Cryotherapy

cryo

Cryogenics, cryosleep, they were both common technologies having been used for hundreds of years prior to jump gate travel. Ancient technologies abandoned in favour of modern methods, like so many other things in this life.

The dial reads -135°C. I’m about to step into a cryochamber, swirling with dry ice that’s colder than any natural environment on any planet I’ve been too. If I believe the hype, the next three excruciating minutes will transform my cloned body into a super soldier. My muscles will be revived and recharged, allowing me to train again sooner and harder, and I’ll achieve new peaks of strength and speed as a result. I know what you’re thinking, why not take the easy way and simply engineer my next clone to be this way from the start? The answer is simple. Earn it.

I did a punishing gym workout this morning and instead of leaving the usual three to four days before repeating my session, to test the claims I plan to do exactly the same exercises today after a visit to the cryotherapy chamber.

The reported benefits have seen athletes in increasing numbers using the icy treatment as part of their training. There have been some widely publicized results, but like so many things, I feel the need to test it myself for authenticity. And the chamber I’m about to step into is one mentioned across several news snippets.

I’m on edge, wary of the shock this is going to inflict on my body. Previously, I’ve jumped into near freezing water, and sat in cold baths, things I had researched to help me get an edge over my physical conditioning. Neither was pleasant, but those involved temperatures with a reassuring ‘+’ in front of them.

Now I’m about to spend 40 seconds at -85°C and three minutes at -135°C, dressed in special clothes to protect vulnerable areas: two pairs of socks, leggings, two pairs of shorts to insulate my vital bits, gloves, forearm sleeves and a head cover. My torso is bare.

THE HYPE

Cryotherapy is certainly increasing in popularity among professional athletes, but not everyone’s convinced it actually makes you stronger.

Randomized studies have shown cold water immersion (the ice-bath equivalent of cryotherapy) is better than doing nothing after sport because it reduced muscle soreness by 10-15%, but it doesn’t have a significant effect on other measures of sporting performance.

Research has shown that muscle power and other markers showed no real improvements that were directly attributable to cryotherapy.

It leads some people to conclude that it’s reducing subjective measures such as muscle soreness – but it doesn’t have a big effect from that.

That doesn’t fill me with confidence as the dry ice envelops me. I try not to think of bounty hunters encasing their targets in caronite and force myself to focus on those athletes who swear by this treatment. If it helps them to train harder and more often then it could work for me too.

THE RESULTS

The experience is a pleasant surprise. It’s very cold, of course, but it’s not like the body-paralyzing, breathtaking shock you get when you jump into freezing water. The plunge here is more subtle: my skin temperature falls to 5°C but it happens gradually. After 40 seconds at -135°C I start to shiver, teeth chatter, ice begins to form on my arm hairs.

After two and a half minutes I definitely want to get out, but it isn’t the frostbitten torment I was expecting. If I had the choice between this and 10 minutes sitting in an ice bath, I’d take the cryochamber every time.

During my post-cryo workout, I feel strong. I’m able to replicate my training program from the day before. However, I can also still feel the muscle soreness from yesterday and repeating the same exercises feels possible, but not really sensible. My body still needs a rest.

That said, if you’re upping your training and combining it with other suitable recovery methods (a good diet, sleep, stretching) then evidence, from my own teeth-chattering experiment and those of the sports science world, says it will help you deal with the increase in intensity.

If I had an important training goal, I would definitely use cryotherapy to speed up my recovery, but at its steep price per session, it’s more likely I’ll get my next ice edge from a five minute shower.

CRYOTHERAPY SCIENCE

Cooling off
As your skin and muscles cool, your body draws blood from the surface towards the core, taking with it waste products and the lactic acid built up during exercise.

Heating up
As you warm up after the treatment, blood returns to the surface, which has a ‘flushing’ effect on your muscles. They recover quicker and hurt less.

The result
You can train sooner and harder than you normally would.

CRYOTHERAPY ON THE CHEAP

Go from 10K to marathon
Before cryotherapy You run three times per week, with little structure to your training.

After Increase this to five runs, with one speed session, one tempo run and one long run. Use cryotherapy or take an ice bath after each of the three ‘special’ sessions to help muscles recover.

Build up your holiday body
Before cryotherapy You’re in the gym twice a week, chipping away at that six pack.

After Up this to four weekly sessions, including hypertrophy training. Try using cold therapy after each workout to aid recovery and prep your muscles for the next session.

Recover from any injury
Before cryrotherapy After an injury last season, you want to get back in the game. Fast.

After Treat old and new injuries with localized cryotherapy (ice packs or cold-therapy machines). This reduces inflammation and aids tissue repair.

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