This Was the Hardest Workout Class I’ve Ever Done—But Not For the Reasons You Think
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I'm dripping with sweat. But I can't reach for my towel because I'm currently holding 15 pound dumbbells in my hands during a High Lunge. "Stay low," the instructor reminds us. "Thirty seconds to go. Connect to your breath. Remember your breath."
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Expletives fill my head. These lunges will, inexplicably, be the death of me. I'm going to die in a CorePower yoga studio. I'm already reconsidering my decision to attend this StrengthX class.
To humor myself, I do it. I take a measured breath, returning to the long inhalations and exhalations that exist exclusively in my restorative yoga class. Something settles. My heart rate calms. My body eases up--and the weights don't feel quite as torturous. What is happening?
I practice yoga on a regular basis. I try--and often fail--to meditate. I work out several times a week. Although I love a sweat-dripping hot yoga class, my asana practice and my workouts are separate. When I'm doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT), sprinting on a spin bike, or throwing around heavy weights, I want to tune out. But when I shift from Downward-Facing Dog into Plank Pose, I want to tap into my breath.
I never considered combining heavy weights, mindfulness, and breathwork. Until I tried this new type of workout.
The Rise of Mind-Body Workouts
According to the 2022 Classpass and Mindbody Look Back Report, strength training and yoga were the two most popular workouts on the booking platforms last year. Strength training classes saw a 94% increase in bookings from 2021 and 2022.
"2023 will be the year that strength workouts (progressing through heavy weights for low reps) become not just OK for everyone, but even our default form of exercise," Casey Johnston, the creator of the She's A Beast newsletter, told Outside. I agree.
But I and a lot of other people are also craving something more. Something deeper. More and more of us are turning to meditation, mindfulness practices, and breathwork for the proven benefits they bring to our mental and physical health.
Combining Mindfulness With HIIT
CorePower isn't the only fitness studio investing in the connection between strength and breath. Mind Body Project, a New York-based workout class, starts and ends its HIIT-style class with a five-minute meditation. Throughout the class, the instructor weaves elements of that initial session of mindfulness into the class through verbal reminders and a resetting point midway through the workout. In that moment, the lights dim as you're prompted to reconnect to your breath.
"The goal is for people to acknowledge what their breath is doing," says Chris Stockel, the company's founder. "Oftentimes, you know, you're pretty frantically breathing, so it's an acknowledgement of how hard you're working. It also helps you come back to the present moment."
Stockel started meditating when he was 25 years old. A friend recommended transcendental meditation and Stockel took a weekend seminar to learn more about it. After experiencing the benefits of the practice, he continued using it to alleviate his stress and anxiety. He also continued with his regular HIIT workouts.
"The meditation helped me feel more present," he says. "And the HIIT class that I was taking were like a vacation for my brain to shut off for an hour." Seeing the benefits of both disciplines, he decided to combine the two, creating the core concept for Mind Body Project.
My experience at the Mind Body Project's Breathe.Burn.Calm. class parallels Stockel's explanation. I started the class by sinking into my body, tapping into my breath, and quieting my mind. Then, over the course of 45 minutes, my heart rate picked up.
At one point, I was squatting with two 15-pound weights stacked on my shoulders and found myself overthinking, well, just about everything.
"Your breath is your anchor," the instructor, Tyler White, reminded the class in that moment. And, just like in the CorePower StrengthX, I found myself softening. The weights were still heavy, my body was still exhausted, but my exhalations seemed to propel me. I squatted with more power.
It's a bizarre shift away from the coaching-style mentality of other fitness classes. As a former competitive athlete, I had assumed the only way I could push harder in a workout and reach my full potential would be from the yelling of an instructor. I was accustomed to being fueled by fear or pressure.
These alternate approaches to workouts challenge that notion, asking me to tune into myself and my breath to find my grit.
Fueling a Move Toward Meditation
"There's an acknowledgement from a lot of our guests that meditation is something [they] it could use in their life, but they won't do it on their own," Stockel says. They may see the benefits or want to be that person who meditates, but they can't figure out how to find a regular independent practice, he says.
As someone who struggles with silent meditation, I get it. By fusing these exercises into a "standard" workout class, these workouts provide a subtle introduction to the profound power of a quiet mind.
Because these classes subtly introduce elements of yoga, breathwork, and meditation in the context of a seemingly traditional workout, they provide an introduction to mindfulness practices or the idea of tuning into the present moment for those who may have been resistant.
This concept is one of the foundational pieces of CorePower's mindful strength class: to showcase the benefits of mindful practices to more people.
"CorePower Strength X integrates elements of yoga with performance-driven weight training, providing an approachable gateway to the transformative benefits of yoga and a new, fun way to level up the intensity of one's fitness routine," the company said in a press release.
Six years ago, I turned to yoga through one of CorePower's sculpt classes. Maybe the next generation of those who are drawn to yoga will emerge out of mindful strength.
Editor's note: On January 30, 2023, Mind Body Project announced the sale of the company to an undisclosed buyer and the impending closure of its physical location. The new owner is expected to take the company in a digital direction, the statement says.