Apparently Mandy Moore and Harry Styles are among fans, but I’ll admit it: I had never heard of Barry’s before I got an email inviting me to come for a pre-opening workout. 

But it’s a massive brand with over 70 studios around the globe (watch your back, SoulCycle), and the PR person assured me it was both “the original high intensity interval training” and “The Best Workout in the World” (capitalization theirs) so: colour me intrigued! I grabbed all my modern gym essentials—stretchy pants, water bottle, vaccine passport—and headed down for my first gym workout of the pandemic.

The Vancouver location (at Pender and Burrard) was originally scheduled to open in March 2020 but, well, you know. So this weekend’s launch has been a long time coming. Imagine: it’s been such a long delay that they probably have playlists ready to roll that didn’t even have Olivia Rodrigo on them.

Past the smoothie bar and racks of Barry’s-branded Lululemon gear, the workout room awaited, filled with various fitness influencers, most dressed in the aforementioned merch. The mirrors that line every wall make it feel like hundreds of tight-bodied clones are gearing up for a HIIT class with me. A teeny bit of claustrophobia sets in. Am I emotionally ready to be locked in a room with 50 other people with the express goal of breathing as heavily as possible? But: too late! I’m in the Red Room and it’s Bootcamp Time!

Pounding music starts to play and a disembodied voice — CEO and star trainer Joey Gonzalez on the mic from across the room — starts an impressive stream of high-octane instructions. I scramble to slam various buttons on the high-tech machines. I know we all are double-vaxxed but my skin is crawling, so I keep my mask on. It becomes revolting almost immediately.

Meanwhile, my treadmill neighbour tries to fist-bump me. I say no, and then spiral about being rude, and then reverse-spiral about how dare he put me in a position to feel rude! Oh, wait, I have missed several steps and I guess we’re sprinting now? My mask is so heavy with sweat already it’s drooping from my face. Everyone else is yelling “Wooo!”

The nightmare effect is amplified by the red lights inside the studio, which bathes everyone in a Twin Peaks-esque glow. I wonder if there is some sort of loosely scientific chromotherapy reason for the alarming tint, but Gonzalez explains that, 20 years back, the founder (the Barry) was intentionally trying to capture that buzzy, discotheque-at-2-a.m. kinda feeling. “Barry’s sober, but wanted to create that nightclub vibe,” explains Gonzalez. “He wanted being healthy to be as fun as being unhealthy.” And so, at Barry’s all over the world, a neon-sign glow illuminates your sweat session as pulsating music blares (luckily, complementary foam earplugs are available at the front desk if you are weak and lame like me).

For 50 minutes, Gonzalez blasts us with a steady torrent of instructions, switching, rapid-fire, between steps for the group of us on treadmills and those starting with floor weights. He’s like a ripped auctioneer. It’s very impressive, but I feel a little concerned that no one is supervising all the mistakes I’m making or is helping me make adaptations for my specific fitness needs (i.e. being badly out of shape).

I leave so dazed that when I get in my car, I realize I have accidentally stolen a towel. But I’m also sore and sweaty… which is what we’re all looking for in a disorienting-nightclub-meets-fitness-centre experience, no?

If, unlike me, you’re mentally prepared to workout next to other humans again (for instance, if you are Mandy Moore or Harry Styles), Barry’s offers five or six different classes a day, focusing on a rotating selection of body parts and with a mix of fresh exercises and music in each session. Drop-in classes are $34 each, with various passes and memberships dropping the per-class price from there. (A 50 pack of classes, for instance, runs $1,400, or a $300 monthly membership will give you access to a maximum of 12 classes each month.)

Not community centre pricing, but cheaper than a night out at the club… just like Barry himself would have wanted. 

Barry’s, 1035 W Pender St
barrys.com