Red Light Therapy For Fitness, Performance, and Recovery

Are you embarking on a fitness journey? Are you a pro athlete at the top of your game? Do you have an injury that’s keeping you off the field? Red light therapy is gaining quite a bit of momentum in the fitness world. In fact, many pro athletes are using red light therapy to improve their performance and endurance, and to speed up muscle recovery and injuries. In fact, we have many athletes who use our devices, as well as trainers and healthcare providers. For example, in Australia, "counted among the country’s fittest athletes" Jayce Love-Attard is a champion of Rouge and red light therapy.

But it’s not just for the pros. Even non-athletes can see major improvements to their fitness when undergoing red light therapy treatment. And with affordable home devices entering the market, you don’t have to have a pro athlete’s bank account, either. An at-home red light therapy device is an affordable useful tool to help you reach your body’s maximum potential, whatever your fitness level. Let’s take a look at how it works.


How Does Red Light Therapy Help Improve Fitness, Performance and Muscle Recovery?

Red light therapy is a safe, non-invasive treatment during which natural red light penetrates the skin and the cells. Once it reaches the mitochondria, it stimulates the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your body’s natural energy currency. Increased production and distribution of ATP throughout the body has myriad health benefits (which you can read about here).

Muscle cells have more mitochondria than other types of cells, since they require more energy to function. This is why they are particularly receptive to red light therapy. Increased ATP synthesis leads to optimal functioning within the muscle cell. This in turn leads to better fitness and athletic performance.

Red light therapy also acts on fat cells, allowing them to release lipids into the bloodstream. Some of this fat is then picked up by muscle cells to be used as energy. RLT treatment also reduces inflammation by increasing blood flow and by supercharging your body’s antioxidant response. [1] [2]

But just how does red light therapy help with fitness, performance, and muscle health? While red light therapy is a relatively new area of study with regards to fitness, there is already an extensive body of research on the subject. Let’s see what the experts are saying.

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Increase Strength and Muscle Mass With Red Light Therapy

In a 2016 study, researchers reviewed previous research conducted on elite athletes and both trained and untrained non-athletes. They found evidence that irradiating muscle tissue with red light can significantly increase muscle mass gained after training. [3]

Another 2016 study using identical twins showed increased hypertrophy (muscle mass) in the red light therapy subject. They also reported an increase in the maximal load during exercise, as well as reduced fatigue. [4]

Researchers have also found red light therapy to increase muscle thickness and peak torque in male participants performing knee extensor exercises over 8 weeks. [5] It was also shown to increase grip strength in healthy adults when applied before strength training. These results were observed in as little as 4 weeks of treatment. [6]

Another 2010 study on healthy physically-active men showed a reduced decrease in torque following a fatigue test in participants undergoing red light therapy treatment. [7] This implies that RLT can help lessen muscle fatigue after strenuous exercise, thus improving strength and performance.

One study on post-menopausal women showed red light therapy to increase total work and power during treadmill training. (Total work refers to the force you exert during exercise times the distance of the movement times the number of reps. Power is total work divided by the total time taken to do it.) [8]

These findings may have important implications for those looking to build muscle mass, such as body builders, as well as athletes for whom muscle strength is crucial, such as weight lifters, cyclists, swimmers, and rock climbers, to name a few.

Increase Endurance and Improve Performance with Red Light Therapy

A 2010 study showed red light therapy to increase the number of elbow flexor repetitions by more than 14% in volleyball players. Researchers also recorded an 8% increase in elapsed time before exhaustion in participants undergoing RLT treatment. [9] Another study involving elite volleyball players showed an increase in elapsed time before exhaustion of 11.6%. [10]

Application of red light therapy to muscles between sets and after the last set of intense exercises has also been shown to increase muscle fatigue resistance. [11] Further studies showed RLT, when applied before exercise, to be effective in delaying the onset of muscle fatigue, as well as reducing the fatigue response. [12] [13] It has also been shown to increase the time limit of exercise as well as distance covered in cardiopulmonary exercise tests. [14] [15] [16]

Current research shows that red light therapy can also increase oxygen uptake and pulmonary ventilation, and decrease shortness of breath during exercise. [16] [17]

Red light therapy’s ability to improve athletic endurance and performance could have positive implications for a number of people. Those looking to improve their race time may benefit from RLT, for instance. As might sports teams that are looking to outlast their opponents on the field. Or those simply wanting to increase their performance at the gym or during home workouts.

