Can mixing an ancient practice with modern high intensity interval training work?

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

High intensity interval training (HIIT) offers an easier way for busy people to find time for a workout, as it involves short bursts of as-fast-as-you-can-go cardiovascular exercise alternating with slower intervals. Most HIIT sessions are short. Yoga HIIT uses yoga poses during the slower intervals.

But can mixing an ancient practice with modern HIIT provide participants a good workout?

Phil Haberstro, executive director of The Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, sees the addition of yoga to HIIT workouts as helpful for people seeking a cardiovascular workout.

“Lots of people jump right in and it may be too intense if they’re not fit,” he said. “They need to have the proper warm-up and work on flexibility. Having flexibility as part of the intervals can improve it.”

Yoga can help people become more limber and in time increase their overall balance and flexibility. Maintaining good balance and flexibility improves healthy aging.

Yoga HIIT may offer participants some benefits if they have a hit plateau in their fitness, since injecting yoga poses into the cardiovascular regimen adds a whole new dynamic to the workout, especially if they have never tried yoga before, according to Brian DeLuca, physical therapist.

DeLuca is a certified strength conditioning specialist and director of physical therapy and impact sports performance at UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.

He also sees a few disadvantages of cramming together two practices that are so different as yoga and HIIT training.

“With both time and money constraints, you see clients wanting combo classes but it may dilute the value of yoga,” DeLuca said. “Yoga to me is about the mental and emotional benefits. It includes meditation, and relaxation is restorative. When you incorporate intense interval training, it doesn’t fit.”

But DeLuca understands that time constrains is why some people may want to try yoga HIIT.

“It’s what the market wants,” he said. “You have to be careful you don’t combine too many things, but you can’t spend all day working out.”

Since many yoga poses involve stretching and body weight strengthening, yoga brings to HIIT fitness those aspects that HIIT may not otherwise include, especially for those who feel short on time.

For people who practice yoga very traditionally, yoga HIIt may seem a turn-off since the two are so different. Springing up to pop off two minutes of jumping jacks after performing downward dog doesn’t encourage the meditative side of yoga, for example.

“I’m not sure how I’d feel about them being together,” said Lucy Connery, health promotion specialist at Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo who is studying for her Master’s in Public Health at Daemen College. “I’m not sure how much of a recovery the yoga would allow. Traditionally, since HIIT and yoga are two opposite sides of the spectrum, I can see lots of people wanting to integrate both. People opting for yoga HIIT are likely more interested in the physical benefits of yoga than any emotional or spiritual benefits.”