Mobilize, Align and Balance at Erin Paruszewski’s Alkalign Studios:
Erin Paruszewski owned a traditional barre studio for years, but she was never quite satisfied with the approach. While she fell in love with the workout that was humbling in its challenges, she wanted to layer on flexibility and mobility, plus balance and proprioception. So, she researched, practiced and worked toward incorporating those elements; in 2015 she rebranded her California studio as Alkalign, moving from barre to a more integrated approach with a codified technique, trainings and a clear mission.
Now, she has multiple studios where she and her team help clients work efficiently, effectively and with a deeper understanding of how functional fitness is built. Plus she’s even started to franchise Alkalign, bringing this 360-degree method outside of California. Read on for more from this motivated entrepreneur who is bringing science-based evidence and practices into the studio.
SBS: How did your interest in kinesiology and functional fitness come about? And how did that morph into opening a fitness studio?
Erin Paruszewski: I was always an athlete, and late in college I got into marathon running. When I moved to California I got into triathlons; I was always a cardio junkie!
But, I ended up with a lot of injuries from not conditioning my body properly. I had everything from plantar fasciitis to a hip injury and shin splints. The hip injury was really the one, though, that showed me I needed to make a change, and that I hadn’t been moving my body correctly for all those years. I had always thought I loved running because I can tune out, but now I know mindless movement leads to injury.
At the same time, I realized I needed my career and passion to match instead of being at odds. I had been in banking, and I spent a lot of time working. I thought I might as well spend all that time doing something I like. But finding barre in particular was just by chance: I happened to know someone who taught barre classes, and I fell in love with that type of workout. I realized that even though I could run, I couldn’t touch my toes! Barre made me feel so fit. It wasn’t intentional, but I soon stopped running…and I felt better.
I opened my first studio in 2009 and then a second in 2010. It was a very traditional set-up. But four years ago, I decided I wanted to take the concept one step further and bring in mobility, proprioception, balance, and dynamic movement—especially incorporating research and physical therapy work. Now, I basically run a lab. Watching people all day, you learn so much.
Also, I had been a ballerina growing up, but I know the whole dance aspect of barre can be very intimidating for some people. So I wanted to offer something inclusive. You don’t have to be a dancer or athlete to come to Alkalign.
SBS: What’s the inspiration behind the name Alkalign?
EP: In its traditional spelling, ‘alkaline’ is about the balance in your body, and an alkaline battery includes the idea of being charged and recharged. Everything we do is based on alignment and rooted in biomechanics, so it felt right.
SBS: What does Alkalign offer, and how is it unique?
EP: We take the principal of an aligned strength class and applied more dynamic movement. We have seven formats, and they cover three areas: strength, cardio and mobility. We are set up like a barre studio, with minimal equipment and more props.
Cardio, for me, as a recovering cardio junkie, was so key, especially for those endorphins. But mobility, which includes flexibility, is like the lost child. That’s really the thing that’s most important—but underrated—that we added. If you don’t have mobility, you can’t really use what you have in terms of strength and heart health. So, we really focus on mobility, including things like myofascial release. I love massage balls—I have them in my car!
SBS: How did you go about creating your own codified approach? What are your tips?
EP: It’s always a work in progress. It’s an evolution over time. You don’t wake up one day with it all in hand. You take your experience, and you observe as you consider how to provide the most amount of reward with the least amount of risk. Can we offer this class that offers camaraderie and a group environment in a way that’s safer and better?
I created the brand in seven weeks, but I really had seven years running a business. During those years I noticed things I couldn’t incorporate or had to incorporate. So when I flipped the switch, I already had ideas.
We have a comprehensive training and operations manual, as well as thousands of videos and documentation of what we do and why we do it. That is important to me. It has to be proven, safe and effective.
Part of my process was working with a physical therapist and seeing what their feedback was. I asked, ‘What do you think is missing?’ One piece of advice I gained was to do more work for the glutes because they affect so much: back pain, hip, knee and ankle. I also learned I needed to balance quad work and hamstring work.
SBS: What is your favorite exercise that you incorporated from barre?
EP: I love side-lying, straight leg lifts for the glute medius. Lay on your right elbow, while your right leg is in a 90-degree angle, with your left leg toward the back diagonal.
SBS: What’s your least favorite traditional barre exercise?
EP: My number one is abs with a round back up against the mirror. It’s so bad for your low back and cervical spine. We primarily promote neutral spine and practice both extension and flexion. It’s important to have the proper strength and muscle recruitment to mobilize the spine safely.
SBS: What’s your advice for someone thinking of opening a studio or shaping their own approach?
EP: Know what you’re doing and why. When you own a studio, you have a responsibility because you’re putting yourself in the role of an expert. You are putting yourself in the role of an expert, so people are looking to you for advice. Help people protect themselves.
Erin’s Cali Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: True Food Kitchen
Splurge Restaurant: Flea Street Cafe (Menlo Park)
Fun Activity: Cooking with friends
Calming Activity: Snuggling with my kids
Nightlife Spot: Oak and Violet in Menlo Park
Athleticwear: DYI (Define Your Inspiration)
Athletic Shoes: Nike Free
Online Resources: Seth Godin’s blog and Axios for news
Books: Enough as She Is by Rachel Simmons, Loving What Is by Byron Katie, Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman
The best, zaniest part of being Erin: I get to wake up and do what I love doing every single day. I’m a mom-preneur with a passion for helping others. I’m grateful that my passion and my profession are now one and the same. Alkalign represents everything that I personally stand for, most notably, quality, sustainability and a culture of inclusivity where people leave feeling better than when they started.
Erin’s SBS Mantra(s): I’d say it’s a combination. First, Be Mindful: I’m a huge proponent of mindful movement and mindfulness in general. Our number one core value at Alkalign is ‘pay attention.’ Pay attention to you. Pay attention to the world around you. Pay attention to the connection between the two.
That connects with Be Kind. If you can be anything in life, be kind. At the end of the day, the accomplishments, the titles and the possessions don’t matter. Being kind always matters. That’s definitely the one I’m teaching my kids the most.
As an entrepreneur Be Bold resonates with me. At Alkalign we say ‘Live Present, Be Forward,’ aka be mindful and bold at the same time. Being bold means taking risks, but the biggest risk one should take is on the self. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?