Raising the barre one plié at a time. Jennifer Maanavi, co-founder and CEO of Physique 57, is taking the fitness industry to never before seen heights with her ballet-inspired barre class. From choreographed classes to a video on demand platform, retail boutiques, and a fitness and nutrition book, Maanavi is showing women how everyone could be a prima ballerina—her way. Trading in point shoes and pink tutus for socks and active wear, and using the ballet barre as a tool for resistance, Physique 57 is targeting muscles in arms, thighs, gluts, and abs to achieve ultimate, immediate results.
The go-to workout on the market—in studio and on digital—we sat down with Maanavi, to hear more about how she co-founded Physique 57 and pioneered the workout culture, turning her young ballet career into a business, her plans to expand, and advice for young female entrepreneurs looking to launch a career in the fitness industry.
Jennifer, how did Physique 57 all begin?
JENNIFER MAANAVI: Dance had always been a core passion of mine growing up but I put it on hold when I went to college. When I graduated from college in the ‘90s, I started my career in Manhattan working for large banks such as Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley.
What happened next?
JM: I went to business school and when I was about to graduate, I realized that I should make fitness part of my lifestyle. In the ‘90’s in Manhattan, the options for fitness boutiques were very limited, you primarily had Equinox and New York Sports Club. A friend told me about the Lotte Berk Method.
Lotte Berk was the first barre studio in New York from 1971 to 2005 and I actively went from 2000 to 2005.
When Lotte Berk Method closed, I was devastated and eager to find a suitable replacement. After not being able to find a workout that even came close enough, I realized it was time to launch my own venture. Soon after, I resigned from my position in the finance world and partnered with Lotte Berk Method’s top teacher, Tanya Becker, and we launched Physique 57. We innovated on the technique to attract a larger, more diversified clientele.
What was your initial vision for Physique 57?
JM: For women across the world to have access to barre exercise because at that time, it did not exist. I wanted to bring a results-oriented fitness regime to the community. This was the only exercise that we knew which was fun and provided noticeable results. When I started, I lost two dress sizes in two months! I had to bring all my clothes to the tailor because my waist had just become so much smaller.
Your first studio was located on 57th street. How did it take off from there?
JM: We opened in February and by May it was waitlist only. Even the waitlist had a waitlist.
Jennifer, you’re a former dancer yourself and barre is often times compared to ballet. What are the similarities?
JM: Ballet utilizes every muscle in your body. Barre uses all the same muscles as in ballet, and a lot of the barre exercises are ballet exercises.
Young girls often have childhood dreams of becoming ballerinas. Does Physique 57 help to fulfill those dreams?
JM: Yes. For many people, just holding onto the barre is 75 percent of the experience. Or for many people it’s the socks, the slippers, the pointed toes, the flexed feet, the barre and the standing up straight. For those who’ve done ballet, the feeling is that, this is an athletic form of ballet. But even if you’ve never done ballet, Physique 57 will still make sense—it is doable for anyone.
Apart from ballet, tell us about the fitness aspect of the class.
JM: We use a principal called "Interval Overload." You are going through different sprint and recovery sections of the class. You burn a muscle group to exhaustion and then you stretch.
What’s your favorite section of the class?
JM: I love all the ab work!
Building Physique 57 during a time when there was no workout culture, tell me where you think the workout culture is now, where it’s going, and where Physique 57 fits in?
JM: When I started, there was minimal workout culture. Lululemon came to town the same year that we launched, so we were the first store to sell Lululemon in the city and Tanya and I were the first Lululemon ambassadors. We didn’t even know what an ambassador was! Someone took us to coffee to explain the strategy of Lululemon and this ambassador idea. All of that, no one was doing.
And then SoulCycle opened a year later and then Flywheel as a result of SoulCycle. Barry’s came to town at some point during that time period. And with the proliferation of fitness studios, you then have a proliferation of fitness instructors. Currently there is no standard national requirement for fitness instructors. One thing that I’m concerned about in the fitness industry, in general, is the training programs for fitness instructors.
At Physique 57, some teachers are really more dancers than fitness professionals, but they still have to complete a 200 hour training program.
As far as where the industry is going, I see it going in a positive direction.
As a pioneer of the workout culture, what is your advice for young women looking to jumpstart a career in fitness?
JM: It is a business. There’s an allure that the fitness industry is just fun and you get to wear workout clothes and workout all day, but the fitness industry is a business like all other businesses. So I would say, that the fitness industry is a wonderful place to work, it’s an amazing place to create a wonderful product and change the lives of other people, but it’s a business. There’s finance, there’s real estate, pricing models, banking relationships. So if someone wants to enter the fitness industry, really take a minute to think about what skills you want to bring because you either should be in the exercise room or behind the desk. You can’t really do both.
With studios in New York, Beverly Hills, and even the Middle East, where are you looking to open next?
JM: We’re going to start franchising in January, so we’ll be all over! We also have an app coming out, plus new videos and live classes on our Video on Demand platform.
People from all over the country, the world, can watch and take a class just by watching it on their TV or phone.
And where do you think the video on demand platform will expand to?
JM: Anywhere and everywhere!