How Using Red Light Therapy Can Act Like an Anabolic Steroid for Bodybuilding

Looking for a non-steroid advantage to pack on more muscle with exercise?

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Photo by Sabel Blanco from Pexels

Building muscle is a hard process. Let me tell you from personal experience it gets even harder after age 60. I work out and from the studies I’ve read I’m expecting RLT to be the magic bullet that will accelerate muscle building and fat loss.

Supplementing exercise with Red Light Therapy (RLT), also called photobiomodulation, not only increases your muscle mass faster with exercise, it aids muscle recovery and reduces DOMS. There are hundreds of clinical studies supporting the effectiveness of the process.

Photobiomodulation before exercise increases strength and reduces fatigue. Photobiomodulation after exercise, boosts recovery and decreases Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

I like this first study because it uses identical twins with identical genetic codes.

These brothers are monozygotic identical twins, 19 years old, male, 5'8" tall and weight 154 lbs. They both were college soccer players, living together and matched in habits and diet. Before starting the study, the researchers performed a genetic analysis to confirm that the brothers genetic code was nearly identical.

With their physicality and genetic code matching, increases the confidence the results of this study can be attributed solely to the effects of photobiomodulation.

The light used in this study was Near Infrared (NIR) at a wavelength of 850 nm. The amount of light provided to the quadriceps was 5 watts for 15 seconds for 75 watt/seconds or 75 joules. The quadriceps of each leg were similarly treated. RLT treatment in this study was given after each exercise session.

Many features of the study were blinded. The 850nm wavelength of light is invisible and the LEDs did not generate heat. So neither monozygotic twin knew if they were receiving an RLT treatment or placebo. Weight training was kept separate. Neither twin was allowed to observe the training of his brother.

The training program was intense leg exercises three times a week for twelve consecutive weeks. Each training session consisted of forty (40) leg presses (4 x 10) and thirty (30) leg extensions (3 x 10). The intensity of the training sessions was 80% and 50% of the load determined by the 1 repetition-maximum (1RM) test.

The chart below shows the increase in leg strength after the twelve weeks of training.

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The increase in muscle volume is shown in the chart below. The muscle volume was measured by comparing 12 segmented MRI image slices, of the thigh, both before and after 12 weeks of training. The twelve segmented MRI images were spaced from the upper thigh to the lower thigh.

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Muscle soreness was checked using a biochemical marker of muscle damage creatine kinase (CK) and by a visual analog scale (VAS) after the 1st, 13th, 25th and 36th training session. The photobiomodulation decreased creatine kinase in blood samples. (CK is a muscle enzyme related to muscle damage.) The chart below shows the DOMS score using VAS.

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The information on Photobiomodulation for healing sports injuries and boosting muscle recovery is covered in a separate article.

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Unlike the previous study that used identical twins, this study used 30 men. The thirty men were broken into three groups of ten (n = 10) men. The group's designation was “no exercise”, “exercise”, and “exercise with RLT”.

The training sessions were held twice a week, for eight weeks. The light used was NIR at a wavelength of 810nm. The treatment was provided to leg muscles before the training workouts. The result was significant increases in both size and strength of muscles after exercise alone.

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Drawing by Author Based On Study


Studies show an across the board improvement in sports performance. A meta-analysis of 46 studies (n = 1045) show the photobiomodulation (PBM) increases muscle mass gained after training, reduces fatigue, and decrease inflammation and oxidative stress. (Study)

Photobiomodulation is beneficial before and after exercising. Before exercise it will increase strength and reduce muscle fatigue, while after a work out it will reduce soreness and improve muscle recovery.

Ideally you would split your RLT treatment before and after exercise.

This article below is specific on calculating Photobiomodulation doses. It's an essential read if you plan on using RLT yourself.

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Aside from clinical studies, there is a growing number of athletes, professional athletes and trainers who are using RLT. If you check the internet, you can probably find an RLT light salon near you. I would recommend purchasing a unit rather than buying treatments. Much less expensive in the long run.

I am writing a series of articles. Below are a few articles available on Medium and I will be adding more in the future.

  1. How To Use RLT For Fat Loss
  2. How To Use RLT For Muscle Recovery
  3. How To Use RLT For Brain Cognitive Enhancement
  4. How To Calculate RLT Dosage

I have started using RLT. Can I see muscle building results I can attribute to RLT, not yet, its only been a few weeks. I’m also over 60, so I’m in a hard gainer class for packing on muscle mass. I am not running a blind or double blind studies on myself. The clinical studies show positive results but only because they are compared to and vetted against control groups.

If these hundreds of peered review studies are to be believed, then the RLT is beneficial, even if only incremental beneficial the results ought to be noticeable in three months. I am starting now, which is mid-April 2020. Amid the Covid-19 shelter at home. I am more concerned with Covid-15, which is the 15 lbs of fat people pack on by staying home for a month.

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Most old men would have given up by now, I am not like most old men.

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