the Lotte Berk method, which is a 30-year old work out technique that combines dance and orthopedic conditioning. That’s where Carrie Rezabek Dorr (featured in the video below), who founded Pure Barre, first got the idea. The Pure Barre technique evolved from the Lotte Berk Method but Pure Barre is a more athletic and intense workout and you burn more calories. She started her first studio in 2001 in Michigan, and began opening new studios from there. There were nine studios by 2008; now there are more than 120.

Who introduced you to Pure Barre techniques, and what was it about this workout style that appealed to you so much?

I first learned about Pure Barre at the Nashville studio. Kady Decker was the one who introduced me to it, but [Dorr] was the one who first trained me. It was a privilege to be trained by her, because now she hires other trainers to do that job. I’d been taking a lot of hot yoga and pilates classes and had taught some group exercises and coached gymnastics, so I knew sports science to a pretty good degree. Pure Barre combined a lot of good, solid movements with flexibility work. I have moderate scoliosis, so running is really hard on my back. But once I started Pure Barre, I saw differences with my back right away.

How would you describe your teaching style?

Honestly, it changes based on who is in my class. I have to tailor how I teach based on the level and ability of a class, but I’d say I’m really hands-on. Probably intense? I provide a lot of cuing on form and positioning, because I believe that using improper positions can lead to injury.

What’s the routine for your typical Pure Barre class?

I work hard on creating a community atmosphere. We have a lot of events that we host and activities we do outside classes to get people motivated, and offer workshops and intensives that focus on specific muscle groups. A regular class begins with a 10-minute core-strengthening warm-up, followed by a high-rep weight series and intense thigh and seat/glute work at the ballet bar. The last 20 minutes of class is core and back strengthening, with a nice cool-down. We also stretch after every section.

In your opinion, what are the advantages of Pure Barre over other exercise disciplines?

It’s a good, holistic approach of weight training, strength work, isometric work, core conditioning – all rolled into one hour. I haven’t found that in any other workout technique. Pure Barre strengthens every major muscle group and focuses on flexibility. And you also get a cardio benefit at the same time; you move enough to sweat and burn calories.

What are some everyday activities that men and women can use to supplement their Pure Barre training?

A lot of our clients only use Pure Barre, but I’ll be the first to say that intense cardio sessions are important for the heart and overall endurance and wellness. I recommend taking Pure Barre three or four times per week, and then get in a couple of 60-minute cardio sessions – a good run or time on the elliptical, for example.

What role does diet play in the Pure Barre regimen?

Pure Barre is really challenging and we break down a lot of muscle in class, so I always suggest eating a lot of protein for recovery. But with any workout routine, you want to make sure you’re eating clean and taking care of your body. That will give you the energy to take on an hour-long workout effectively. We work with a nutritionist named Deanna Arnill who is with a company called Bellevue Transformation. She gives us a lot of good literature on what to eat, how to eat, when to eat after workouts, and we’re able to share that information with clients.

How can beginner students prepare their bodies for a Pure Barre course?

It’s intense, but we see a lot of beginners. Especially this time of the year, with people who have New Year’s goals. A lot of clients may be starting at square one with their fitness regimen. I think that coming in with a basic understanding of your body and having the ability to connect with your physical limitations. If you can’t listen to your body, you’re going to have a tough time.

During the spring months, you receive a lot of clients who are training to climb Mount Rainier. How does Pure Barre prepare men and women for this major undertaking?

One of the female tour guides for RMI climbs every week during the climbing season, and she only takes Pure Barre for her conditioning. It’s really great leg, ab, and butt work that allows people to climb for days. It’s also really good for joint and hip strengthening.

How does Pure Barre help people who are recovering from a major injury?

I have a client right now who is rehabbing hip surgery using Pure Barre. Of course, you need doctor’s permission to get into something as intensive as Pure Barre. But this client in particular had taken Pure Barre up until she was diagnosed with a genetic hip issue, and then she went in for a full hip replacement. She came back within a month of having her hip replaced, and now she takes classes three or four times a week. In fact, a lot of Pure Barre is similar to exercises that physical therapists might suggest.

What can you tell us about Pure Give?

Pure Give is our effort to give back. A couple of times per year, we offer donation-based classes for different organizations. I’ve always worked with the Circle of Hope Guild, which raises money for the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

In addition to Pure Barre, you’re also an accomplished marathon runner. What training advice would you give to aspiring marathon runners?

First, make sure to incorporate cross-training. I would say that’s just as important as long runs, because people are prone to overuse injuries if they don’t do something in addition to running. Also, make sure to stretch and take care of your flexibility. I can always tell which of my students are runners, because they have tight hips and hamstrings.

What has been your favorite ‘marathon city’ so far?

I’ve competed in three full-marathons and eight-half marathons. New Orleans was my favorite. I literally landed and ran for four hours the next day, so I saw this city with really rich history from my feet. It was so humid, and I wasn’t prepared for that. But it was really pretty and cool to see.

How can Seattleites register for one of your Pure Barre classes?

People can sign up on our official website or by emailing us. We offer the first class complimentary, so students can come try it and see what it’s all about.

On Feb. 22, Pure Barre Bellevue hosted ‘Fitness for Fashion’, a fundraising event emceed by former Bachelor contestant Molly Mesnick. In addition to two live Pure Barre classes instructed by Sami, guests were also treated to spring fashion trends courtesy of Neiman Marcus, as well as nutritious (and tasty) appetizers from Evolution Earth and Luna Bar. By the end of the night, $900 had been raised for Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that provides disadvantaged women with professional business attire, professional networking resources, and career advice.

Sami currently teaches 18 classes per week; the rest are taught by one of the 25 licensed trainers she manages. Class schedules and contact information for the University District, Queen Anne, and Bellevue studios are available online. Also be sure to follow Pure Barre Seattle on Facebook and Twitter.