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How Does Meditation Fit In with HIIT?

Equinox

At first, meditation and HIIT might appear to be completely at odds: HIIT is designed to rev up your heart rate as quickly as possible with intense bursts of activity, whereas meditation is all about being still and calming the mind and body down. (Check out eight benefits of high-intensity interval training.)

Yet merging these two seemingly rival techniques is exactly what Nike Master Trainer and Flywheel Master Instructor Holly Rilinger did with her new New York City-based class LIFTED, an entirely new type of workout that aims to train the mind, body, and spirit.

Take one look at the star trainer and you know she's seriously dedicated to her body (those abs!), but, as she explains, after being introduced to meditation about a year ago, the practice is now just as essential to her routine as her sweat sessions. "I began to understand that 'training' my mind is equally as important as training my body," she says. (Science shows that the combination of exercise and meditation can decrease depression too.)

Still, she recognizes that devoting separate time to each practice just isn't realistic for most women, and when given the choice between the two, of course most people will choose to train their bodies. The goal of her class is to eliminate the need to make that choice, allowing them reap the benefits of both in one super effective mind and body workout.

So what exactly does a meditation-meets-HIIT workout look like? LIFTED starts with five minutes of guided meditation to connect to your breath and bring your focus to the present, then transitions into an intense 30 minutes of mindful movement, because, as Rilinger explains, "when we move with intention, we move better." Don't be fooled by the name, though—you'll be left completely breathless and exhausted with this high-intensity cardio strength portion of the class, which includes moves like squats, lunges, push-ups (try her push-up challenge!), and planks. The rest of the class consists of another short meditation session, more 'mindful movements', an all-out sprint to the finish line, and a cooldown and savasana.

Surprisingly, the two actually seem to work hand in hand. "HIIT and meditation may seem like opposite techniques, however, even great athletes have used the power of concentration to enhance their performance," Rilinger explains. (Here's more on how meditation can make you a better athlete.)

Equinox's new class HeadStrong (currently available in select U.S. cities) operates under a similar premise. The four-part class trains your mind and body to push both physical and mental boundaries, and is based on "the understanding that training the body is the best way to drive mindfulness and optimal brain health," founders Michael Gervais and Kai Karlstrom explain.

Their class was also created out of the understanding that while people are increasingly concerned about mindfulness and turning to techniques like meditation to achieve it, a huge gap exists in the wellness and fitness scene for those looking to train their minds in other ways. So they combined the science of how the brain works with HIIT; you can think of the class like charging up your battery—"it's an active way to 'recharge' you mentally," they explain.

While you won't find traditional meditation here, as in LIFTED, HeadStrong combines traditional high-intensity conditioning work that 'takes you to the edge of your threshold' with moves that force you to engage your mind and thus spark activity in the brain, Gervais and Kalstrom say. And, as with meditation, the end of the class is designed to facilitate "greater present moment awareness and mindfulness."

As meditation continues to become more popular and more accessible than ever (see: 17 Powerful Benefits of Meditation), it seems safe to say that this is only the beginning of the shift towards mental training in traditional fitness studios. "The scientific community tells us that using the body to train the brain—and the brain to train the body—is the future of fitness," Gervais and Karlstrom say.

Rilinger agrees that this is the mark of a crucial shift. "Outside of yoga, there has been this separation of body, mind, and spiritual wellbeing," she says. "The truth is, to be healthy, we cannot separate these three aspects of wellness."

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