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Amid the last decade’s boom in the post-workout recovery market, cryotanks hold a special fascination. Cryotanks are the high-tech chambers seemingly sent from the future for whole body cryotherapy (WBC), wherein one’s entire body is exposed to freezing temps — between -90 and -200 degrees Fahrenheit — for a few minutes.
There are different methods: electric whole body cryotherapy, in which users walk in to a room pumped with cold air, and open-faced saunas revealing one’s head and shoulders, which use liquid nitrogen to reach extreme temps. According to WBC and cryotank proponents, both methods kick the body into an anti-inflammatory response and have an anti-oxidant effect, unleashing endorphins and norepinephrine. By tricking the body into survival mode, circulation regulates, metabolism rises, and, ultimately, healing speeds up, they say. It sounds akin to Wolverine’s hyper-restoration powers.
Thirty-year-old Manny Albano was working toward the fire department academy. He followed an intensive routine, working out twice a day for four to five days a week for three weeks. Then, pulled hamstrings stalled him.
“I tried a Theragun, foam rollers, massage, hot tub, a lot of stretching,” Albano said. He clarified that he wasn’t trying to abate muscle soreness or boost performance — he just wanted to press on. “I had a fitness test before the academy started so I had to heal [my hamstrings] before it started,” Albano recalls. Cue his visit to Brrrr Cryotherapy in San Rafael, CA. After ditching a fluffy robe and entering a nitrogen-cooled open-faced sauna, the cooling commenced.
“It was like standing outside in cold weather if it was snowing and you walked out onto the deck without pants on,” he describes. After a few minutes, during which Albano was told to rotate for even exposure, it was over.
“It didn’t fix the issue, but I think it was in the right direction,” he says of his hamstrings. “My whole body felt good.” Yet for him, the price wasn’t exorbitant at all; he had a discount. It cost him $25. “It’s hard to say if I’d do it again without that discount,” he admits.
Cryotherapy is not a new method. (“Cryotherapy” in itself just means “cold therapy” and also encompasses smaller-scale methods like a regular old icepack). Those suffering from arthritis, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis have also turned to cryotanks, according to the FDA. Yet, cryotanks have really resonated as a hip workout recovery method, thanks to their high-profile users like Lebron James, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Cristiano Ronaldo, the Dallas Mavericks, and other high-profile athletes.
And, there’s a star-power price tag. While there are companies like Groupon that offer deals, average sessions range from $50 to $100. Is up to $100 for an under five-minute service worth the chance of upping athletic performance, or being able to work out more frequently?
We chatted with three experts to examine this cool trend of the past decade: Exercise Physiologist Tom Holland, author of The Micro Workout Plan and host of the podcast Fitness Disrupted; Dr. Alex Harrison, Sport Performance Coach at Renaissance Periodization and former member of Team USA; and Rachel Nesseth Litchfield, Vice President of RISE Prime Wellness health and wellness clinic in San Diego.
Here’s how to determine if it’s worth it for you.
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