Overlooking a beautiful bay near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, replete with swimmers, surfers, paddle boarders, joggers, fishermen casting nets, people walking to and from town, and others just soaking up nature’s own vitamin D, one is tempted to believe that physical activity and health are just part and parcel of daily existence.
But few of us in modern societies live such a naturally healthy existence. Hence, our seemingly endless fascination with new and better ways to achieve health, physical fitness and, of course, weight loss, in our more urban/suburban environments and sedentary work.
Cue the arrival of the newest form of indoor exercise – research-backed, technologically cutting edge, and efficient. Several new venture-backed businesses, including S-Club and Upgrade Labs, are currently testing the market for this next-generation of upscale, curated gym/spa. This week, I’m exploring the S-Club Sports Spa, based in Manhattan Beach, CA, which couples a super-condensed warm-up/workout with essential recovery.
When you walk into S-Club, you’re greeted by a concierge who is not only there to check you in, but addresses any questions you have about the process and benefits of their program. To get you started, in case you didn’t already appreciate their serious approach to the age-old process of physical conditioning, they check your vital signs — using a cool, wireless bracelet that checks pulse, blood pressure and blood oxygen level and beams the data wirelessly into your profile on their computer system.
Hydrate, Activate and Recover
Once they deem you medically stable, the S-Club version of circuit training begins.
S-Club has created a step-by-step guidance system for your recovery-focused workout called “Zone Flow,” guiding you through ten zones of activation (exercise) and recovery. “Our goal is to hydrate, activate and recover,” says Marco Nunez, S-Club co-founder & head athletic trainer for the LA Lakers.
First, a 3D body scanner assessed the state of my body and will be used to track of changes over my future workouts.
Then, I was provided a NASA-like pouch of special, double-oxygenated water for maximum hydration.
Let’s Activate That Body
Next, I settled into a clean Scandinavian-design, infrared sauna to loosen my muscles and relax my mind. Personally, my mind was still wrestling with the question of how you get two oxygen atoms into a water molecule, but my friends were definitely relaxing away.
Infrared saunas are the newest technical evolution of heat therapy. Heat-stress therapy —and cold-stress therapy (as practiced in nature by disciples of “The Iceman” Wim Hof, and in spas/gyms using cryotherapy machines) — are increasingly credited with a wide range of positive physical and mental benefits, many of such claims supported by international scientific studies. While most, if not all, of these studies are non-causal, which I, as a non-statistician, take to mean non-predictive, it’s nonetheless an attention-grabbing list of benefits, including: slowing aging and increasing longevity; boosting the healing power of the body’s cells; detoxifying the body; improving heart health; increasing athletic performance, muscle growth and recovery; helping weight loss; reducing pain and inflammation; boosting the immune system (thereby helping to reduce illness and disease); and optimizing brain power and mental states.
After my ten-minute warm-up session (literally) in the infrared sauna, it was over to a series of short sprints on a spin bike followed by a water-resistance rowing machine (complete with a digital readout monitored by my trainer), followed by another series of short sprints on a classic Versaclimber. Nothing too intense, but definitely enough to get my heart rate up and break a light sweat.
And Now to Recover
Which brought us to the program’s recovery-oriented processes. The Hyperice is a new and improved high-tech version of the old foam tube roller. Powered by an embedded vibrator with variable speed/intensity, the Hyperice had me rolling around on the floor as it made quick work of tight hamstrings, quads, calf muscles, hip flexors and glutes.
The most enjoyable part of the recovery process — and completely new to me, although relatively standard for pro athletes — was my session with the NormaTec compression boots. Like full-limb versions of compression socks mated with a blood pressure cuff, NormaTec is a system of large pressurized compression sleeves designed to increase circulation, conquer sore muscles, and generally speed up recovery from your chosen sport/exercise activities. And, lying there in a zero-gravity recliner, with the compression slowly pulsing up and down on my legs, felt really good!
From Pleasure to Trepidation
The final step of the S-Club circuit involves a stint in their full-body cryosauna. This bit of cold-stress therapy involves standing fully naked (except for socks, gloves, and possibly a head beanie) with your head sticking out above the circular enclosure, and your body immersed in billowing clouds of liquid nitrogen, for somewhere between 90 seconds and 3 minutes (depending on your size, weight, and experience). The nitrogen used to cool the cryosauna may be around -300 degrees Fahrenheit, but the temperature in the cryosauna itself, i.e. around your body, is a balmy -166 degrees Fahrenheit. As a novice, adrenalin alone kept me feeling relatively warm for about 15-20 seconds. After that, whether you’re meditating, or wondering how long before bits and pieces might freeze and break off, it evolved into a surprisingly bearable and ultimately invigorating experience.
And Back Into the World
Within about an hour of my vital signs being checked, I was dressed again, well hydrated, tuned-up and re-charged, and ready to head back out into the world and face the basic, daily wear and tear of living in a modern metropolis.