KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tucked in caches of local businesses among three Knox-area communities are studios of saunas that boast infrared technology and workouts that require more heat, but less time to burn calories while also giving the user benefits such as less inflammation and anti-aging effects. The owners of the Hotworx Knoxville franchise chain, Jen and Robert LeBus (pronounced “lee-bis”), are aiming to bring these benefits to more people as they continue to grow.

“We want to create a culture around these – a culture of safety, of health and wellness,” Robert LeBus, Hotworx Knoxville franchise co-owner, said. “And really, for the same cost as a night out at dinner with a bottle of wine, you’re getting unlimited use for a month here, 24-7 – that is such a small investment for your health and wellness. And it’s something we’ve proven over time that you’re going to use.”


Hotworx (also stylized as HOTWORX) originated out of state and is a virtually instructed exercise program for users to experience while completing workouts inside a patented infrared sauna. Hotworx officials say the results and benefits include “muscle recovery, pain relief, stress reduction, weight loss, increased calorie burn, detoxification, lower blood pressure, cellulite reduction, improved circulation, and anti-aging & skin rejuvenation.” Hotworx was founded by Stephen P. Smith back in 2014; then expanded 24-hour Hotworx fitness studios and franchises in 2017.

Infrared saunas

(Photo: Melanie Vásquez Russell/WATE)

What is an infrared sauna and why are people working out in it? According to the Mayo Clinic, an infrared sauna uses light to create heat, while a traditional sauna uses heat to warm the air; an infrared sauna heats a person’s body directly. Several studies have looked at using infrared saunas in the treatment of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, headache, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, and found some evidence of benefit; however, larger and more rigorous studies are needed to confirm these results, the Mayo Clinic reports, as some of these studies were also performed with patients using a traditional sauna. On the other hand, no adverse effects have been reported with infrared saunas.


In Knoxville, the use of this infrared technology coupled with that of the “CASPR IN-DUCT” air purifying system from Complete Disinfectant Solutions are part of the Hotworx Knoxville owners’ plan to bring a safer workout environment to clients. The technology was originally created with NASA for its space lab explorers in small vessels.

“CASPR really brought all of the third-party validation, all of the medical validation, all of the testing validation that’s been going on since the 60s that says, ‘this stuff does what is says,’ and since we’ve incorporated that, we now know that we absolutely have one of the safest places to work out – because we invested in that,” Robert LeBus said.

All three Hotworx Knoxville locations have the CASPR IN-DUCT installed into the HVAC system. Complete Disinfectant Solutions says it’s an innovative “no-touch” disinfection technology that helps create Hydrogen peroxide oxidizers that kill pathogens and combat against bacteria, viruses and mold – as well as odors. After seeing the results at their Hotworx studios, Robert LeBus bought the local distribution rights – and they’ve offered the system to others such as Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) and also donated the system to a Bearden High School sports facility.

Franchise growth

Kim Betts, Jen LeBus and Robert LeBus at the Hardin Valley Hotworx studio. (Photo: Melanie Vásquez Russell/WATE)

The couple was drawn to the Hotworx franchise after Jen LeBus tried it and found that it had more benefits than those of her previous workout regimens; having grown up in the Bearden area and now raising her family there, she knew more women would be interested in it.

“Women don’t typically take care of themselves, they’re caregivers to most anybody else in their life, even down to their friends before them,” Jen LeBus said. “When they are doing things, they’re either full-time working, they’re moms, or running the dog to the vet, kids to school, or kids to practice. So, when you can come in and do something in 15 to 30 minutes that you can feel as good as you do that would otherwise take more time – it’s a 60-to-90-minute workout that you’re getting in 15 to 30 minutes plus the infrared benefits.”

The LeBuses have licenses at three current Hotworx locations: Cedar Bluff, Hardin Valley and Fountain City (which is currently in pre-sale); another location is in the works for Farragut some 14 months out. The majority of their clients are women and capacity at these locations might soon become limited since the 24-hour class access is set to a pre-programmed time schedule — totaling out to 240 classes in an entire day.

As membership grows, the owners and managers say a waiting list might become a reality, but their focus on the clients they have will remain.

“Our primary focus is to make sure women, who are our primary clients, feel safe and know what to expect from these programs,” Jen LeBus said. “Men come in here, too, usually for recovery workouts, and we welcome them. It’s not just a gym.”

What happens when you workout at Hotworx?

What happens when you visit a Hotworx location? The managers or trainers at your chosen location walk you through the paperwork, then set up for your chosen workout; either a high-intensity interval training/HIIT (Hot Cycle, Hot Blast, or Hot Row), or an isometric/ISO (Hot Yoga, Hot Pilates, Hot Core, Hot Buns, Warrior, Hot Barre None, etc.). Each workout has a virtual trainer that displays on a TV screen within each infrared sauna. Shoes are needed for the HIIT workouts, while the ISO workouts require specialty thick Hotworx mats (a regular yoga mat would melt to the sauna floor and is not allowed), mat towels and bare feet. HIIT workouts are only 15 minutes long, while the ISO workouts are around 35 minutes. Each infrared sauna can host three people at a time. Hydration is key – as is a towel for sweat.

“Some people are intimidated at first by the idea of working out in a sauna at 130 degrees (Fahrenheit), but once they try it, they feel the difference, the infrared benefits, and they usually leave here feeling better than when they came in,” Kim Betts, the general manager of the Hardin Valley Hotworx, said. “When people come in, it’s so emotional sometimes – they come in here with the stress of their days – and leave here feeling way better. It does something for primarily women who are… ‘All The Things’ to their families – and they can come in here and feel like they’ve accomplished something for themselves and leave with a smile.”

Kim Betts, manager of the Hardin Valley Hotworx. (Photo: Melanie Vásquez Russell/WATE)

Betts has been part of the Hardin Valley Hotworx since the site was a pit of gravel and she says she’s committed to helping clients stay consistent and reach their goals.

“It goes beyond health,” Betts said. “The infrared saunas provide so many benefits beyond just sweating it out – the stress reduction, the anti-aging, their skin rejuvenates – I see it every day. They literally have tried other places or workouts, it’s too much time or effort or get lost in big-box places – they’re not lost here, and it’s safe.”

Staffed hours for Hotworx Knoxville locations range from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays; the studios have 24-hour access for members only after registration.