How Lighting Changes The Way You Work Out

January 20, 2020

If you’ve ever set foot inside a gym, you’ve probably noticed there’s a certain ambience to your workout. Circuit training sessions might be lit up with mirrors on every corner, while spin classes might mimic a late-night disco scene.

It turns out, there’s more to this than you might think. Lighting, and indeed, the way colours appear under these lights, can have a tremendous effect on our workouts. Gym architects know this, and so should you. If your goal is to turn your home into the ultimate fitness zone this year, pay attention to these lighting tips.

The dancefloor effect

Setting the trend in 2020 is a new focus on all things music: the DJ effect. As more gyms incorporate current chart-toppers into their workouts, we are now embracing a nightclub feel as we work out. SoulCycle, for example, has paired up with artists to play live concerts as gym-goers spin.

So are we turning out the lights? Only when it’s appropriate. Fitness centre designer Neil Pire notes the safety concerns with recreating discos. While a nightclub effect paired with a thumping beat can spur us on, it’s important not to risk injury.

“These darker areas are ideal for spin classes, where there’s no risk of running into anybody. Generally, the more movement we have, the more light we need.” He does note, however, that ambient lighting needs to build gradually with music.

Boosting the mood

Many gym architects try to incorporate as much natural light as possible to stimulate movement. As home technology users, we can mimic this with our own automated lighting. We can adjust to our own circadian rhythms to recreate a sunrise and wake ourselves up.

Dancing, running and circuit training are all most effective in bright environments. Why? Because our bodies respond positively to light signals, says Phyllis Zee, M.D., Associate Director of the Centre for Sleep & Circadian Biology.

“Light has a very powerful effect on the brain,” he says. “It regulates our performance. Most of us are most alert in the afternoon when there is most light. At this time, our muscle strength is highest.” What’s more, paired with the mood-boosting effects of exercise, light can increase our serotonin levels, making us happier and more motivated to work out.

Positioning is key

Of course, there’s more to light than just on and off. Our bodies can respond differently depending on the task in hand and the light to which we’re exposed. For example, if we’re staring at a document, we need warm lighting to reduce eye strain. Michael Helander, CEO of an OLED company, warns that our eyes cannot accurately determine the amount of light around us.

This is particularly pertinent for activities like yoga. Architect Eric Nielsen advises that ceilings have a large part to play in light distribution. “If you have a ceiling with a bunch of down-lights set in tight cones, that puts down a lot of horizontal light, but the ceiling itself is dark.

LED lighting is bringing perimeter design back to the fore, giving us better dimming control and fewer ceiling issues.” This is ideal for holistic classes that encourage us to switch off, where we might be spending a lot of time looking up.

Don’t discount colour

Interior designers should also consider colour when designing exercise studios. The overarching colour largely depends on the activity. For high intensity sessions, vibrant shades of red and orange stir up our emotional response and motivate us.

Calming shades of pink and green are best reserved for stretching sessions, encouraging us to engage with nature. Some scientists argue that blue is best for productivity – i.e. weightlifting – while others suggest yellow fatigues muscle.

Remember: it’s all down to you

Ultimately, we are all different, and we all respond differently to lighting. This is thanks to our individual circadian rhythms, says Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM.

“Some of us are most motivated at 5am, while others swear by noontime for a run.” A 2007 study proved this further by noting that light increased performance overall, but it depended on the activity and the person’s individual sleep patterns.

Above all, the best way to approach lighting your home environment is to use adjustable systems. Consider a smart tech solution that combines music with lighting, or automating dimmer switches to activate when you’re ready to work out. Experiment with different colours, and consider positioning for your main activity – you don’t want harsh lights beaming down directly if you’re trying yoga.

For more tips on getting the best out of your workout, contact the SONA team today.