Can manual lymphatic drainage make you look more toned? We tried it.

Redefine by Nina in Buckhead offers noninvasive body contouring treatments including this one, which promises to reduce swelling and make you look more lean

This is a stock photo, but the manual lymphatic drainage treatment at Redefine by Nina promises to reduce swelling in areas such as your legs.

Photograph by Javier Snchez Mingorance / EyeEm via Getty Images

A lot of sexiness was born in Brazil: the blowout, the wax, the bikini bottom, the Bündchen. What Nina Goodwin wants you to know is that her home country of Brazil is also the place that popularized a technique that can help you look a little bit more Gisele-like—and, perhaps, recover faster from workouts.

Goodwin is the owner and operator of Redefine by Nina, a one-room aesthetic treatment business that operates inside Swatch Box Beauty in Buckhead and offers noninvasive body contouring treatments. We’re talking about manual lymphatic drainage (reduces swelling, making some muscles appear more toned), radio frequency (lasers that are used to tighten skin), and cavitation (a procedure that is said to reduce cellulite).

Typically her clientele (she has some famous clients and famous-adjacent ones, like the Rock’s mother; I learned about Goodwin from fitness influencer and personal stylist Lillian Gray Charles) come to her for purely aesthetic benefits. A one-hour session of MLD can leave the client looking more defined and slightly slimmer. That benefit goes away once you, say, eat some French fries (thanks, salt). But, Nina says, if you keep coming back, there is a cumulative benefit.

For the uninitiated: The lymphatic system removes the interstitial fluid from tissues and absorbs and transports fatty acids and fats from the digestive system. The lymph system also moves white blood cells to and from the lymph nodes into the bones.

As part of this process, according to athletic recovery specialist Jason Paplio, the lymph system picks up fluids and waste products from the space between cells and then filters and cleans them.

“When the lymph system works well, we feel healthy and strong,” he says. “When it is sluggish or blocked . . . we can have swelling, feel tired and worn out. After practice or a game, lymph vessels can become overwhelmed with the demand placed on them.”

Fluid can pool in these areas, he says, and because there is no “pump system,” it’s important to help flush out these fluids. “Recovery time can be decreased drastically the quicker we can move the old stagnant fluid out and flood the tissue with fresh nourishment for regeneration,” he says. “Proper movement of air through the lungs can also help move and pump fluid through the lymphatic system while providing it with fresh oxygen.”

Science sort of backs this up, and brings up another benefit of MLD. You know how sometimes, during a really hard workout, you sometimes feel a burning in your muscles? That’s lactic acid, and apparently MLD can reduce it.

Redefine by Nina
Before and after an MLD treatment at Redefine by Nina.

Photograph courtesy of Redefine by Nina

In a 2015 study, 18 healthy male students who did moderate exercise were randomly assigned to either receive manual lymph drainage or serve as controls. “Following an increase immediately after exercise, lactic acid (LA) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) serum levels dropped rapidly and significantly at the end of MLD application and two hours after,” the study said.

MLD, the study found, may have improved “the regenerative processes elicited by structural damage to the muscle cells.”

After a particularly strenuous workout—in which my trainer had me push 300 pounds on a sled, among other tortures—I decided to try the MLD with Nina. She gently massaged my legs, stomach, and arms, sliding her hands so that they seemed to push any fluid to my hip area, the back of my knees, and my ankles, where she said there are lymphatic drains. And when she was done, I could see that my body looked decidedly unpuffy. My legs also felt less tired than they did when I walked in.

The test came, though, when I decided to go for a “shakeout” run with a friend that night. Normally my legs would’ve felt like lead from my trainer’s beat-down. But they were actually pretty fresh. And the next day I felt no soreness at all from either workout. When I took a Megaformer Pilates class, my legs didn’t shake or try to give out. Did I look like Gisele? No. But I did look more toned, particularly in my abdominals. So all in all, I’d say I’m a fan.

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