After years of running and lifting weights, Renee Macey discovered The Yoga Factory in Annapolis in February and began taking a class that combines yoga and high-intensity interval training. Since then, the 38-year-old stay-at-home mother from Annapolis has gotten hooked to the point that she has paid a 17-year-old relative to watch her children so that she can go work out.
“This is a very expensive hobby that I have,” she said with a laugh. “It’s totally worth it.”
Macey is one of a small yet growing number of exercise enthusiasts flocking to classes that mix the contemplative nature of yoga with the heart-pumping aspects of high-intensity interval training — also known in the fitness world as HIIT. The workout alternates short periods of frenetic anaerobic exercise with calmer but even shorter periods of recovery or “active” rest. And there are several studios in Anne Arundel County offering such programs.
The Yoga Factory has a yoga HIIT course four times a week at its Annapolis and Crofton locations. Blue Lotus Yoga Studio in Annapolis was to begin a weekly yoga sculpt class on Oct. 25 that features light hand and ankle weights. And YogaVibez Studios in Edgewater has a YogaSculpt class scheduled twice a week.
Walt Thompson, past president of the American College of Sports Medicine, who has written the organization’s annual Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for several years, said “power yoga” is mirroring Bikram, Vinyasa and yogilates as subsets emerging from the yoga community.
“They just reinvent themselves, and now they’ve taken a popular form of exercise in high-intensity interval training and combined that with another popular form of exercise in yoga,” he said. “It’s not just a trend there in Baltimore. It’s all over the country, if not all over the world.”
The Yoga Factory has had its yoga HIIT class for the past five years, according to owner Phil Vendemmia. While yoga and HIIT may be on opposing ends of the movement spectrum, he called the combination “a nice marriage.”
“To mix [HIIT] with yoga makes sense because when you’re doing any kind of plyometric, any kind of action that we do in the HIIT classes, you’re tightening muscles,” he said. “So to do a yoga posture that stretches the muscle and then you’re tightening in the HIIT aspect, it makes sense because you’re making your body more pliable, and it produces a more comprehensive workout.”
Duffy Perkins, co-owner of Blue Lotus Yoga Studio, said the studio’s yoga sculpt course — which has been around for more than a year — targets the business' predominantly female clientele.
“It’s really important for women to put on some muscle mass, especially as we age,” she said. “And while yoga does a lot to stretch muscles and strengthen you, it’s really just bearing the weight of your body. So the idea was if we incorporated some classes that involved a little bit more of a weightlifting experience, we could be assisting those that needed to put on some muscle mass.”
Thompson, who is a certified clinical exercise physiologist and recently retired as associate dean and regents' professor at Georgia State University, said anecdotal evidence from fitness instructors suggests that participating in HIIT can increase an exerciser’s chance of incurring injury.
“So what the combination of yoga and high-intensity interval training can do is it tones down those kinds of movement that have led to increases in injury rates,” he said. “You have benefits of high-intensity interval training with the control that yoga provides. … I suspect it’s going to be pretty popular because everything that the public has been told about high-intensity interval training is still going to be possible, but now under the controlled environment of yoga.”
While yoga places an emphasis on breathing and meditation, the yoga HIIT classes require participants to concentrate on pushing and pulling all weight — which is usually capped at 10 pounds — through the core and keeping a consistent form.
The exercises are usually three to four rounds of several sets with 40-50 seconds of activity and 10-20 seconds of recovery. One example consists of 40 seconds of burpees (a pushup that turns into a leap)with 20 seconds of the Padahastasana form (a standing-forward fold in which the toes are grasped).
Macey said yoga HIIT at The Yoga Factory intrigued her because she was “terrible” at stretching.
“I would just go take a [strength training] class, and I wouldn’t do any of the stretching,” she said. “If I went running, I didn’t do any stretching. So I am so much more flexible and less sore after the classes.”
Deena Bradbury, a 54-year-old business owner from Annapolis, has been a client at Blue Lotus since the studio opened in January 2018 and was drawn to the athletic aspect of the yoga sculpt program.
“There’s cardio involved, there’s weights involved, and there’s still the smooth yoga aspect,” she said. “It’s a yoga fusion. It appeals to people that are interested in a little bit of strength training with their yoga. … It’s just more challenging.”
Nancy James, a 61-year-old part-time receptionist at an area luxury car dealership, said the yoga HIIT class at The Yoga Factory is a distinct departure from Bikram yoga, a fixed series of 26 postures in a room heated to 105 degrees intended to replicate the temperature in parts of India.
“Bikram yoga is: You’re very focused on what you’re doing, and you’re thinking very hard about your posture, the muscles you’re contracting, your breathing,” she said. “I feel like with HIIT, you’re going for broke — or as much as you want to.”
Dawn Ehman, who co-owns YogaVibez Studios with Kate Grove, said the YogaSculpt program is limited to 45 to 60 minutes, which is a perfect amount of time.
“Within one hour, you receive strength, cardio, core and flexibility components,” she said.
Monique Ligthart, a 54-year-old Realtor and rental home owner from Davidsonville, said attending YogaSculpt at YogaVibez for the past four years has aided her mentally and emotionally.
“I often have all of these things going on in my head, little tornadoes,” she said. “And then as soon as I do the power yoga and leave there, all of my priorities and all of my to-do lists are neatly aligned. It’s amazing.”
The programs have drawn a devoted following. Perkins said attendance for the yoga sculpt classes at Blue Lotus before the coronavirus pandemic forced instructors to take their students outside had often neared its maximum capacity of 25 people.
Vendemmia said the yoga HIIT courses at The Yoga Factory are the second-highest-attended and that the 15 slots for in-person classes are usually sold out days in advance.
Vendemmia said part of the appeal is a livelier atmosphere that includes Top 40, hip-hop or 1980s music (depending on the instructor’s preference) and a relaxed setting.
“It’s definitely a different vibe from many of the other yoga classes. It’s not serious at all,” he said. “People will shout out a ‘Whoop, whoop!’ because their thighs are burning. The other classes can be more meditative.”
With the colder temperatures fast approaching, the studios have taken measures to help fight COVID-19. The Yoga Factory has closed the facility once a week to run deep cleanings, Blue Lotus has capped attendance at 10 people, and participants at YogaVibez get their temperatures checked upon arrival.
Bradbury said she isn’t worried about going indoors at Blue Lotus during the winter.
“They have upgraded their ventilation system. They have the social distancing program where they mark the floor where you can put your mat. You have to wear a mask inside,” she said. “So I absolutely feel comfortable going inside to do the yoga.”