Barre3 CEO on the Future of Fitness

By Kaitlin Milliken |  November 24, 2020

Sadie Lincoln began her journey in the fitness business immediately out of higher education at 24 Hour Fitness, a chain of gyms and workout facilities. Over her 11-year tenure at the company, she worked in marketing and operations, reporting to the CEO. 

However, in 2008, Lincoln ventured down a different path: starting her own fitness brand. That year, she launched the first Barre3 studio in Portland, Ore. with her husband, Chris Lincoln. 

The exercise style that blends elements from ballet, yoga, and Pilates gained in popularity through the 2010s. Lincoln’s business grew alongside the increased interest in barre workouts. Today, Barre3 teaches classes at franchise studios across the US and through an online subscription that reaches customers in 98 countries.  

As the company has grown, one core principle has remained constant: the idea of balance. That value is also embedded in the company’s name. When explaining why they chose to call the studio franchise Barre3, Lincoln explains:  “We can think of a tripod, and it’s there to remind all of us at Barre3 to work towards a more balanced state… Our mission is to teach people to be balanced…and empowered from within. We teach an exercise class that is a total-body, balanced workout. We combine strength conditioning with cardio and mindfulness.”

During a conversation on the virtual mainstage at InnoLead’s Impact event, Lincoln explored how the company approaches innovation and how her team pivoted to meet the new demands of 2020. 

Embedding Innovation with Fitness 

Many fitness chains, like Bikram yoga or hot yoga, cycle through the same dozens of poses to create workouts. Often, Lincoln says, the room is always heated to the same temperature and the instructors’ monologues are delivered in the same way each class. While those fixed methods are easily scalable, Lincoln says Barre3 workouts evolve constantly.

“We are always innovating so that we can practice in real time how to balance the body,” Lincoln says. 

According to Lincoln, instructors at the fitness chain are encouraged to study material from “exercise scientists, doctors, and physical therapists” to better inform their workout sequences. Today, 2,000 instructors from Barre3 are creating a Digital Learning Hub to stay up-to-date with new research and continuously improve workouts. 

Pivoting During the Pandemic 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Barre3 instructors were teaching in-person classes at over 140 studios. All of these locations closed at the onset of the pandemic. “Within 72 hours, we had to figure out how we [were] going to continue to serve the communities where we teach live classes,” Lincoln recalls. 

During the pandemic, customers can choose from two products to continue their workout regimen. The first option is Barre3’s premium online subscription that has operated since 2011. Customers can pay to access pre-recorded sessions, filmed on beautiful sets by trained camera operators. The instructor on camera was “trained to connect with the consumer in a different way than in-person,” Lincoln says. Online subscriptions have doubled since the onset of the pandemic. 

Barre3 also offers live streamed studio classes over Zoom’s online conferencing interface. Lincoln says that customers who had been attending in-studio workouts often preferred these live, at-home sessions. “Our clients preferred to work out with our instructors who are in their living rooms with their dogs running in and…chaos happening because they had an emotional connection with those instructors…in that community,” she explains. 

Lincoln also noted that these at home workouts help customers feel “literally and figuratively at home in their bodies.” For some, exercising in a group of fit people in front of a tall mirror can be intimidating. This platform allows customers to be more comfortable. 

Diversity and Equity in the Exercise World 

When talking about other shifts in 2020, Lincoln noted an increased awareness of diversity sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement. Lincoln says that Barre3 studios are largely run by and for affluent, white women. “That is not really healthy,” she says. “What I’ve created unconsciously isn’t really diverse, even though one of our core values is inclusivity.” 

To help create a more diverse environment, Lincoln’s team hired consultants to focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion. “The first thing we’re doing at our headquarters in our team is really exploring our own biases, understanding more [and] learning…so that we can make an educated strategy for truly inclusive fitness,” Lincoln says. 

Additionally, Lincoln says she views the digital platform her team has created as a way to reach more customers from different races, geographies, and income levels. Digital offerings “remove barriers” and offer more ways for people to workout.