Would You Workout In a Nightclub?

Trends come and go in the fitness industry, and the latest one that has washed ashore Fitness Beach has nothing to do with weights, cardio, or yoga. Strangely enough, it does have something to do with the way gyms are lit.

Many gyms (especially in the NYC Area) are turning down the lights, literally, to create a new workout vibe for their members and clients. A recent article in the New York Times has the full details about this, and I’d highly recommend the short read: Taking Night-life Cue, Gyms Lower the Lights.

I can see the thought process behind this trend here. So much of our lives here revolve around socializing with other people, often at night, in the “city that never sleeps.” You can’t walk a quarter mile without passing by a bar, club, or fancy restaurant. Weekend nights are lively, noisy, and mostly a lot of fun for those of us who choose to partake.

So why not bring the fun times into the gym? Pump up the dance music and turn down the lights. The gym is supposed to be a fun place, and making it feel like a nightclub should enhance the member experience, especially for the majority of New Yorkers who hit up the social scene on a regular basis. It’s a simple concept, and I can understand the appeal.

I’d also be remiss to not mention the primary reason why the vast majority of us work out in the first place: to look good, and feel good, so that we can be more confident around friends and in social situations. And when you look good and feel good, the nightly scene suddenly becomes more interesting and fun. It’s a match made in heaven.

And let’s face it, the majority of us probably look better with our shirts off when the lighting is just right. The light bounces a certain way to display better versions of ourselves. I for one only have a six-pack when the lights are dimmed, although that miiight be a stretch.

Nevertheless, a dimly-lit room is probably the best place to flex your arm and lift up your shirt to show off your toned torso for a gym selfie. I’ve seen plenty of people sneak into empty and dark fitness studios at commercial health clubs just to take pictures. We just look better in the dark, and it’s no wonder that many gyms are turning down the lights for their members. Gotta look fabulous everywhere you go, right?

This photo looks awesome, but Usain Bolt doesn’t set sprint records under such low lighting.

However, the gym is hardly a professional photography studio. As the NYTimes article touches on as well, dim lighting might not be a good idea in the confines of a gym. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. You can’t see very well in the dark
  2. Dim lighting isn’t conducive to athletic performance.

Obviously, it is harder to see in a low-light environment. How many sports matches are played without proper illumination? On courts without lights, Wimbledon matches can be called due to darkness. And how many of you remember the half-hour delay during the 2013 Super Bowl because a power outage blew the lights out early in the second half?

If you can’t see the ball or the playing field, you simply won’t play well, period. How can you make a pass to a teammate driving to the basket if you can’t even see him on the court? A low-light environment decreases our awareness for the task at hand.

In the confines of a gym, a low-light environment can be dangerous. You may not have to track a fast-moving ball, but imagine not being able to see what’s around you; perhaps the base of the cable machine in front of you juts out, or maybe there’s an abandoned dumbbell on the floor that blends in perfectly because the facility is so dark. This is the perfect recipe for a trip & fall accident, which is one of the most common ways people hurt themselves in the gym. And I can’t imagine what dim lighting would be like in a circuit-training class full of people moving around and using several different implements in a rotating fashion. You might as well be walking on a mine field; if you can barely see what’s around you, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Secondly, dim lighting simply isn’t conducive to athletic performance and training hard in the gym. Not being able to see anything will obviously negatively affect your performance, but there’s a reason why we sleep and rest in the dark. We’re simple wired to associate low illumination with the “rest and digest” phases of our lives.

It’s okay to do yoga and participate in other rejuvenating modalities with the lights down low. You’ve probably heard advice from sleep experts who recommend making your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible so that you can fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the entire night. The dark is where we recover, but not where we perform our best. The NYTimes cites a study in which “exercisers exposed to bright light before and during their workouts performed at higher levels.” I mean, it just makes sense that this would be the case.

Yes, I know that a lot of us do a lot of our socializing at night when it’s dark anyway, but this doesn’t mean that you need or should have that same environment in the gym. If you’re not using the gym to build your body and performance, and you’re there just to socialize, you might have to re-evaluate your priorities. Are you really training or going through the motions just to hang out? The gym should be a somewhat serious place where you can dedicate 100% of your efforts towards improving yourself, so that you can enjoy your night out on the town–in the dark–to the fullest later.

So let’s keep the lights on in the gym, and save the cinematic mood lighting for selfies and photo ops after the hard work is finished. You shouldn’t be risking injury and decreasing your performance output and effort just because it looks cool to work out in the dark.

by Jeremy Lau

Jeremy Lau

Jeremy Lau Halevy Life Staff CoachJeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.

Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.

As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.