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The power of light

Profound experiences can be achieved when illumination is combined with movement, music and motivation, says fitness studio design expert Barbara Chancey
Published 20. March 2024

All photos ©Barbara Chancey Design Group

Lighting, when used correctly, has the power to create specific moods, trigger deep emotional responses, improve physical comfort and enhance mental wellbeing. Today’s fitness culture is tapping into this psychological dimension, combining illumination techniques to create flow and develop the right mood within each space and class.

“Brightness, colour and texture can mark pivotal moments in a workout; it’s hugely powerful when lighting and sound work in harmony”

When instructors need a high-energy vibe to get the party started, a dazzle of kinetic lighting surrounding sweaty bodies can be a euphoric experience. But when a song or its lyrics need to shine through for inward reflection, flashing colours become a distraction; calm, subdued lighting is more effective for contemplation.

At Shine Cycle in Brunei, the brief was to create a sense of radiant joy

Like a musical performance, changes in brightness, colour and texture can also be used to mark pivotal moments in a workout, creating lasting memories; it’s hugely powerful when lighting and sound work in harmony during a class. Note, however, that there’s a thin line between entertainment and exercise. If lighting is used only to glorify the instructor, it becomes a superficial show and often defeats the purpose.

Brand-specific lighting

At Barbara Chancey Design, our approach to fitness lighting starts with understanding the brand’s core beliefs and determining how lighting can help elevate its messaging: while soft candlelight is effective for some fitness brands, others require immersive and glamorous nightclub vibes. We peel back the layers to discover what makes a workout experience deserve a place in the hearts of members. 

Lighting has the power to create specific moods and trigger deep emotional responses, says Chancey

We also do a lot of behavioural thinking to design versatile, reliable, easy-to-operate systems that provide instructors with tools for unlimited creativity. It requires an enormous amount of thought during the design phase to create a hardwired system where instructors can unleash their creative talent at the push of a button, and where future needs have also been brainstormed upfront to maximise investment. 

Shine X is the “dark, rebellious little sister” of Brunei’s Shine Cycle

Our team includes British-born Daryl Vaughan, an international lighting designer who toured with legendary rock musicians including Genesis, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. In the fitness sector, he now works exclusively for clients of Barbara Chancey Design.

Lighting can help enhance our sense of mental wellbeing, says Chancey

Vaughan explains: “When it comes to lighting, you obviously need to know the shape, form and dimensions of the area to be illuminated. You need to understand the class formats offered and the moods of each. Most importantly, you must study the client’s logo, brand guidelines, colour palettes and graphics.

CYCED’s rhythm rides are brought colourfully to life

“But what’s really crucial to understand is that lighting is not an afterthought: it’s designed into the overall floor plan. We work directly with the architect and audio provider to incorporate illumination into the construction drawings, fully integrating the lighting into the structure at the earliest stage and weaving it into the very fabric of the building.

“Careful selection of wall colours, surface textures, flooring and fixtures can maximise lighting effects: walls painted in dark hues absorb light and reduce reflection, for example, while walls in pale matte shades serve as canvases for painting with light.”

“Lighting is not an afterthought. We work with the architect and audio provider to incorporate illumination into the construction drawings.”

Shine X’s illumination is designed to evoke emotion at the touch of a button

A science & an art

Light Partners’ Daryl Vaughan, Chancey’s go-to light specialist, outlines some of the technical considerations of feature lighting


Creative illumination can be divided into two principal categories: reflected view and direct view. In the former, light from the fixtures is bounced off walls, floors and ceilings. When they’re exceptionally smooth, these surfaces effectively disappear, taking on a translucent, glowing appearance. To maximise the immersive effect, the light source should be artfully concealed. By contrast, direct view light sources are deliberately on display and part of the class experience, creating a sense of drama and energy.


Modern LED light fixtures feature light-emitting diodes in the three primary colours: red, green and blue (RGB). By combining and varying the intensity of these three colours, almost any colour of visible light can be created. However, the white light created by combining 100% R, G and B can be cold and unflattering, so LED manufacturers are increasingly incorporating dedicated white (warm, neutral and cool) and amber LEDs – a much better colour palette for sensual, skin-flattering effects.

Shine X’s light system features a range of special effects to use at just the right moment


Will you opt for plug-and-play or custom hardwired? The former describes a basic lighting system that can be installed rapidly and operated simply, but where a limited number of effects become predictable over time. A hardwired, custom-designed lighting system allows the true power of lighting to be unleashed. Tailored to suit a specific space, it’s designed as part of the build, with electrical drawings included in the architect’s set of plans.


Ultra-violet (otherwise known as black lights) can be exciting, but don’t forget: materials in dental crowns and veneers will react differently under these lights, and unflattering images are nobody’s friend. If black lights are used, limit them to specific moments in a class. Strobe lights, multi-faceted projectors and laser effects should be used equally sparingly, if at all, as strobes can sometimes cause epileptic seizures.

With RGB LED lights, almost any colour of visible light can be created, says Vaughan


Some set-ups use Bluetooth-connected apps to control lighting via an iPad, laptop or standalone DMX controller. We favour a solution where a simple push-button interface delivers instantaneous light changes without the instructor ever having to lose eye contact with the class. Limited only by imagination, light shows can range from slow colour cross-fades and gentle washes to fast-paced kinetic sequences, all carefully crafted to suit a particular mood or style of music.

At Square Code, the lighting reflects the workout journey – “from dark doubts to bright accomplishments”
Published 20. March 2024

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