No pain, no gain. Just do it. Sweat is fat crying. These may sound like clichés, but the truth is that it’s been ingrained in our minds that workouts should be, well, work. Until now. The chic and über-modern Iobella body-shaping spa in Santa Monica is a far cry from the cookie-cutter Spinning, barre, and boot-camp meccas that seem to outnumber Starbucks, not only because of the spa-like aesthetic that eschews standard exercise fare (as in bulky free weights and cardio machines) but also for what is there: human-size Plexiglas temperature-controlled pods and sleek triple-oxygen capsules.
It’s within the spaceship-esque pods, individually heated to match the body’s temperature of 98.5 degrees, that you complete the 20 exercises specifically prescribed for your body—and goals—to the verbal and physical cues of your personal Iobella instructor. The regimen is curated as a result of an initial full-body analysis, which includes calculating your BMI and body fat as well as taking head-to-toe measurements to see how many inches you could lose and where (Iobella-ians speak in inches, not pounds). For 30 minutes straight, you power through a perfectly orchestrated sequence of basic strength training and Pilates-like moves that anyone who’s ever taken a beginners fitness class knows by heart—triceps kickbacks, leg lifts, side planks.
Unlike notoriously intense workouts like CrossFit and Barry’s Bootcamp, which look to skyrocket your heart rate with HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and advocate picking up the heaviest weight you can handle, Iobella is rooted in not requiring mental—and physical—warfare to get to the finish line. By using two sets of low-weight resistance pulleys (two to three pounds each) that strap onto your feet or your hands, you can shave off inches from problem areas in as little as three weeks. (A minimum of twice-weekly workouts is recommended; three for faster results.) The catch? Making your way through 20 to 40 fast-paced repetitions of each move. “There are more than 120 exercises,” says Fabiana Erica Mora, an Iobella personal trainer. And it’s this customized cocktail of exercises that she refers to as the studio’s signature “cellular enzymatic reactivation method to shape the targeted areas by accelerating fat burning.”
According to Brad Schoenfeld, an exercise physiologist and director of the Human Performance Lab at Lehman College in the Bronx, though the effectiveness of spot-reducing fat with targeted moves is unsubstantiated, building muscle in a particular area by using lighter weights and high repetitions is legit. “The only way muscles develop is when they’re taxed beyond their capacity,” he says. “Lighter weights activate the endurance-based muscle fibers, while heavier weights isolate more strength-based fibers, but both increase muscle.”
Research has shown that when it comes to strength training, Iobella may be right: Heavier isn’t necessarily better. In a 2012 study, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, used MRI to show that there was essentially the same increase in muscle mass from lifting heavy weights as there was with lighter ones, as long as subjects couldn’t possibly do one more rep.
While Schoenfeld notes that the physical benefit of the thermal pod, like with all heated workouts, is more about shedding water weight than boosting fat burning, there is also a real—and worthwhile—bonus to your state of mind. “Fat is burned internally, not through external heat, but some people simply like being hot,” he says.
Iobella’s post-workout repertoire is as unique as the workout itself. First, there’s the nonnegotiable 15-minute session in an O3 chamber. After showering and slipping on a robe, you’re escorted to your personal white lacquered “cabin,” which surrounds you with triple-oxygenated air (like what’s used in oxygen facials) while cool cucumber slices rest on your eyes and soothing music plays through padded headphones. Iobella acolytes say that the Zen effect (plus noticeably softer skin) is worth every minute. You can also book time on an infrared massage bed or have a bioelectric stimulation treatment, in which pads are placed on your problem area for a half hour. These treatments are more likely to help heal than sculpt muscles, says Schoenfeld. “It’s not going to help you get a six-pack.”
And then there’s the price. Unlike the $30-plus to secure a bike at SoulCycle, a single Classic session (which includes the pod workout and O3) is $150, and Total Reshape (the pod, O3, plus the muscle-stimulating toning treatment) is $250. Despite the hefty price tag and lack of hardcore science to back some of Iobella’s claims, the body-slimming testimonials are indisputable. Madeline, 47, an avid runner, says that for years she tried to lose the bulge around her waist. After three months of twice-a-week sessions, she lost 11 inches all over. Nicole, 42, did Iobella twice a week and lost nine inches—and nine pounds—after six weeks.
High-tech pod and oxygen lounge aside, Iobella’s success may be as simple as this: “Resistance training really is the fountain of youth,” says Schoenfeld. “Aerobic exercise has heart and weight-control benefits, but if you only do cardio you’ll be skinny and flabby.”
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