Improve Muscle Recovery with Red Light Therapy

One of the key limiting factors to fitness is the need for lengthy rest times between workouts. Having to rest your muscles for a day or more results in fewer workouts, leading to slower progress and poorer performance. This is an especially difficult hurdle for high-level athletes who must adhere to a strict workout and practice regimen.

Many of the attempted work-arounds to this involve topical creams or medication. Unfortunately these treatments can be ineffective at best, and dangerous or illegal (i.e. doping) at worst.

Current research suggests that red light therapy can positively affect the biochemical markers used to measure muscle damage and recovery. Numerous studies in which RLT was applied before or after exercise have shown significant decreases in blood lactate creatine kinase, and C-reactive protein levels. There is some contradiction in these studies, however, regarding whether treatment was more effective before or after exercise. [14] [18] [19] [20]

Researchers have also observed a decrease in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in participants exposed to red light therapy. [21] Further, RLT has been shown to prevent exercise-induced muscle damage and to reduce oxidative stress. [4] [22] [23] (Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, limiting its ability to detoxify.)

Finally, some studies have shown red light therapy to be more effective for muscle recovery than cryotherapy both alone and in combination with RLT. [24] It also appears to be more effective than cold water immersion therapy for post-exercise muscle recovery. [25] These findings can have important implications for high-level athletes.

Heal Injuries Faster With Red Light Therapy

Injury is the biggest enemy of fitness. It can halt your progress completely as well as undo any progress you may have already made. Thus, the quicker your injuries can safely heal, the sooner you can get back on the road to fitness!

According to recent research, red light therapy shows much promise in its ability to help heal injured muscles and other tissue. One meta-analysis conducted in 2013 looked at studies involving both humans and animals. Researchers concluded that RLT can be an effective tool in the treatment of injured muscles in athletes and non-athletes. They even mentioned it as a potentially effective treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. [26]

A recent study on university athletes tested the efficacy of red light therapy on return to play (RTP). RTP is defined as getting back to training or playing post-injury. The injuries observed included knee sprains, hamstring strains, Achilles tendonitis, intercostal (rib) strains, shoulder sprains, abdominal strains, and foot fractures. In other words, fairly common sports injuries. The researchers found that regular red light therapy treatment significantly accelerated RTP (9.6 days compared to 19.23 for the control group). [27]

An earlier study found red light therapy to be effective in the treatment of pain associated with Achilles tendonitis, which could help shorten recovery time in the case of injury. [28]

Another earlier study reviewed the effects of red light therapy on pain associated with tendinopathy. The researchers hypothesized that RLT helps with pain by increasing blood flow to the affected area. This accelerates the healing process by reducing the pain-spasm-pain cycle (in which pain leads to spasms, which exacerbates pain, and so on). [29]

Not only are these findings promising for anyone whose fitness journey is being held up by an injury, they could have important implications in the fields of sports medicine and rehabilitation.

Other Health and Fitness Benefits of Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy, fitness, and weight loss

It’s no secret that carrying extra weight can have a negative impact on your athletic performance. It can also increase your risk of injury when engaging in physical activity.

