If you’ve ever had the opportunity to attend a vigorous 90-minute vinyasa yoga class, then you know just how intense it can get in there. After making it halfway through your third round of sun salutations, you notice your vision suddenly starts to get clouded by the profuse amount of sweat dripping from your forehead. So, it’s no surprise that you can’t help but low-key wonder, does yoga count as cardio?
I mean, why else would you be breaking such a massive sweat, right? Well, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), aerobic exercise can include any activity that targets large groups of muscles, can be done in a continuous way, and has a sort of rhythmic element to it. If you ask me, that sounds more or less identical to the aggressive amount of chaturangas my instructor made me do the other day — that to count as cardio.
The ACSM also defines cardio as exercise that increases the need for oxygen and elevates the heart rate to a specific level — which is at least 60 to 70 percent of your max heart rate.
OK, so maybe a typical yoga sequence doesn’t get intense, but depending on how challenging and how long your practice is, a fast-paced yoga flow can definitely count as a quality cardio sesh. Still, keep in mind that it may not get your heart working the way a long run or a HIIT circuit will, so be sure to find a balance that’s right for you in your exercise routine.
But for now, if you’re sick of the treadmill and want to bust out a tree pose, here are five ways yoga can totally count as your cardio workout.
1. It Gets Your Heart Pumping
Fast-paced vinyasa classes may not get your heart rate in the range it would be during swimming or sprinting. But if you’re not taking a break in between poses, your heart rate can easily get into that cardio-qualified range.
Pick your classes wisely when it comes to replacing an elliptical sesh with a yoga flow. Restorative yoga probably won’t cut it, but power vinyasa is exactly where it’s at.
2. It Relieves Stress
When you find an exercise you love, it naturally relieves stress and leaves you wanting to genuinely practice the routine that much more. And, of course, the more you’re working out, the healthier you, your heart, and your overall body will be.
If the dreadmill makes you cringe and downward dog is your jam, you’ll reap the cardiovascular benefits in the long run.
3. It Makes Your Lungs Work
Warrior poses and lunges engage your quads and hamstrings, which are large muscles that need oxygen to work. This makes your heart and lungs work that much harder, and voilà — you’re suddenly doing cardio.
Plus, if you can incorporate deep belly breathing (or ujjayi breathing) during your flow, it’ll be much easier to get into that true aerobic zone.
4. It Decreases Risk For Cardiovascular Disease
Research from revealed that yoga can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, similar to the effects of typical cardio activities like running and walking.
The study also showed a decrease in risk factors for metabolic syndromes, like obesity, high blood pressure, and poor cholesterol.
5. Sun Salutations Can Get Sweaty AF
When I taught college football players yoga to supplement their strength training, they always dreaded sun salutations because of how challenging they are.
A few rounds of sun salutations can make you break a sweat, especially if there are no breaks in between. They’re kind of like a zen-style burpee.
Plus, if you’re really curious about yoga’s aerobic qualifications, you can always wear a heart rate monitor during your next class to see the science for yourself.
Namastay off the treadmill, who’s with me?