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Is There Such a Thing as Mood Lighting for Workouts?

My quads require romancing

Have you ever felt like there were certain gyms that you just couldn’t perform at your peak in? Sure, you could bench press with the ease of an NFL-bound defensive tackle when you were training at home, but as soon as you got to the gym, your pressing performance was closer to that of a cornerback

What gives? Were the weights in your home gym incorrectly labeled? Did all the other gym goers psych you out? Was the air quality of your gym of such low quality that it bypassed your olfactory organs and impaired your muscle performance?

What if it was none of the above? What if there was something in the aesthetics of the gym that shaved 10 pounds and five reps off of your maximum output… like an optical kryptonite?

Is such a thing possible?

I’d love to think so, especially given the number of times I’ve underperformed monumentally in public training settings. It sure would be convenient if I could pin my physical failings on something as basic as the color of the weight-room’s walls. Thankfully, it turns out that I kinda can.

If the research on the topic is to be believed, you should paint your home gym red, fill your fitness clothing drawer with the color red, select your gym on the basis of its red ambiance and color scheme and keep a can of red spray paint handy just so that you can cover up any non-red colors within your line of sight. That’s because the preponderance of the research findings indicates that red is the color most likely to improve athletic performance.

That explains the college football dominance of the Alabama Crimson Tide! But is it true?

Let’s assume for a moment that it is. Part of the advantage that wearers of red supposedly receive is that their adversaries perceive them to be more threatening and intimidating due to the crimson nature of their garb. In a gym environment, there’s no real benefit to having others perceive you as threatening, unless your wearing of red prompts their fight-or-flight instinct to kick their performance levels up a notch. Along those lines, that might be what’s happening when you respond to red walls, which your brain equates to a physical threat. 

If that’s the true source of the performance boost, it may be less consequential for you to personally attire yourself in red and more beneficial for everyone surrounding you to wear red so that they can psych you up. That said, it may be a moot point either way, because research also shows that people who view the color red perform worse on tests of mental or intellectual performance than those who don’t, so maybe that flash of red across your iris will cause you to make unwise training decisions that lead to injuries, and therefore, do more harm than good in the long run.

Would any other colors benefit me in a physical performance context?

Some of that might depend on what you consider to be personally motivating. For example, research has demonstrated that people associate the color blue with trustworthiness and believability, and people routinely consider brands with blue logos to be more trustworthy than those sporting other colors. 

If this is true, does this mean that as you sit on the weight bench staring at the mirror while clutching heavier dumbbells than you’ve ever held in your life, that you’re going to have more trust and belief in yourself because the image staring back at your happens to be decked out in a blue Old Navy shirt

If so, would that be more or less augmenting to your performance than the surge of aggression occasioned by the presence of red? Should you wear both red and blue just to make sure you have all of your bases covered?

This is beginning to sound silly.

And it may very well be silly. A comprehensive analysis that critiqued the methods of all of these color-influence studies called out poor qualitative protocols with respect to establishing controls. In other words, many of their findings are suspect because the researchers couldn’t be sure they were accurately measuring the results of color manipulation against reliable control groups. Thus, their results should be viewed through a dubious lens, even if the results make ostensible sense. After all, “seeing red” became an accepted colloquialism associated with passion and anger for a reason. 

Overall, though, the color of your walls, gym or workout gear is a minute component of a much larger mind-management fitness equation that involves factors of infinitely greater significance. Things like your pre-workout meal, your general stress level, the adequacy of your hydration and the quality of your sleep are far more meaningful to your performance than the color of the wall your gym’s squat rack rests against. Even the music you listen to is likely to have more influence than the last color you saw before you started slinging iron. 

In other words, make sure you’re doing everything you can to ensure that your training regimen is perfect before you opine that an absence of red is the source of your training blues.