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Yes “Gym Rats”, Yoga is For You Too

A few nights ago, I taught a vinyasa class at Petersen dorm on the University of Iowa campus. There were some very lively, very TALL young men who joined the class, slowly filtering in through the first 15 minutes. Eventually, it was quite clear to me that these guys all knew each and had been coerced by their friends to join. I later learned that they were all members of the Iowa Men's Basketball team. Made total sense. A few of them were enrolled in a yoga class through the dance department and one of their requirements is to attend 2 yoga classes outside of school from a certified instructor. Heeeeyyyyy, here's your class credit with the Pedals & Poses seal. We had a great time and I was so happy about their open-minds and enthusiasm to yoga.

It got me thinking about my personal essay that I wrote for my 200 RYT training. I have a particular interest in introducing yoga to competitive athletes and those that may call themselves a "gym rat." Mostly because, that was me (me before even becoming a fitness instructor), so I figured, why not share it with everyone on my blog? Let people know what I'm all about.

Well! Here you are!! Enjoy. :)


Yes "Gym Rats", Yoga Is For You Too

As an indoor cycling instructor, I come across many individuals who are seriously invested in their bodies and health. And often, these individuals are what I like to call “cardio junkies” or otherwise more commonly known as “gym rats.” Despite the differences in their bodies, backgrounds, and choice of “active wear”, you tend to know one when you see one: they stick to their favorite machines (those in my cycling class MUST have the same bike every time), headphones tightly in the ears, and never leaving the gym without a trace of sweat on the floor behind them.

Cardio junkies are often in great physical form and their commitment to fitness and their confidence is something to be admired on its own. But it is my belief that these gym rats are an under-served community in the yoga world. It is a bit of a conundrum on the surface- they clearly have access to workout facilities, they have the self-discipline to be active on a regular basis, they understand the benefits of exercising… can they be under-served if they have an opportunity that they then choose not to seize?

I have the hardest time getting my regular cycling students to come to my yoga fusion class, let alone to any yoga class at all. I often hear responses like, “I like to get a really great workout, though, when I exercise”, “I’m too competitive a person to just stretch”, or my favorite, “I’m not flexible enough for yoga.” Through my observations and my own personal experience, I believe there is a disconnect between the “extreme fitness world” and the yoga world.

I began cycling for fitness at the age of 15 in a small town Iowa YMCA during the summer between switching high schools. Between not having any friends in my new town and getting obsessed with my physical fitness after recovering from scoliosis surgery, I had a lot of free time hanging out at the gym. The limitless energy burst from a high intensity spin class became addicting and my head-dive journey into fitness solidified that summer. For a solid twelve years I believed that any kind of workout was only worth it if it got my heart rate over 150 BPM and my clothes soaked in sweat. But through those twelve years, despite being trim and energetic, I suffered from anxiety, eating disorders, and had no muscle tone outside of my legs. Oh and “baby fat” on my tummy never truly went away.

It appears that I was a classic case described by Dr. Robin Berzin in a 2017 article on, “Despite being so active, these women {cardio junkies} commonly describe being tired and anxious, having trouble sleeping, and finding it difficult to shed “the last 10 pounds.”” (1)

Four years ago, I attended my first hot yoga class after once again, being put in the situation of moving to a new town with time on my hands. This studio was within walking distance and had a great deal on a week of yoga, so I signed up on a whim. Yoga was not foreign to me; I like many average Americans had done the generic Jane Fonda or Denise Austin yoga video and equated it to a cool down stretch that you do every now and then when you’re sore. But my world was changed sixty minutes later. This hot vinyasa class, despite the lack of cardio drills and someone screaming in my face, got me to that same euphoric place as when fighting through an hour of hills and sprints on my bike. I was drenched in sweat within easily twenty minutes. My heart rate rose despite my feet hardly moving. My muscles, that is every muscle in my body, ached for several days. I found that rush again; I felt powerful. I had found what possibilities yoga had, that all of my assumptions and perceptions of yoga had been limited and unnurtured. And I knew from that class alone that there was so much more that yoga could be and offer. I was hooked. My second true love in fitness.

Adding yoga to my physical activity provided balance not only for my body, but for my mental and emotional health as well. My breath control day to day was so much better, I released emotional tension from my hip flexors, I let go of mental weights that were holding me back from being present. Life-changing, truly.

