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Setting Her Barre High

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Mod Fitness Owner Marnie Duncan’s barre workout will make you sweat. 

By Gretchen M. Sanders, Photos by David Heisler 

Austin’s barre scene has really heated up. In 2012, only a few studios throughout town offered yoga and Pilates-inspired workouts featuring barre-based fitness, strength exercises performed while holding onto a ballet barre. Then Marnie Duncan came along with her version of a barre workout and opened Mod Fitness. She ignited an explosion. Today, Austinites can find a barre class as easily as a taco truck.

What stands out about Mod Fitness is the lady behind it all. Duncan, who grew up in California and played water polo for the University of California Berkeley, has always liked to move her body. But a boating accident 10 years ago left her with a broken neck and in need of a gentler way to stay fit. Through friends, she heard about barre classes.

“Barre was a life-changer for me,” says Duncan, age 33. “It took away my pain and helped me build back strength after the accident.”

Duncan taught fitness classes in San Francisco and New York before moving to Austin.

“I saw a hole here for good barre opportunities,” she says, “and I wanted to fill it.”

Mod Fitness met instant success.

Classes at the two Mod Fitness studio locations regularly fill up, attracting women and some men of all ages. The Mod method combines dance, yoga, Pilates and an athletic version of barre work in an hour-long session of calorie-burning fun. High reps of small range-of-motion exercises subtly wear the body out. Light weights amp up the burn on moves that tone arm, leg and core muscles. Ballet-inspired poses held at the barre make legs quiver.

“We work every point in the body,” says Duncan, who teaches three classes a week and keeps heartbeats pounding to constant motion and music.

Duncan has become a savvy businesswoman along the way. After her son was born, she added a child-care service to make it easier for moms to attend class. The move sent sales soaring.

“Barre is good cross-training for all sports and life, and we know moms need to exercise too,” she says.

Here’s how Duncan stays fit while balancing business and motherhood.

The A.M.:

“I wake up and do 10 minutes of foam rolling. It helps with aches or pains and flushes out tension in my muscles. Then it’s time for coffee. My husband and I are really into butter coffee right now. After that, my son and I walk Jersey, our French bulldog, and then I head off to the studio.”

The Workout: 

“I take a Mod Fitness class about three times per week. I also mix in some walking or light running while pushing my son in his stroller. I will even try to make it to a reformer or equipment Pilates class at this place I love called Align. It helps with injury prevention.”

The Diet:

“I’ve never been much of a dieter. I’m all about three meals a day and an afternoon snack: life in moderation. My family eats healthy Sunday through Thursday, then Friday and Saturday are our fun days. I never turn down a hamburger, though. Wine and dessert are totally OK too.”

The Gear:

“I’m in fitness gear the majority of my day. You can wear anything here. Leggings, tights, shorts: It all works. I really like Outdoor Voices, and it’s hard to beat Lululemon tops with a built-in sports bra. We also have our own Mod gear, which includes gripping socks that come in handy when we’re working on the barre or doing planks on the mat. The socks keep your toes from slipping and give you better traction. They also help with cleanliness and hygiene.”

The Motivation:

“Fitness has always been my passion. I played sports growing up, so I wanted to turn my passion into my career. I also want to stay healthy and strong for my husband and son. My mind and body just feel better on days when I workout. I have the best of both worlds now.”

The Mindset:

“Be kind. This has become more important to me since I had my son. I realize there’s more out there than just my job. I want my son to see me being kind to others and working hard. Laughter and living life in moderation are high up there for me as well.”

The P.M.:

“Cellphones go off after dinner. In my house, we really try not to look at our phones in the evening unless there’s some kind of emergency. Instead, we cook, talk or watch Netflix, usually Narcos or Ray Donovan. I try to read for about 10 minutes before lights out and I make sure to review my schedule for the next day.”

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