Fortunately, current research suggests that red light therapy can be an important tool in fat loss and weight management. A growing number of studies have shown red light therapy to significantly reduce the circumference of targeted areas as well as overall body fat. [30] [31] [32]

Red light therapy also shows enormous promise as an effective treatment for obesity. Not only has it been shown to reduce body fat, it also appears to diminish insulin resistance and inflammation, both important issues for obese people. It has also been shown to boost the effects of exercise on attenuating cardiometabolic risk factors, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. [33] [34] [35]

Red light therapy, fitness, and sleep

Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can have significant negative effects on not only athletic performance and motivation, but on fitness gains as well. Proper sleep allows your muscles to repair and recover. Your body also produces growth hormone during sleep, which is an important factor in building muscle and strength, and repairing muscles as well.

Studies have shown red light therapy to help melatonin production. Melatonin plays a key role in helping us fall - and stay - asleep. Just as blue light from our devices inhibits melatonin synthesis, the soothing tones of red and near-infrared light tell our brain that it’s time to wind down. [36] [37]

One study that looked at the effect of red light therapy on female basketball players found the treatment to significantly improve both sleep and performance. It is unclear whether performance was improved directly by the RLT treatments or indirectly by way of better sleep. However, given the relationship between sleep and performance in general, it’s plausible that improved sleep had a positive effect on performance. [37]

Even when studying the effects of red light therapy on other things, researchers have noted better sleep as a byproduct of the treatment. [38]

Finally, there are studies currently underway to assess the effectiveness of red light therapy on sleep apnea, with researchers expecting to find positive results. [39]

Red Light Therapy and Fitness: What Are the Risks?

Across all studies, there is a resounding consensus that red light therapy is safe and virtually risk-free. There are no major side effects to the treatment, and aside from warmth emitting from the lights, subjects feel absolutely nothing.

In fact, Rouge’s red light therapy devices are FDA-registered as a non-invasive treatment for muscle spasms, muscle and joint aches, as well as pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. 

In other words, you simply can’t go wrong with adding red light therapy to your fitness journey.

The Benefits of a Personal Red Light Therapy Device for Fitness

Athletes often lead extraordinarily busy lives. Even people who play sports for fun or work out regularly sometimes have trouble working their activities into their busy schedules. In fact, the study cited above involving university athletes and return to play noted that students’ busy schedules were a hindrance in obtaining a larger amount of data. In short, students were often unable to make time for red light therapy sessions.

Until recently, red light therapy treatments were only available in certain gyms, spas, and clinics, requiring people to take an hour or more out of their day for mere minutes of treatment. Given that daily sessions are ideal for seeing positive results, this is simply unrealistic for most people.

In addition, treatment in the above-mentioned facilities can range anywhere from $10 to $100 per session, making it prohibitively expensive for most.

Luckily, people like Marc, founder of Rouge, took note. The latest innovation in red light therapy technology has allowed for the development of all sizes of personal devices, meaning that the sought-after therapy can now be enjoyed in your own home, on your own time, and for a tiny fraction of the cost of in-clinic sessions.

A simple 15 minutes a day is all that is needed to enjoy the incredible benefits of red light therapy, and to help you on your fitness journey. Take a look at Rouge’s extended family of personal devices and choose the one that’s right for you.

Disclaimer: The information published by Rouge Red Light Therapy is intended to be educational, and is not to be taken as medical advice. We take great care in ensuring the information provided is accurate and sourced from trusted scientific journals and peer-reviewed clinical studies.

Our red light therapy devices are registered with the FDA as class-II medical devices indicated for the relief of muscle spasms, minor muscle and joint aches, as well as pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. However, the use of our devices or the application of any information obtained on this site is at your own risk, and we encourage you to consult your physician or medical professional before beginning red light therapy treatment.




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[17] Miranda EF, Vanin AA, Tomazoni SS, et al. Using Pre-Exercise Photobiomodulation Therapy Combining Super-Pulsed Lasers and Light-Emitting Diodes to Improve Performance in Progressive Cardiopulmonary Exercise Tests. J Athl Train. 2016;51(2):129-135.


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[19] Leal Junior EC, Lopes-Martins RA, Frigo L, et al. Effects of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in the development of exercise-induced skeletal muscle fatigue and changes in biochemical markers related to postexercise recovery. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010;40(8):524-532.


