Meditation and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) might seem like polar opposites. After all, when you’re busting out burpees and dumbbell snatches, you’re not exactly thinking about keeping calm. But it’s worth learning two lessons from the world of meditation: Keep calm and control your breath. (There’s even a class in New York City called LIFTED that combines HIIT and meditation.)
During HIIT training, having control over your breathing and pace is crucial. By incorporating certain elements of meditation into HIIT training, you can improve your athletic performance and maximize those gains.
“In meditation, the breath is utilized to focus the mind and calm the central nervous system, thus affecting both the physiology and psychology of the individual. If the athlete can bring that same intent into HIIT, a greater rhythm of pacing can be achieved,” says Harry Sherwood, a fitness coach and co-founder of Consciously, which teaches holistic health meditation practices.
“A challenge that newer athletes face is not knowing how to properly pace an intense workout. So learning proper breath work is essential in this case,” he explains.
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Meditation can also help athletes focus better on their performance to track results and see progress, says FIT36 HIIT-certified trainer and nutritionist Jessica Kidd. “HIIT requires focus and intention to calm yourself to a place of meditation in that moment of extreme movement,” she says. Research backs this up: according to a June 2017 study in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, athletes who do daily meditation exercises can improve their performance and attention skills when doing high-intensity work.
Meditation can also teach you how to use your breath to control your heart rate in different situations. If your breathing is shallow, “you can correct it by taking deeper breaths, getting more oxygen to your cells and blood, which will promote more energy,” says Kevin Bailey, C.S.C.S., a medical exercise and post-rehabilitation specialist.
It can also help you dismiss negativity when training, so you can take control over those self-defeating thoughts and channel them into something positive. “HIIT is mentally challenging, and learning to control the focus of the mind and recognize the self-defeating narrative that is all too common in strenuous activity can greatly change the outcome of a workout,” Sherwood says.
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So how can you bring mindfulness meditation into HIIT? First off, you can practice meditation before getting into those tuck jumps and back squats. “Try three to five minutes of focused breathing before exercise. Maintain the awareness on the breath through the warm-up and setting up for HIIT,” Sherwood suggests.
Keep in mind that you can always regain control mid-session. “Always know that you can control your state by controlling your breath. If you ever hit a wall in HIIT, focus on your breath and keep moving. You may need to just slow a little and take one breath at a time,” Sherwood says. Follow your body’s lead.
After your workout, you can stretch and sit in a seated position for 60 seconds to do mindfulness, breathing to center yourself—and thank yourself for all that hard work.
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