From Crossfit to Climbing to Spinning, there are a number of ways a woman can get her sweat on the old-fashioned way—in a gym, doing strenuous physical activity. Whether or not these sorts of workouts actually work is not a question. Hard work pays off! But 99% of the population, I’d guess, can agree that physically taxing hard work is not fun. If you’re averse to this sort of hard work but long for its payoff, what follows here might be the best news you’ve heard all year. There is a lazy way to get fit, and to reap its benefits, you need only to set aside a single hour in your busy schedule and lay down. You’ll sweat—and I mean, a lot—and in the process you’ll burn more calories than you would if you spent the same amount of time doing actual exercise. All you need is an infrared sauna, and if you live in a major city, you can probably find one in a variety of studios close to home.
WHAT IS AN INFRARED SAUNA, ANYWAY?
First things first: it’s not the same as the sauna at your gym or your local day spa. (Read: do not attempt to sit in one of those for longer than 5-10 minutes.) Traditional saunas utilize heat to warm the air; an infrared sauna uses infrared energy to create a deep, penetrating kind of heat—one that goes beneath the skin and down into your subcutaneous fat. Put in simple terms, this means a couple of things. One, you won’t feel as hot in an infrared sauna as you would in a regular one, because the heat is skipping over (or, rather, under) your skin, where sensations including heat are felt. Two, when fat under the surface of your skin begins to heat, your body begins to sweat, expending energy and burning calories in the process.
You can safely stay in an infrared sauna for as long as 50 minutes or so—and, assuming you’re not a marathon runner, you’ll accomplish a lot more during a 50 minute sauna session than you would during 50 minutes on the treadmill. According to Sophie Chiche, owner of Shape House in LA, we’re talking serious calorie burning. “You can burn from 1000 to 1200 (possibly more depending on the individual in each fifty-minute session,” she states on the studio’s website. “Expect to lose one clothing size within 6 to 10 treatments with two to three days between each session.” If you’re anything like me, I know exactly what you’re thinking now. It sounds too good to be true—so good that you’re absolutely dying to give it a try.
WHAT’S IT LIKE IN THERE?
Over the past few years, I’ve been to a handful of infrared sweat studios in the greater Los Angeles area. I’ve never had a bad experience, but there are some key differences among them all. There are beds, such as those found at Shape House, in which you lie on what feels like a massage table and are wrapped in what feels like a heating pad/blanket hybrid. (That’s an infrared wrap.) At this particular studio, you wear headphones and are positioned in front of your own private TV, which offers virtually anything you’d want to watch by way of Netflix and Amazon. Underneath the blanket, you’re fully clothed in loose garb—think old sweats and socks. There are also pods, which you’ll find at Firm Body Evolution. In terms of appearance, these are a lot like tanning beds, from which your supported head sticks out. You can listed to music, sleep or just veg out in this setting. For the most relaxing, meditative experience, however, you’ll want a full-blown sauna, which you can find at Cedarhouse. Here, you’ll be tucked away in your own personal room, which includes not only your own private infrared sauna, but a sound system and a shower. Here, you can wear a towel (or not … you’re in your own room and have complete privacy) and listen to music or a meditation CD, which the studio provides (and I find quite nice). No matter which infrared experience you try, the studio will provide unlimited water, and you should drink as much of it as you can. (Tip: You’re going to sweat a lot no matter what, but if you really want to kick-start the process, take a cayenne shot before you go in.)
I mentioned that I’ve dabbled with infrared sauna therapy for several years, but I decided to splurge and commit to it on a regular basis (just once a week) in the months leading up to my wedding, which took place last fall. I wasn’t looking to lose a dramatic amount of weight—I work out regularly and am, for the most part, happy with my body. What I wanted most was time to relax and decompress amid the stress of planning the biggest event in my life. Oh, and also, for my skin to look as radiant as humanly possible on the big day.
To say I was pleased with the results of my once-a-week sweat sessions would be a tremendous understatement. Every time I went to sweat, I emerged feeling relaxed, renewed, and refreshed. Post-shower, my skin displayed an unmistakable glow from head to toe—and yes, this happens after a good long run, but my knees are getting old for that, and honestly, I’ve never had it in me to run long enough to burn 1200 calories even if I wanted to. Not even close! By the time my wedding rolled around, everyone had something to say about how skinny I looked, and while I honestly don’t think I looked that different (I lost maybe 3-4 pounds) I wasn’t mad at that. Like I said, I do work out on a regular basis—Pilates is my method of choice—but I love to eat. My husband and I dine out almost every night of the week. I am not a large person, but I am no stick figure, either. I have areas of my body (upper arms, thighs, belly) where I’m prone to excess weight. And I really believe that regular sweat sessions helped me shed fat in those places. (Note: I wasn’t paid by any of the studios I mentioned to say this, nor given complimentary sessions—not a single one.)
It varies from studio to studio, but in the LA area, you’re looking at around $35 a session. Less, if you opt for a monthly membership or find a deal. (Sites like Groupon tend to offer some good ones—keep your eyes out.)
If you’re already in tip-top shape, have no desired fat to lose, and have a gorgeous glow at all times—congratulations. (Are you a Victoria’s Secret model?) The opportunity to sweat your way to a glowing complexion and burn half as many calories as you’d consume in an entire day of regular, non-diet eating—all while meditating or trashy television—might not be of interest to you. Or maybe you’d genuinely prefer to sweat it out the old-fashioned way in a grueling Soul Cycle class. I, however, will continue to take advantage of the genius health and beauty advance that is infrared sauna therapy until the day I die.