Physique 57's Tanya Becker On Her Accidental Fitness Empire
Some of the most popular and sucessful fitness crazes have come from injuries. There's Mary Helen Bowers, the ballerina whose career-ending injury and weight gain produced the celeb-crazy Ballet Beautiful empire. Joseph Pilates, of course, whose childhood infirmities spurred him to develop alternative exercises focused on alignment and strength. And Lotte Berk, who kickstarted the modern fitness industry when she used the barre to recover from a severe back injury.
These are the toned shoulders that Tanya Becker, co-founder and chief content officer of Physique 57, stands on today, namely Berk's. The Lotte Berk Method’s New York City studio is where Becker cut her teeth as a fitness instructor in the early 90s. Like the Bowers, Pilates, and Berks of the world, Becker had originally discovered dance as a way to remedy a childhood medical condition.
As a young choreographer in New York, Becker saw an ad in the Village Voice seeking dancers to teach an exercise class at an exercise studio. There, she took her first barre class on the Upper East Side.
"I was humbled," Becker concedes, speaking over the phone from New York. "Women twice my age in the class were blowing me away with their strength. 'I'm never going to get this job,' I thought. But I did, and I fell in love with the strength and the beauty of the method. It was just so gracefully hard."
After seven years teaching at Lotte Berk, as the famed studio closed its doors in 2005, opportunity called to Becker with a business partner in Michigan.
"And I was literally struck—one day I had this epiphany—'God, there's so many more people in the world who should have access to this method,'" she tells Beyond The Interview. "I really love the method, but I feel there's so much more to be done with it."
The year in Michigan was like her laboratory, experimenting with form and timing, even music, to liven up the method.
"Turns out, I fell backwards into creating high-intensity interval training and the scientific approach to fitness which is recovery interval training," Becker says. And then she got a phone call from a stranger named Jennifer Maanavi.
Maanavi, a Columbia Business School MBA graduate, called with a proposal for Becker and a sound business plan—she wanted to revive the Lotte Berk Method and needed a partner to handle the fitness side.
"I took a leap of faith, I moved back to New York, and we were open in a temporary space two months later," Becker says. "We're partners still to this day. It's like a marriage." They took their namesake from the original studio at 24 West 57th Street.
The main difference between Physique 57—or simply Physique, as regulars call it—and other barre classes is the integration of cardio and strength training, using one's own body weight as resistance. The company also doesn't franchise their studios, so in the U.S., their brand is only in New York and California. Internationally, they license to studios in Dubai, Bangkok, and Mumbai. And they still mainly hire dancers as instructors.
"It's a bigger picture for us," Becker says of the international licensing. "What happens is that we see these women become entrepreneurs. This is a dream come true for them to have their own business, and they can do something they love. It's so much bigger than a barre class."
Becker, a 46-year-old mom of twins, also handles a crucial part of the Physique brand: video on demand.
With the rise of live-streaming and on-demand fitness classes like Peloton and ClassPass Live, Becker doesn't see this phenomenon stopping anytime soon: "There are a lot of people out there who don't want to leave their homes and are intimidated by group fitness. I just want more people to have more fun working out."
The group fitness instructor in Becker, however, craves the energy from a room full of sweaty barres.
"I'm not self-motivated," she says. "I am when it comes to being a human being, but when it comes to fitness, I don't like pushing myself. I'd rather watch. I need group—that's my thing. I love teaching, and I'll keep teaching 'til they pull me off."