Founder of FORME Studios, Donna Burke is the definition of a hustler. From running her own studio to maintaining an active social life to taking the time to talk with me about it all, she seriously does it all. For those of you who haven’t tried FORME, it’s one of my favorite group fitness studios in Atlanta because it offers such variety – and the classes kick your bootay. Not only that, but the welcoming vibe is like no other studio I’ve been to – just take a class there and you’ll see. I’ve known Donna for a while now, but was so excited to get the opportunity to talk with her even more about the backstory behind FORME and how she manages being (literally) Superwoman.
Yes Girl: I’ve always loved your classes, but can you tell me more about how FORME came to be?
Donna Burke: It all started out when my sister & I owned Atlanta Activewear a few years back. We did a lot within the local community and since I have a degree in Exercise Science, I came up with this idea to incorporate a barre class in our store! My sister initially questioned how we could do it with no actual barre, but I thought it would be a great idea to take it off the barre… and that’s how Barre Fusion was born. We set up a sign-up page, posted it and within 30 minutes, the class had sold out. My first thought was “What have we created?!” We knew our clients were interested in fitness but we never knew how successful Barre Fusion would be – 25 girls came to the first class. We started to do the Barre Fusion classes once a week and as demand grew, we now had a full schedule of classes in the mornings and evenings outside of store hours. People were paying to come and work out inside of a clothing store because they loved it that much. When we ran out of space, we moved our evening classes over to Witzlib and the class grew even more. The day we got a call from ClassPass saying they wanted us on board, I knew we had something here. We eventually decided to close the store when the activewear industry became too saturated, and in the same month that we closed the store, I bought the studio and opened FORME.
YG: How the heck did you come up with the concept for this AMAZING workout?
DB: I’m a total gym junkie. I have tried every workout from CrossFit to Pure Barre to Water Aerobics. I got injured while training for a marathon and through that, I found barre – and quickly realized it was no joke! Through studying Exercise Science in school, I knew how to get my heart rate into that fat-burning zone that everyone wants to get in – and stay in. So, I took all of the aspects of the workouts I liked and put them into my own unique workout. In a Barre Fusion class, you do two total-body workouts within less than an hour that combine the small, pulsing movements of a barre class with cardio that promotes fat-burning. The cardio abs section really gives that ‘shake factor’ we all crave. I also got certified in Bootybarre, which is a similar concept to Barre Fusion, so it went hand in hand. Cardio FORME came out of a need for wanting something more intense, yet still fun, without being too cheesy. I put together a playlist and got inspired and, with the help of some of my friends who danced, I put together a routine and Cardio FORME was born.
YG: Tell me about your own personal success story with FORME.
DB: I gained 50 pounds after getting injured. As much as I was toning up from barre, that layer of fat was still there because I wasn’t getting cardio in due to my injury, so I knew I had to incorporate cardio into my classes. As a result of FORME, I lost 35-40 pounds.
Because we believed so much in our product and didn’t focus so much on it being a business, it made it so much more than just a workout.
YG: What is your weekly workout schedule like?
DB: All FORME – all day, every day! I only teach, and that’s because I teach about 10 classes per week. I don’t suggest that someone works out as much as I do, but I’m very aware of how much sleep I get and what I’m eating to stay fueled. I eat probably 3,000 calories a day to fuel my body because in a standard Barre Fusion class, you’re burning 650 calories. In a Cardio FORME class, you’re burning 800 calories within 45 minutes.
YG: There’s a lot of pressure in society to be perfect. How do you stay above it?
DB: A lot of people get lost in the pursuit of perfection. I was always kind of the ugly duckling growing up and I struggled throughout school with that. Playing sports really helped me to learn to be okay with myself. I started playing soccer when I was 12, and my first coach told us he wasn’t going to train us as girls, but just as regular soccer players. He showed us we were completely equal and I took a lot of that with me as I grew up. Whenever people were nasty or rude, in my mind I was like “we are all the same, I don’t get it”. Growing up, our parents never treated us like we were inferior and that still resonates with me to this day.
YG: What does a typical day of eating look like for you?
DB: The reality is, I don’t have the time to cook elaborate meals, so my goal is to always find a way to live as healthy as I can while on the go. In the morning, I wake up, teach and go to Starbucks. In the winter I’ll get a Jade Citrus Green Tea and in the summer I get a Venti Iced Coffee with cream and regular sweetener. [I don’t believe in sugar substitutes because your body doesn’t know how to burn it off!] For breakfast, I’ll have a sesame bagel with cream cheese or some kind of smoothie. Then I head into the office for my full-time job. Mid-morning, I’ll usually grab some type of fruit as a snack. Lunch can really vary, depending on the day. Some days I’ll grab pizza; some days I’ll bring a salad from home. I just can’t do the whole meal prep thing because getting out the door with all of my meals ready to go for the day just doesn’t happen for me. It’s easier for me to leave the studio and go by the grocery store and pick out what I’m craving. Dinner, again, is usually a quick trip to the store for whatever I’m craving… there’s usually ice cream involved with dinner, too.
I’ve tried every diet out there – because paleo is fun, but I love pizza! I think balance brings you sanity.
YG: How do you maintain your desired level of fit while still keeping balance in your day-to-day life?
DB: I truly don’t want a six-pack and super ripped arms, I just want to be in shape and enjoy margaritas! I saw something that really resonated with me the other day: Don’t waste 95% of your life trying to lose 5% of your body weight. I don’t believe extremes work for anyone because at some point, that extreme will make you crack and force you in the total opposite direction of what you were trying to accomplish. In achieving balance, you end up a lot happier. I’ve tried every diet out there – because paleo is fun, but I love pizza! I think balance brings you sanity.
YG: How do you balance your relationships with your insane schedule?
DB: It is really difficult. My boyfriend is so supportive of my crazy schedule and he really believes in the studio, so he does whatever he can to support. I really try to cut off all of my work at least by the time we finish dinner and spend that last hour of my day with him. A lot of people will really dive into their business and forget their social lives, but mine are very intertwined because a lot of my friends are from FORME. Even though I’ve worked a ton throughout the week and still have to teach over the weekend, I make sure to make plans with my friends because it’s important to me.
Our pride at the studio is preaching “Be who you are, whatever shape you are.”
YG: What tips do you have for entrepreneurs or women looking to start their own side hustles – or full-time hustles?!
DB: When people start their own business, they need to realize they’re going to work 10 times as hard for a quarter of the amount of money. Luckily for me, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, because I saw the hard work pay off for my parents as entrepreneurs. I also recommend for people to keep their full time jobs as long as they can, because you’ve got bills to pay! Build your business on the side – we have 24 hours in the day, so when you really break down your day, what can you do in those 5-10 hours you have left over? Those hours outside of work are when you create your brand.
YG: What do you look for when hiring FORME instructors?
DB: My only requirement for instructors is a person who is genuine – everything else can be taught. You can’t teach someone to be a welcoming, nice person and we’ve all been there where we walk into a room and we don’t feel welcome. That was the one thing I did not want in my studio – I want the girls to be comfortable every time they walk in our doors. When someone is genuine, they are here because they love it and because they want to be here.
Interested in taking a class with Donna or one of her amazing instructors? Just head to FORME’s website and sign up! I promise, you won’t regret it.