Winter is Coming... For Recovery

Ok, ok, so maybe this blog post isn't QUITE as dramatic as Han Solo being frozen in carbonite, but I felt like the reference was fitting. I'm also about the gratuitous use of television and film references already used in the first few moments of this blog. 

I was lucky enough to be given a few cryotherapy sessions from the great people at Restore Cryotherapy here in Austin to give an entirely unbiased synopsis of getting frozen for three minutes and living to write about it! What a deal! 

As with anything - I'm always down to try it. But I can't say that I wasn't a little skeptical about the idea of cryotherapy. There's been mixed research on the discussion of ice baths for post-race/workout performance and recovery. This was taking ice baths to a whole other level. But I had tons of friends who had raved about the healing benefits of the freezes so, in typical fashion, I was eager to succumb to peer pressure.

I showed up at Restore and was politely escorted into the back room, where there was a changing room.  Here, you strip down to your birthday suit (or not, if you're a dude), grab a robe and some of the classiest grandpa slippers of all time.  Slip on some of your dad's old black (but very warm!) socks and you're ready to go. Oh, and don't forget to wipe yourself down. Sweat is a serious no-no, since the wetness will immediately freeze to your skin, in what I can only imagine is a severely unpleasant experience.

The cryotherapy chamber is exactly what you would imagine a life-size upright deep freezer would look like. It opens from the side and your grandpa slippers daintily step onto the frost-covered platform, convinced you'll immediately freeze to death.  Have you ever had a phobia that you might one day get locked into the walk-in coolers at a restaurant? That's exactly what this conjures up.

As you stand on the platform, some nice sadist (read: employee) slowly adjusts the platform so that just your head is above the freezing level.  It's a bit of a social experiment, to be honest, because from this high vantage point, I'm 100% and completely convinced that those down below can see me standing naked in this freezing chamber and they're just being polite.  This is completely false, also, but I calmly tell myself that boobs are boobs and this is Austin, right?

Nope, nothing to see here in the cryotherapy chamber. 

Nope, nothing to see here in the cryotherapy chamber. 

Just before the freezing begins, they exchange your warm and cozy robe for a pair of oven mitts (I mean, that's what I tell myself they are). I promptly place my hands on my chest. Here we go. Are you ready? Doesn't matter. Time to go! 

The machine gears up.  The liquid nitrogen is pumped into the chamber and the temperature lowers down into the -200F region. The carbonite slowly pours in from all sides, but you only feel a slight tingling. This isn't so bad Chewy.  Make sure you take care of the Princess.

Hmm. That's not quite right.

In reality, you spent about three minutes in the ice chamber. It pumps the liquid nitrogen in and immediately you feel a bit of a cold sensation.  As you get colder, your body begins to vasoconstrict, keeping all the warm blood around all of the key internal organs. This is the same super oxygenated blood that will be released throughout your body once you step out of the chamber - distributing all of the nutrient rich blood to your sore and tired muscles. In this insane Austin heat, it feels a little bit like sticking your face into the freezer after a hot, sweaty run. Glorious. It feels good for about a minute and then you realize it's damn cold. I've found that it helps to bounce around a bit in the chamber to keep the blood flowing in your legs.  It might also help to complain and whine a bit about how cold it is, how much you time you have left, and how much you don't like the cold. But maybe that's also just me.

In reality, the experience is pleasant. In each of the different times that I've tried the therapy, I've found that different parts of my body react differently. On my first time, I was acutely aware of how cold my hip bones were.  On the most recent, it was my arms that felt the most numb.

But here's what everyone wants to know: Does it work?

I'm a big proponent of the recovery day. I tell my athletes this constantly. Take a day off - rest - recover.  Rest days aren't meant to be days to go for a "short jog" or a "quick yoga session." Sit down.  And I think that the cryotherapy works into that greatly.  

I went in to my sessions with Restore on several different occasions:  post-workout & on recovery days.  I can definitely say that I could tell a big difference in my muscle soreness the remainder of the day and the following day. The three minutes doesn't seem very long, but I was able to feel a big difference almost as soon as I was finished. And the next day, I felt even better!  My usual stiffness had receded and I felt fresh! After the most recent cryotherapy session, I hit a new squat snatch PR of 90 the next day!  I would definitely say that that is a win. I also have it on good account (thanks for the tip Chuck!), that a dual session of the Normatec recovery boots (I can't rave enough about these1) followed by a freeze (aptly named the "Squeeze & Freeze" by Mark Goldberg) makes for one of the best recoveries. Definitely on my list to try!  

What they say about revving up your metabolism is also true! Due to a large amount of energy being used to regulate the body's temperature, a cryotherapy session can increase the number of calories burned. While I can't attest to that exact science, I can say that I was ravenous the rest of the day! A perfect way to refuel on a rest day!

Another added benefit to cryotherapy - besides the metabolic increases and inflammation reduction - is the increased quality of sleep!  I slept like an absolute baby after my second therapy session.

As with anything, I think it's important to stay on a regimen with recovery. There are plenty of benefits from cryotherapy, but I think that maintaining a schedule and going frequently is going to give you the best results. I love that it only takes a few minutes, so it's incredibly easy to schedule -even in my busy daily life!  It is definitely something that I will be adding and keeping into my recovery routine and I hope to see where it leads!

Interested in trying it yourself?

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