Inside a chic studio in Hong Kong, a group of young professionals wearing form-fitting outfits are shuffling along to blasting dance beats and flashing blue and red lighting. But this isn’t a bar or dance club. It’s a boxing class. Lights Out, in Causeway Bay, is a concept boxing gym that infuses a club-style decor and pulsating music with high-intensity movements. Owner Billy Tam has been in the fitness industry since 2012, first opening a Muay Thai gym in Hong Kong then moving into personal training and general fitness. He opened Lights Out in 2018 and is looking for a second studio location closer to Central. “I’ve been seeing a lot of women approach Muay Thai and boxing in the last few years but a lot of the hesitation has been the intimidation factor,” Tam says. “Early last year, I went to the United States and the United Kingdom and checked out a couple of gyms that have similar concepts, and I realised there was a [large] female presence.” To ease the intimidation factor, Tam decided to turn the lights out and instead use LED strips and spot lighting that creates varied colour schemes, most frequently employing the moody colours of blue and red. China’s fitness revolution: young women getting that gym body, and showing it off in selfies is part of the experience “Blue tends to be a nice lighting for people to get warmed up [to], it has a longer wavelength so it is easy on the eye,” Tam says. “The red light is what we bring on when we want to up the intensity, Tam says, adding that people can see better in lowlight situations with the use of a red light. “Our sequence is usually blue to red and we finish off really dark, almost black, with a hint of red,” he says. Light manipulation has been on the rise in fitness studios around the world as seen with brands like Orangetheory Fitness and Barry’s Bootcamp. Many outfits are putting their own spin on light usage. Liftonic is a boutique fitness studio in the Meatpacking District of New York that focuses on strength training. Founder Radan Sturm, who is from Switzerland, but grew up in Australia, started Liftonic two years ago with the goal of creating a studio where people could focus on weight training in a room with dimmed lighting. “[The lighting] gives participants a level of comfort whereby they can focus on themselves without being self-conscious,” Sturm says. The Liftonic workout varies in darkness and directs participants’ attention toward a video screen that shows the proper technique for each exercise. The lighting in the studio helps participants maintain focus on instruction instead of overanalysing their appearance and seeking visual cues from other clients. Liftonic started with just a handful of members, but, now, attendance numbers reach about 3,500 a month. Some indoor cycling studios have taken to total blackout workouts. The use of stationary bikes removes the need for depth perception. The approach is proving popular with many membership gyms incorporating flashy spin studios into their package offerings. “[Darkness] allows riders to get lost – to disconnect from the outside world, to get rid of any judgment, self-consciousness and competition,” says John Wilson, co-founder of Ride Cycle Club and son of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson. How exercising in a group boosts your quality of life and results from your workouts At the very least, Wilson believes the darkness allows riders to lock into the rhythm with soundtracks that have been curated by instructors to get the maximum physical output from gym-goers during the 50-minute cycling session. Ride has locations in Vancouver and Toronto, and many of Ride’s instructors are also part-time DJs. While light manipulation is effective in eliminating feelings of self-consciousness in the gym, does it actually do anything to improve your workout? “When the normal barrage of stimuli is significantly reduced, there is less information competing for attention – this is both psychological and neurological,” says Dr Peter Suedfeld, professor emeritus in the department of psychology at Canada’s University of British Columbia. “Accordingly, the individual may be more able, and more motivated, to attend to whatever other signals are coming in, both from one’s own body and from the environment.” Suedfeld is one of the pioneering researchers in the field of restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) and has dedicated much of his research to the study of human reactions in extreme and unusual environments. “There is some evidence that under such conditions people experience both auditory inputs (such as music) and the feedback from their own muscles, breathing, heart rate, and so on, more intensely,” Suedfeld says. Is getting up at 4am really that good for your health? It could be in your genes The benefits of light manipulation during a workout can also depend on the time of day. “Sensory input through the eyes and ears is a powerful driver of alertness and arousal,” says Andrew Huberman, associate professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford University , in the US. Huberman’s research focuses on vision and how it can interact with internal states like anxiety. Huberman says that one of the biggest factors at play when it comes to lighting and exercise is the impact it can have on your circadian clock, which is the daily cycle of changes that occur in the physical, mental and behavioural patterns of living organisms. “Bright lights increase autonomic arousal so, personally, if I exercise in the evening and I want to still be able to get up early the next morning, I exercise in dim light because I don’t want to compound the arousal effects of exercise with the arousal effects of light later in the day,” Huberman says. “But if I want to stay up late and work, I might exercise in bright light.” As for the differences in light colour, Huberman argues that the motivation or style of various gyms is mainly socially driven. For instance, in red light (like the kind used at Lights Out), you can’t see details of people but you can still remain aware of other team members exerting themselves around you and avoid bumping into them. Whether the effects have the desired outcome on all attendees, attendance and brand expansion seems to suggest that innovation and tailored workout concepts are fuelling membership interest. Tam plans to open the second Lights Out location this year. “People love being in that dark environment,” he says.