Think Yoga Isn't Tough? Try to Survive This Class.
The class starts like most yoga practices. You set an intention (a goal for the session) and establish your breathing (a four-count inhale, followed by an exhale through your nose).
But it doesn’t look like most yoga practices.
In front of each of the four men and 20 women at CorePower Yoga on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, there’s a set of 10- and 5-pound dumbbells, a rubber block, and towels.
And a few seconds in, it stops sounding like a yoga practice. Instructor Adrianna Perez yells, “Let’s get after it! Right here, right now!” Cue a Cardi B track. Uh, om?
Movement for Muscle
CorePower Yoga is a studio founded in Denver 16 years ago that now has more than 180 locations nationally. Along with traditional yoga classes, it offers mixes of yoga and cardio.
The signature class is Yoga Sculpt, a hybrid of free-weight work and vinyasa flow yoga that includes both strength exercises and cardio drills. Plus heat and music. Yoga Sculpt is the fitness equivalent of Danger Mouse’s Grey Album (which remixed the harmonies of the Beatles’ White Album with rhymes from Jay-Z’s Black Album).
Sculpt may put yoga purists’ Lululemons in a twist, but there’s a method to this mashup, explains Heather Peterson, chief yoga officer of CorePower Yoga. “We took the proven mental elements of an ancient practice and modern exercise science to make it even more of a killer workout,” she says. “Music to reduce perceived exertion, weights to build muscle, and cardio to spike your heart rate.”
It’s working. CorePower plans to open 10 more studios in 2018, and in the last two years the number of male members has hopped from 18 percent to 23 percent.
Stretch, Lift, Repeat
Class kicks off calmly with spine- tingling cat/cow moves (on all fours, bending and arching your back) and progresses to sun salutations (forward bend, pushup, up dog, and down dog). Soon we grab the 10-pound dumbbells and bang out fast-paced chair-pose triceps kickbacks for about a minute. Then we hold the weights extended back for 30 seconds. Despite the dumbbells’ puniness, it’s a burner. For respite, we drop the weights and flow: standing forward bend, half rise, step back, plank, pushup, up dog, and down dog.
There’s no mercy. Even my eyelids and ears are sweating.
Just when we’ve almost got our breath back, we grab the weights again. We do a warrior variation. Warrior 2 is a total-body power pose, with your front leg bent at 90 degrees, your back leg and glutes engaged, your torso braced, and your arms extended. Yoga Sculpt’s addition: While holding your front arm straight, reach the other hand forward and pull it back, as if drawing a bow. We do a rapid set of reps and then hold. It’s vicious. Our quads quiver, abs jiggle, and arms wilt. Sweat pools on the mat.
There’s no mercy. We do another round, and then it’s four minutes of intense and jarring cardio: high knees, skater hops, split-squat jumps, and star jumps. Even my eyelids and ears are sweating.
Soon we’re all on our backs, focused on our abs. We perform a series of leg raises and then do a glute-bridge thrust with a block and a dumbbell floor press. On your back, you grip a rubber block between your thighs, engaging your glutes. Then you thrust up, so your butt is off the ground, while pressing the dumbbells into the air. Repeat until your butt and biceps are fried (one minute). Then hold until you’re cooked (several seconds).
The soundtrack is now more subdued — bird calls, thunder, and rain. I’m a hot mess, sweat gluing my limbs to the mat. Perez ends the class by urging everyone to engage in some self-care. “Thank yourself for getting after it today,” she says. “Find the balance between strength and comfort. You’ve embraced your vulnerability. You’ve opened up to your weakness.” It’s an awkward yet powerful moment, the vocalization of something usually left unsaid in the gym.
Insert these three Yoga Sculpt moves into your own workouts to challenge your core, glutes, and quads.
1. Warrior 2 variation with dumbbell archer pull
Stand with light dumbbells at your sides. Step back with your left foot; bend your right knee so your right thigh is almost parallel to the ground. Straighten your arms in a “T” parallel to the floor. Anchor the movement by straightening your left knee and pressing your outer left heel firmly to the floor. Look over your right arm. This is the start. Move your left arm alongside your right arm, then draw it back across your chest, as if you’re pulling back the string of a bow.
Options: Do 1 minute of reps, then do 3 slow reps that last 1 minute each. Do a 1-minute plank, then switch sides and repeat. Do 3 rounds, then hold the ending pose for 15 seconds.
2. Glute-bridge thrust with block and dumbbell floor press
Start lying faceup on the floor, knees bent and feet flat. Squeeze a block between your thighs. Hold dumbbells over your shoulders, elbows on the floor. Lift your butt off the ground, and squeeze your glutes. At the same time, press the dumbbells up.
Options: Do 1 minute of reps; rest 30 seconds. Do 3 rounds. Finish by lifting your butt and arms; hold for 30 seconds.
3. Chair pose with dumbbell triceps kickback
Stand holding dumbbells at your sides. Exhale and bend your knees until your thighs are almost parallel with the floor. Lean your torso forward slightly, and squeeze your shoulder blades. Keep your elbows as high as possible. This is the start. Bend at the elbows to raise the dumbbells slightly, then extend your arms behind you, squeezing your triceps. That’s 1 rep.
Options: Do reps for 1 minute, then drop the dumbbells and do a 30-second plank. Do 3 rounds. After the third set of reps, extend your arms behind you; hold for 30 seconds, squeezing your triceps. Finish with the 30-second plank.
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