I swear I have a story for everything.
SO IT ALL BEGAN LAST WEEK. I was scrolling through Instagram stories, because that’s been my favorite distraction lately, despite the fact that I’m somewhat angry with Instagram for shortening users attention spans and therefore ruining the blogging industry.
LONG LIVE WRITTEN WORD!
As I scrolled through the daily IG “story” of an elite endurance athlete I admire, my (short) attention was grabbed by a boomerang video of her in a red light therapy bed. Immediately my mind thought of the “Total Body Enhancement” contraptions at my local Planet Fitness.
Let me back up again. Planet Fitness, as it turns out, is not as horrible of a place as I once imagined it to be. Deep down I still fully support locally owned, small gyms that do not have a “no judgement” double standard, first and foremost. If you have known me for a while, you’ve certainly seen one of my rants over their “lunk” marketing campaigns and the fact that they have a reputation for singling out and shunning fit people; kicking you out if they deem your outfit too “intimidating” and getting rid of squat racks and heavy free weights because only bone-head “lunks” use those. I’ve also snarkily commented over the fact that for years, their headquarters was located right next to a Chuck E. Cheese (we passed it on the way to Portland Maine multiple times per year).
But I’ll be the first to stand up and say, I’m sorry Planet Fitness. I was wrong.
About a year ago I joined the Myrtle Beach PF circuit as a black card member in order to be able to workout with some friends.. And guess what? It’s not bad. In fact, my local gym (Myrtle Beach) is always super clean, the staff is very friendly, and if we’re being honest, the “no judgment zone” extends to all walks of life at this location…including the super fit ladies rocking only tights and a sports bra. The equipment is always functional, and the first Monday of every month?
THEY GIVE YOU FREE PIZZA.
Talk all the smack you want about pizza in a gym, but THIS ultra runner thinks it’s freaking fantastic. There is ZERO shame in my pizza game. All of that, and I can bring my husband (or anyone else for that matter, but he is my favorite) as a “guest” as many times as I want, for $20 a month. I’ll take it.
But I digress. Back to the Total Body Enhancement machine. So this Instagram Elite athlete (it was Amelia Boone) reminded me that with my Planet Fitness black card membership, I get free hydro massages (yay), free tanning (say no to skin cancer) and free use of the Total Body Enhancement machine, which I’ve never bothered setting foot in. I knew it contained red light therapy bulbs, but that was the extent of my knowledge.
But now I was intrigued. If super endurance athlete Amelia uses red light therapy, maybe I should too (gah I’m such a sheep). So I did a little online research.
The Total Body Enhancement machine is also known as the “Beauty Angel RVT 30“, and it is essentially a booth that uses red light therapy bulbs (non damaging, non UV rays) combined with a vibration plate, to magically enhance you, somehow. What is that supposed to do for you? Well, non scientific, non reputable sources (aka, I googled) came back with the following potential benefits of the Total Body Enhancement:
– Stimulates the release of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) thus giving you more energy before a workout
-Stimulates collagen and elastin production, therefore increasing skin elasticity and reducing wrinkles and stretchmarks
– (brace yourself for this one) Burns tiny holes into your fat cells (?), releasing the fat into your body so you can now burn it off easier (??)
– Stimulates blood flow to the muscles, aiding as an effective warm up before a workout
– Helps reduce inflammation in muscles and joints
Sound too good to be true? Maybe. Probably. But…
I searched for some more reputable sources of the benefits of red light therapy, where I found some scientific and citable claims, such as:
One study aimed to determine the effectiveness of red light therapy for abdominal fat loss. Results found that the combination of 3 different wavelengths of red light therapy was effective for abdominal girth reduction in 100% of subjects. (Montazeri, et al., 2017)
In another study testing the efficacy and safety of red light treatment on wrinkle reduction, groups treated with red and white light-emitting diodes found the wrinkle measurement in skin improved significantly from baseline at Week 12. The red LED group showed slightly better improvement, but there were no statistical differences. (Nam, et al.., 2017)
AND, perhaps my FAVORITE little bit of information this runner stumbled upon:
“Photobiomodulation (the use of red or near-infrared light to stimulate, heal, and regenerate damaged tissue) can increase muscle mass gained after training, and decrease inflammation and oxidative stress in muscle biopsies” (Ferraresi, et al., 2016)
As you can see, there may potentially be actual benefits of the Total Body Enhancement machine as an athlete with often sore muscles, a little extra butt cellulite, and stretchmarks. The question, of course, is if the wavelengths used in the studies are the same emitted by the bulbs in the Total Body Enhancement machine. Your guess is as good as mine.
