Pricey, boutique fitness classes like Pure Barre, POUND Fitness taking over the workout world

Leni Baga, left, works out at the Soul Rooster studio in Tampa.
Leni Baga, left, works out at the Soul Rooster studio in Tampa.
Published May 29, 2014

Ten pairs of green-plastic drumsticks clicked to the downbeats of Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail as 10 pairs of biceps strained to control the movement.

Leni Baga took her usual spot in the front of the Soul Rooster studio, all smiles as she bent and squatted and twisted — keeping the beat — as the instructor guided the fitness class filled with women through the sweat-inducing workout.

Baga, 46, the University of South Florida's new director of events, comes to POUND Fitness classes at Soul Rooster four days a week. She's part of the growing number of women in Tampa Bay who rely on boutique fitness classes to get their sweat on instead of seeking out traditional gym memberships.

"Dance is my passion, so I've always been into dance fitness," Baga said. "It's a whole-body workout and you get to channel your inner rock star with the drumsticks."

She tried other fitness class crazes, like Zumba, P90X, pilates and yoga, but she's planted herself at Soul Rooster (3802 S Dale Mabry Highway Suite B-1) because of the variety of classes offered and the exclusivity of POUND Fitness, a workout invented in California in 2010 that has steadily made its way across the country.

Other studio workouts, such as SoHo Cycling and Pure Barre (which has seven locations in the area), have also attracted women unafraid to spend more than they would on a monthly gym membership to get fit.

Pure Barre Carrollwood owner Shannon O'Brien said the success of her gym is based on results, but most importantly, environment.

"When women did go to other gyms, a full-service gym, they tended to gear towards group fitness classes anyway," said O'Brien, 28. "With the smaller boutique studios, we offer a more niche market. It's not for everyone. But it gives women the opportunity to pay for what they want instead of going to a gym that makes them feel intimidated."


As the most popular recent entrants into Tampa's boutique fitness wave, Pure Barre's monthly unlimited class passes are $195, nearly triple the typical cost of one month at a chain gym. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find space in even a noon weekday class if you were a few minutes behind schedule. The studios can only hold fewer than 40 exercisers at time, so space is a premium. Classes run from early morning to early evening and average attendance is in the 20s, even during working hours.

The barre class set has a written and unwritten dress code — no one shows up in their schlubby old sweats to take on this 55-minute, small isometric movement workout involving a dance bar, resistance tubes and a small rubber ball.

After workouts, women stop in the storefront boutiques to acquire more gear in brands that cost upward of $60 for a pair of stylish yoga pants.

Theresa Gilbert tried Zumba, CrossFIT and several classes in between before landing on a Groupon for POUND and deciding to give it a go.

"I like it because the vibe here is completely accepting," said Gilbert, 50, a pharmacist from Tampa. "Coming here is just about doing what you need to do."

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Tiffany Meeks, 32, an intellectual property lawyer and owner of Soul Rooster, said that's part of her business plan — make members comfortable and offer them enough variety that they continuously come back.

"I'm always going to conferences to bring back the best of the best and that's what they expect from me now," she said.

She once taught barre classes and has taken group fitness classes, trying to maintain her slight physique and burn off some steam in the process.

"The music and energy of POUND are what make people stick with it," Meeks said. "It's always changing so people don't get bored. If they don't enjoy it, they won't stick with it."


Since opening last fall, Soul Rooster has gathered somewhere between 50 and 70 monthly class package subscribers at $129, and more who buy 10-class packages for $120.

To get skeptics in the door, boutiques offer specials such as Groupons, Living Social deals, introductory promotional classes and first-month discounts. Gilbert said she was able to continue with POUND at Soul Rooster after the Groupon because of a military discount she receives. Others aren't as fortunate when the second month rolls around. Pure Barre is a bargain compared to what they offer, O'Brien said.

"It's more expensive than a gym membership, but much cheaper than a month with a personal trainer," O'Brien explained. "Barre is the fastest-working thing I've ever tried. I'm a very athletic person and when I came back from a serious injury, I could feel the difference in my muscle tone after taking four classes in one week. Nothing else I've tried has worked like that."

Baga said she's happy with her workout regimen, regardless of price.

"I'm at my happiest when I'm dancing," said Baga, who has a background in Latin ballroom dance, "That's why this place is awesome. I can dance and still be getting a full-body workout while listening to music. It's a 45-minute sweat fest."