There are some combinations in life that are just meant to be: milk and cookies, movies and popcorn, road trips and music. But what about yoga and HIIT workouts? Are the two polar opposites, or is this one of many exercise myths? While the well-known factors of each may not seem similar, taking what you learn in a yoga class off the mat and with you into your HIIT workout is easier and more beneficial than you might think.
Before we highlight the numerous benefits of incorporating a yoga mindset into your HIIT workouts, let’s bust some commonly held beliefs about yoga and quickly define some of its key tenets.
1. I have to be flexible to do yoga
Despite what Instagram shows you, you don’t have to already be flexible to practice yoga. Yes, continued practice of yoga will increase flexibility, but yoga is structured in a way to meet your body and its needs wherever you are currently. Yoga teachers are experts in “layering” the class with options, so no matter your experience, you’ll be appropriately, safely challenged. Just like you wouldn’t walk into a gym and bench press the heaviest weight, no teacher is going to push you past your body’s safe flexibility limits.
2. I won’t break a sweat in a yoga class
You can’t base much off of stereotypes, but have you noticed the people walking out of a yoga class before? Often times, they are toweling off and are completely drenched! And it’s not just a hot yoga class that offers heart-pumping, sweat-inducing workouts. Unless you specifically seek out a class listed as restorative, relaxing, meditative, etc., there will most-assuredly be sequences that offer that cardio blasting feeling. Here’s a class to get you started:
3. Yoga isn’t for building strength
While you won’t be lifting dumbbells, working with your own body weight as you do in yoga is absolutely strength building. It takes a lot of strength to hold your body weight in balancing poses, for example, and this is another myth easily debunked.
Now that we’ve discredited some commonly held yoga myths, let’s talk lingo. You’ll hear some jargon in a yoga class that can seem mysterious and complex, but once it’s broken down, the ideas are pretty simplistic. Here are some of the terms that you’ll not only hear frequently in a yoga class, but you can also transfer seamlessly to a HIIT workout (which we will dive into later in this article).
Mindfulness has been a total buzz word over the past several years, but the history of mindfulness and its connection to yoga goes back much, much further. In a nutshell, mindfulness is achieved by focusing on what’s happening in a precise moment and also the emotions attached to it.
It sounds simple enough by definition, right? The fact that people have been practicing at it for thousands of years is a testament to the difficulty, though. And if you’ve ever tried meditating or just taking a restful moment for yourself, you know this challenge personally—even when we remove distractions, close our eyes, or play gentle, calming music, holding off thoughts of a to do list or leftover emotions from the day is extremely difficult. The proven, amazing benefits of mindfulness are worth the practice, though, and as we’ll see in this article, can payoff in some unexpected ways with your workouts.
If you’ve ever heard a yoga instructor say, “let’s set an intention for our practice,” without any other explanation, it can sound a little hippie-dippie, but an intention is probably similar to something you already use: a guiding, positive thought to motivate what you’re doing both while you’re doing it and after. So if you’ve ever walked into the gym and thought I am going to crush this workout, you’re halfway to creating intentions for yourself.
And whether you’re a yoga fanatic or have never stepped on a mat, you know about the power of positive thinking in all areas of life, and that’s the same driving force of an intention. Synthesizing intentions with mindfulness creates a powerful combination and is one of many ways to stay motivated with your workouts.
This is another term that, once the shroud of mystery is removed, is probably something you’re familiar with. You know how some days you just feel off? Feeling centered is the opposite of that. When you are feeling centered, you feel connected with what’s right and true at your core. When I am trying to get back to feeling centered, I like to think of recalibrating my internal compass and getting myself pointed back in the direction that I know is right for me personally.
And believe it or not, incorporating this practice into your workout regimen can work wonders, which we’ll cover later in this article.
Flowing from one posture to the next in a yoga sequence means just what you think: there’s fluid motion and no rigidity. Finding this flow, like with Sun Salutations, for example, and especially linking to your cycle of inhales and exhales, helps increase that mindfulness and centered feeling we mentioned earlier.
Finding flow, especially in a HIIT workout, may seem unusual, but the benefits, which we will dive into in the next section, are well-worth the effort.
Benefits of Merging the Mindsets: Why Bother?
So maybe you’re on board with the idea of yoga being a good workout, and you might even feel less intimidated by some of the lingo, but why merge a yoga mindset with a HIIT workout? Why not just reap the benefits of the two separately?
As it turns out, there are tons of reasons those tenets from yoga can enhance your HIIT regimen and take your workout to an unprecedented level.
Better Physical Results
With a high calorie burn in a short timeframe, HIIT workouts often draw people in who are pursuing physical, noticeable results. (And if that describes your current motivation, be sure you check out the fat loss fundamentals). One of the ways to ensure those physical results are achieved is to avoid what trainers or instructors refer to as “phoning it in.” Even if you haven’t heard this phrase, you’re likely familiar with the feeling: your heart just isn’t in your workout. When you begin to “phone it in,” or lose focus and concentrated effort, you begin sacrificing the potential benefits from your exercise.
But how’s the average person supposed to summon laser-like focus and determination for every workout? Enter: mindfulness.
When you are mindful, you are automatically in the zone. Focusing on the contraction of the targeted muscles, say, by noticing the depth of each squat when you perform a jump squat or precisely where in the legs you feel walking lunges, keeps you in the moment, and being in the moment means more concentrated effort towards results.
