The Most Efficient Workouts in Southwest Florida

Local fitness centers pair exercises with wellness therapies like salt, red-light and infrared for supercharged healing and recovery.

BY February 1, 2024
Red Light Therapy / Vitality Booth
(Photo Courtesy Vitality Booth)

With busier than ever schedules, optimization is key. Wellness professionals are constantly evolving ways to maximize health as new studies and data emerge—from tapping into age-old practices like cold plunges and salt therapy to embracing the latest technologies (we’re thinking about those yoga mats with sensors that guide you through poses and futuristic pickleball paddles that track and measure stats). One of the latest efficiency-optimizing approaches moving into the fitness industry is the incorporation of wellness-focused therapies, previously reserved for spas. Classes combine a standard workout with a secondary element, like infrared light, to improve circulation or halotherapy to improve breathing. Sessions range from salt cave yoga to high-power cycling under red light.

Stephen P. Smith, founder of HOTWORX, coins his concept of combining workouts and a secondary effect, 3D Training. His method involves workouts—with 15-minute options for high-intensity interval training done with a rower, elliptical or fitness bike, or 30-minute isometric exercises, like yoga, Pilates and core-focused work—done in infrared studios. The Canadian hemlock-clad rooms, which can fit up to three people, use invisible light to raise your core temperature without heating the air around you (a.k.a. it won’t be steamy like in a traditional sauna). Infrared heat is said to penetrate the skin more deeply than visible light therapy and increase circulation to activate the body’s regenerative process and speed up muscle recovery. Exercising under infrared can amplify your workout’s effects—the heat increases heart rate (and sweating), eases tight, achy joints, and reduces muscle soreness later. Some say the afterburn (when oxygen consumption and metabolism increase after intense activity) is stronger, too. Since launching six years ago, the Mississippi-founded HOTWORX has grown to have about 500 locations nationwide, including one in Cape Coral and one in Fort Myers; nine more Southwest Florida studios are in the works.

Workouts are perfect for social butterflies who want to exercise with one or two friends, or socially anxious athletes, who may find the studios available for a solo session. Small saunas, about the size of a walk-in closet, line the studios, and TVs play virtual classes on a loop, with roughly three-minute breaks in between, 24 hours a day. “Everybody has 15 minutes,” Vincent Mitchell, of the Fort Myers location, says, responding to the common excuse of not having time to get moving. He says the 15-minute classes can replicate the effects of an hour’s worth of work.

Mike McGlothlin, of Estero’s Ageless Fitness and Vitality Booth Wellness Center, came to multidimensional workouts after buying an at-home infrared sauna for his wife’s respiratory issues. He wanted to share the benefits with others and debuted Southwest Florida’s first Vitality Booth, which combines red-light therapy, halotherapy (dry salt inhalation) and negative ion immersion.

Red-light therapy (different from infrared) works on the skin’s surface, using visible, low-wavelength red light to activate the mitochondria (your body’s energy plant), which is said to boost collagen, increase blood circulation and improve skin texture. Halotherapy has you inhaling microscopic salt particles to improve breathing. And, though the findings are mostly anecdotal, negative ions—small negatively charged particles (they have an excess of electrons), found in nature around waterfalls, shorelines or after rainfall—are associated with improved mood, cleaner air and respiratory benefits. Ageless Fitness guests can engage any combo of the three therapies.

The booths are small (about the size of a shed) but not stifling, thanks to their glass walls, and the compacted space is believed to concentrate the therapies and amplify the effects. Mike has smaller Vitality Booths for relaxation and a larger, 7-by-7-by-4 foot booth equipped with a fan bike for hypercharged cardio sessions. Popularized by CrossFit, fan bikes are a hybrid between ellipticals and traditional exercise bikes, with pedals and grab handles powering a large fan. The machine engages the lower and upper body, causing a major heart spike; the faster you move, the more resistance you get, winding even the most in-shape athlete. Pedaling the bike, absorbing red light therapy, breathing in salt and negative ions—the 20-minute exercise is a powerful study in recovery. Program director Luke Czaplewski describes employing all the therapies with the workout as “stacking modalities” and says everyone, from older individuals looking for increased vitality to younger athletes looking to push themselves, appreciates the efficiency. The recovery-focused center allows members to pop into the Vitality Booths, infrared sauna and cryotherapy chamber freely. The rest of the studio focuses on functional fitness with a trainer.

For a slower-paced combo, turn to North Naples’ Praha Spa and Salt, which offers yoga classes in a 450-square-foot salt cave. Owner Oksana Acosta replicates the wellness-geared salt caves of Eastern Europe by bringing 20 tons of Himalayan pink salt to cover the floors, walls and ceilings of the dimly lit cave. The science on the touted perks (improved immunity and breathing) is limited, but there’s no denying the glowy space and salty, beach-like air are relaxing. Praha’s environment is ideal for increasing the meditative and stress-reducing effects of their 60-minute yoga sessions. While the other wellness therapy-focused studios are geared toward solo athletes or small groups of 3 or fewer, Praha is a more social environment. Instructors lead several group yoga classes a week. Unroll your mat in the pink-tinged cave, where the low light and salt-dusted floor resembles a cosmic beach. Go with friends to unwind and reap the benefits of combo workouts together.  

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