So let’s get to the REVIEW:
After doing what every social media savvy athlete does in 2018 (I asked strangers in a Facebook group if they’ve ever used the machine) I decided to give the Total Body Enhancement machine a try myself. After checking in at my local Planet Fitness, the front desk girl assigned me a room for my Total Body Enhancement experience. She gave me zero instruction other than “room 13” and walked away.
I enter room 13 and shut the door behind me. The booth looks similar to the stand up tanning beds I used to use when I was 19 years old, living in cold Vermont, and dreaming of the summer sun. I have NO IDEA how this machine works, and there are NO instructions.
The room was small enough that I couldn’t get a good picture of this contraption, so here’s one I pulled off Yelp:
I read on one review that another user was told by a staff member to get completely naked inside of the machine, but it’s 30 degrees outside and this is Planet Fitness. There’s a lock on the door but…ehh no thanks (says the girl who runs naked 5K’s for fun). I decide taking of my shoes, socks, and tank top will be enough. I’m not given any goggles, nor asked if I had any. I scour the room for warning signs about eye protection and see nothing but a few disclaimers saying that the Total Body Enhancement machine uses NON UV emitting, safe lights. So I step into the chamber, shut the door, and hit what I assume is the start button.
The chamber roars to life and immediately blinds me. But after a few seconds my eyes adjust, and I can see just fine. I’m still not sure if this is safe, but we are all a science (or Darwinian) experiment of one, right? I’ll let you know tomorrow if I wake up blind. The fans overhead are quickly blowing air down on me, some New-Age music that makes me think I should be in a posh wine bar that I cannot afford to be in starts playing from above, and I hear a muffled woman’s voice telling me do to something, but I’m not sure what.
So naturally, I just start pushing buttons.
Again, I have no idea what’s going on or what she’s saying. I hit what I think is a volume button, and nothing changes. The control panel doesn’t give a level reading or anything, but I’m under the impression that there are, indeed, varying levels of…exercise? I’m not even sure what to call it. The vibrating plate under my feet starts off at a light, yet tolerable level.
At some point, maybe three or four minutes in, the muffled ladies voice tells me (I think) that the warm-up portion of my adventure is over, and the vibration plate suddenly goes into overdrive. It’s equal parts hilarious and terrifying, and as such, I go through phases of laughing hysterically and closing my eyes, willing myself to not potentially throw up because I’m being shaken vigorously like a clogged salt shaker. The “mom” in me wonders if all of this jiggling that does indeed come all the way up to my head is good for my brain, the logical “adult” in me remembers that I’m not a newborn infant, and cannot succumb to shaken baby syndrome. So instead my attention is drawn to how much my ass is jiggling (hint: it’s shaking a lot).
Again, hilarious and terrifying.
Once I get used to the vibrating plate, which, for the record, shifts and changes as it goes to target (and when I say target, I mean jiggle) other parts of your body, I actually quite enjoyed it. When I was able to relax, I could feel how the vibration plate can increase blood flow to your muscles, therefore loosening them up and acting as an effective warm-up. It almost felt like a massage. The red lights were not hot, but they were certainly warm, which was again welcome pre-workout.
Now, Planet Fitness claims the vibrating plate helps work your muscles. While the plate certainly moves A LOT, it doesn’t move in a manner that would throw me off balance, therefore working my glutes, hips, core, etc. So unless you can effectively shake your muscles into shape, you are better off sticking to the weight room.
After twelve minutes, the lady I could barely hear tells me my session was done (I think), the lights turn off, and I step out of the chamber and back into the room, somewhat disheveled and unsure of what the hell just happened.
So I get dressed, emerge from room #13, and go on to complete a killer 90 minute workout.
One session in the Total Body Enhancement isn’t enough to tell you if I’ve had any positive results (for the record, the results I’m hoping for are increased recovery from workouts…but a touch of stretch mark diminishing wouldn’t hurt). But I will tell you that, if nothing else, my Total Body Enhancement experience was wildly entertaining…and warm. I really loved the warm. And therefore, I’m going to use it again.
I’m bringing sunglasses next time.
*Disclaimer: Planet Fitness is in no way affiliated with this review. I am a paying customer who decided she felt like writing about her experience in this machine. All thoughts and experiences are my own. Use the Total Body Enhancement machine at your own risk.