[20] Ferraresi C, Dos Santos RV, Marques G, et al. Light-emitting diode therapy (LEDT) before matches prevents increase in creatine kinase with a light dose response in volleyball players. Lasers Med Sci. 2015;30(4):1281-1287.


[21] Antonialli FC, De Marchi T, Tomazoni SS, et al. Phototherapy in skeletal muscle performance and recovery after exercise: effect of combination of super-pulsed laser and light-emitting diodes. Lasers Med Sci. 2014;29(6):1967-1976.


[22] Borsa PA, Larkin KA, True JM. Does phototherapy enhance skeletal muscle contractile function and postexercise recovery? A systematic review. J Athl Train. 2013;48(1):57-67.


[23] Qiaochu Sun, Hye-Eun Kim, Hyejoung Cho, Shuhan Shi, Byungkuk Kim, Okjoon Kim,

Red light-emitting diode irradiation regulates oxidative stress and inflammation through SPHK1/NF-κB activation in human keratinocytes. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology. 2018;186: 31-40.


[24] Fisher SR, Rigby JH, Mettler JA, McCurdy KW. The Effectiveness of Photobiomodulation Therapy Versus Cryotherapy for Skeletal Muscle Recovery: A Critically Appraised Topic. J Sport Rehabil. 2019;28(5):526-531.


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[28] Bjordal JM, Lopes-Martins RA, Iversen VV. A randomised, placebo controlled trial of low level laser therapy for activated Achilles tendinitis with microdialysis measurement of peritendinous prostaglandin E2 concentrations. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40(1):76-80.


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[30] Avci P, Nyame TT, Gupta GK, Sadasivam M, Hamblin MR. Low-level laser therapy for fat layer reduction: a comprehensive review. Lasers Surg Med. 2013;45(6):349-357.


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[32] Montazeri K, Mokmeli S, Barat M. The Effect of Combination of Red, Infrared and Blue Wavelengths of Low-Level Laser on Reduction of Abdominal Girth: A Before-After Case Series. J Lasers Med Sci. 2017;8(Suppl 1):S22-S26.


[33] Sene-Fiorese M, Duarte FO, de Aquino Junior AE, et al. The potential of phototherapy to reduce body fat, insulin resistance and "metabolic inflexibility" related to obesity in women undergoing weight loss treatment. Lasers Surg Med. 2015;47(8):634-642.


[34] da Silveira Campos RM, Dâmaso AR, Masquio DCL, et al. The effects of exercise training associated with low-level laser therapy on biomarkers of adipose tissue transdifferentiation in obese women. Lasers Med Sci. 2018;33(6):1245-1254.


[35] Duarte FO, Sene-Fiorese M, de Aquino Junior AE, et al. Can low-level laser therapy (LLLT) associated with an aerobic plus resistance training change the cardiometabolic risk in obese women? A placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Photochem Photobiol B. 2015;153:103-110.


[36] Duarte FO, Sene-Fiorese M, de Aquino Junior AE, et al. Can low-level laser therapy (LLLT) associated with an aerobic plus resistance training change the cardiometabolic risk in obese women? A placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Photochem Photobiol B. 2015;153:103-110.


[37] Zhao J, Tian Y, Nie J, Xu J, Liu D. Red light and the sleep quality and endurance performance of Chinese female basketball players. J Athl Train. 2012;47(6):673-678.


[38] Loeb LM, Amorim RP, Mazzacoratti MDGN, Scorza FA, Peres MFP. Botulinum toxin A (BT-A) versus low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in chronic migraine treatment: a comparison. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2018;76(10):663-667.


[39] de Camargo FCF, DeMoura JR, Cepeda FX, et al. Photobiomodulation by low-level laser therapy in patients with obstructive sleep apnea: Study protocol clinical trial (SPIRIT compliant). Medicine (Baltimore). 2020;99(12):e19547.

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