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Fitness formula: relaxing + intense self-care

The formula: intense + relaxing forms of self-care

The reason: Some people see self-care as synonymous with recovery. But for those who crave a cycling class after a stressful day or find rejuvenation in a challenging bodyweight circuit, these practices can seem sleepy.

In reality, any activity that injects you with energy, helps you feel refreshed, or creates moments of clarity can be considered self-care, says Jarietta Benton, Tier X coach at Gold Coast in Chicago.

For example, athletes who prioritize fast-twitch muscle fibers and excel in short bursts of all-out exercise might feel more restored after sprints than they do post-meditation, says Alex Zimmerman, Los Angeles-based manager of the Tier X program.

Regardless of which way you lean, the more variability in your self-care routine, the healthier your mind and body will be, Benton says. Here, four ways you should pair calming practices with stimulating ones to get the most out of both.

Sprints + belly breathing

The single most important component to recovery, Zimmerman says, is mindful breathing. “Finding ways to focus on it restores balance to the nervous system and puts you in rest-and-digest mode.” Even if you’re winded between intense sprints, you can control the origins of your breath.

To improve mobility, power, and posture, he says, it should come from your diaphragm (with the belly expanding as you inhale rather than the chest). It’ll both relax you mentally and prepare you for the next interval.

HIIT cycling + a contrast shower

Intense rides like those you’ll get from Studio Cycling or The Pursuit: Burn are a great physical outlet for mental release. But they also tax the nervous system and should be avoided if you're overworked or under-slept.

A simple way to combat the potential negative effects of HIIT is by following it with a contrast shower, which activates neurotransmitters that tell your body to slow down, Zimmerman says. Post-workout, stand under a cold stream for 30 seconds, then a hot stream for 30 seconds, he says. Complete 5 rounds.

Yoga + Bellows Breath

Your mind and body might crave yoga, but to feel more energized, end your practice with Bellows Breath. The technique brings mindful attention to every inhale and exhale while improving blood flow and making you feel more alert.

To do it, sit straight, close your eyes and mouth, then take quick, shallow breaths through your nose (as if panting). Start with 10 in a row and work your way up to two inhale-exhale cycles per second for one minute, says Michael Gervais, New York City-based yoga teacher and director of group fitness talent and development at Equinox.

Meditation + Tabata

Being mindful before a high-intensity workout helps lower your injury risk and allows you to train your body and brain at once, Gervais says.

Before you start your sprints, Tabata routine, or any intense workout where rest periods last 30 seconds or less, do a short meditation. (The HeadStrong Meditation Podcasts are a great place to start.) Balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems helps you perform better and avoid overtraining, Zimmerman says. Give yourself positive cues throughout the meditation to help you prep for the session ahead.