When I first started explaining my love of yoga to my cycling counterparts, I got the glazed eyes, fake smile, and passive head nod; something rehearsed from previous conversations, no doubt. “Oh that’s great! So happy for you!” “Oh gosh, good for you, I could never do yoga.” “Wow, you must be flexible!” And the conversation shuts down. If I could just get them in the door to a vinyasa class or my yoga fusion class...if they could just experience it the way I did at that first hot class. How do I convince them? What will it take? Is it even worth the hassle? What would I need to hear 10 years ago when I only wanted high-intensity crazy workouts that burned at least 400 calories? The first two questions I had no answer to, but the last two? Those I could tackle. Yes, it is worth the hassle because I want the best for my students who are looking for more. So that’s a no-brainer, but what to say? What would 21 year old Cara want to hear? And this is where a tactic shift plays beautifully in marketing my love of yoga.


5 true facts about what yoga and yoga alone has done for me:

1. I can do a push up. A proper push up. I can even do the kind with narrow elbows. 2. My arms have never been in better shape. I literally cannot get definition like this when I only lift weights.

3. I finally know how to actually “use my core”. I find myself flexing my ab muscles when I go to pick up something heavy or when I’m in a hovering position on the bike.

4. My breath endurance has never been better. I used to breathe many, short and shallow breaths while doing cardio. Not anymore. I can keep it under way better control.

5. Mind over matter while doing sprints? Actually a real thing, not just a phrase. I don’t concentrate on the clock anymore; goals stay clear during a workout despite the difficult moments.

It became clear to me that the mental and emotional power gained through yoga was a deeply personal journey that most certainly is different for everyone. The growth, change, and strength that happens on the inside is only to be discovered by the individual and it is not for me to dictate what will happen to one during their first class. What if they are intimidated by emotional release? What if they don’t want to accept their need to let go? What if being the only person in the room who can’t touch their toes actually brings fear to the forefront of their brains?

There is undoubtedly a sum of yoga professionals who would argue that speaking only of the fitness benefits of yoga is a sort of blasphemy, and maybe it is. But I’m more interested in seeing the under-served groups be guided to find a yoga that they love and can connect to and discover its place in their life through personal experience. If my first class hadn’t been a fast flowing vinyasa, who knows if I would be sitting here today embarking on my yoga teacher certification.

The yoga world could benefit in reaching out to the gym rats and cardio junkies of the world by adding classes geared towards athletes or simply by recruitment efforts at shared gym spaces and communities. Aside from gaining new clientele and increasing studio revenues, “Yoga” could move past the misunderstandings of many that see it as a practice purely for stretching and meditating. Likewise, these new practitioners will be able to explore all the facets of yoga and integrate them into their workout regimen, reaping the benefits that will impact their cardio: injury prevention, better sleep, and breath control, just to name a few. And as for the mental and emotional benefits? Those will come as they have for all of us.

Kate Potvin, author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, wrote an article for USA Cycling in 2012 about the benefits of yoga for cyclists and how she became a yoga instructor focusing on student athletes. She quotes several of her students, mostly all competitive cyclists, about their initial ideas of yoga and then goes on to quote one man about what he thinks of yoga now, “The stereotype that yoga is just for girls who want to stretch… needs to be wiped away. It’s one of the harder workouts that I do.” (2) Throughout the article, Potvin does a great job at breaking down this stereotype with different benefits of yoga that speak specifically to the cyclist. She explains how upper back and core strength in cyclists tend to be underdeveloped, how the groin and thighs need extra care and stretching, and how mental focus is key when racing competitively, just to name a few of the topics in the article. She communicates this to the cycling world and creates a class with the cyclist in mind. She has introduced yoga in a very specific way to those who may not have ever seeked it out and has shown how she has their best interests at heart.

Now in a perfect world, every yoga studio would have a Kate Potvin to connect directly with cardio junkies and develop a class specifically for them, but us yogis know that there is no true perfect world. And wouldn’t it be great if gym rats read the 3 Signs You Might Be Doing Too Much Cardio article written by Dr. Berzin so they could realize that they need to find balance? Highly unlikely. But, it is my belief that yoga studios and instructors can find ways to pull cardio junkies into a class by speaking to their needs. Just as we find ways for yoga to serve plus size participants, expecting mothers, and persons with disabilities, the ultra intense cardio lover/athlete has a place in the yoga studio as well. A directed introduction to yoga will open the door to these individuals who may have the same stereotypes as Potvin’s clients or the fears of being the “not flexible one,” as my friend Brian has expressed to me when I asked why he doesn’t practice yoga.

My hope for my future as a yoga instructor is to find ways to connect with the various backgrounds of my prospective students to cultivate a practice and atmosphere that will get them hooked, as I was four years ago. And to start, I’m looking at my immediate community: the gym rats.


1 Robin Berzin, M.D., “3 Signs You Might Be Doing Too Much Cardio,”, (February 28, 2017)

2 Kate Potvin, “How Cyclists Can Benefit From a Yoga Practice,”, (March 19, 2012)

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