One of the core tenets of yoga is the idea of finding the balance between effort and ease. In other words, you want your exercises to feel like a challenge (because change comes from pushing past our current limits), but you don’t want to enter the territory of strains or shooting pains, which is where injury awaits you. This balanced approach to exercise becomes almost second nature the more you incorporate a yoga mindset.
And while the overall goal of your fitness routine might be to grow or change your body, you have to honor the structural integrity of your current body to avoid injury. Rushing through your HIIT routine, which can look like poor posture, not using your legs to protect your back, or jerking the body, is a surefire way to make you injury prone. Using your yoga mindset to find that sweet spot between effort and ease and remaining mindful can head off numerous injuries before they happen.
This doesn’t mean you have to avoid fast-paced training or your HIIT workouts; rushed and quick-moving aren’t exactly synonyms, afterall, and it comes down to the intention motivating the workout. Try adding in that concept of “flowing” from one movement to the next during your HIIT routine, and you’ll be protecting your body and finding intentionality. Walking lunges are a great exercise to try it out with!
Finally, if you decide to add weights to your HIIT workouts, you’re much more prepared to do so safely if you’re already experienced at listening to your body’s cues.
Better Self Image
Think about your self-talk when you’re working out. Think about your motivation. When you exercise, are you punishing the body or celebrating what it can do? Despite popular belief, you don’t have to berate your body, your past choices, or your efforts to push yourself to a better workout. Quite the opposite, in fact, as it’s been proven that positive self-talk during exercise increases the benefits.
But how can you rewire that voice inside your head to assist you rather than tear you down? Again, incorporate that yoga mindset, get back to your “centered” self, and set an intention. As you lace up your shoes or walk into the gym, set the tone for your workout by attaching purpose to your upcoming workout.
Think about your motivation, and not just “I want to look better.” Who is the best version of you, and why does that best version self want to look better? What do you want your body to be able to achieve? How will finding more strength, endurance, flexibility, stress-relief, etc. aid you as you walk through this life?
Your intention lies there in those answers, and if you let it, it can be the fuel that drives your HIIT workout. Creating it from that centered place we mentioned earlier will help ensure it’s a positive force. Repeat those intention words to yourself mentally (or go crazy and try saying them out loud!) as the intervals become more challenging. Be your own cheerleader by intertwining intentions with your HIIT routine and watch your results sky-rocket.
If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you know yoga enthusiasts are really into breathing—like a lot. And loudly. But the breathing you hear isn’t from huffing and puffing, chest-clutching desperation. On the contrary, breathwork is a practiced, intentional part of yoga, and learning to take those lessons of breath off the mat and into other workouts can be a game changer.
You’ll learn in yoga that if you limit your breathing to your chest, you’re seriously diminishing your air capacity (among other drawbacks). Instead, yoga teaches how to breathe from the diaphragm, how to “measure” your breath, ways to breathe for stress-relief, and so much more. Incorporating this type of knowledge into your HIIT workout can aid you before your workout as you prepare to give it your all, during your workout, as you fill up with breath to fuel each movement, and even after your workout, as you relax and decompress.
Discover some of the basics of yoga breathing techniques, also known as pranayama, with this awesome breathwork session, and then give it a shot applying some to your HIIT routines.
A More Enjoyable Workout
If you take a look at any of those online HIIT workouts, you’ll notice the supposed fitness lovers don’t exactly look like they love what they’re doing. You might hear some harsh self-talk (which we noted earlier is anything but helpful to your workout results) and heavy sighing, and you’ll probably notice grimacing and scowling faces. If working out is something you’re doing for yourself, should it really look that miserable? And with all the boredom-busting exercise solutions, there’s no reason not to smile and enjoy yourself.
Yoga teaches us to honor the body and be grateful for its capabilities. This doesn’t mean you have to stay complacent or that you can’t strive for the next level of fitness, but it does teach you to appreciate what’s led you to this point in your journey and gives you a positive propellant to continue.
The next time you start your HIIT routine, bring a positive intention to the start of your workout. The clarity and mindfulness you practice in yoga will help you notice your attitude. Remind yourself what a pleasure and blessing it is to be able to move your body like this (a privilege certainly not everyone in the world is afforded).
Mid-workout, prompt yourself to bring a softness to your face, a common cue during yoga practice. Unfurrow the brow. Unclench the jaw. Relax the shoulders. It’s incredible, but you can get the same or even better results if you release the tension you’re unconsciously holding and instead blast through your HIIT routine with a little smile on your face.
What’s more, if you’re enjoying your workout, you’ll return to it more often, with more energy, and see more results (both physically and mentally).
Putting It into Practice
Putting your yoga into practice off the mat doesn’t mean you have to sit cross-legged and chant or burn incense. For anyone who is willing to bridge the gap between yoga and HIIT, it can mean more strength, better cardiovascular health, and a deepened sense of purpose and fulfillment through exercise, and that sounds like a win on all accounts.
About the Author
Leslie Kiel writes for Exercise.com. She is a RYT 200 teaching in multiple yoga studios in southern Indiana, a marathoner, and a self-proclaimed HIIT enthusiast who loves merging the centered, balanced world of yoga with a high-intensity, heart-pumping interval training routine.