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Experts / December 2021
Kristen Geil, Reebok Contributor

What’s Cryotherapy Really Like?

Would you freeze your buns off in the name of muscle recovery? One writer did—here’s how that went.

I peered nervously over the rim of a giant metal cylinder, hoping it was true that the person on the other side really couldn’t see my naked body. “How long has it been?” I called out, eyeing the temperature gauge as it dropped towards negative 200 degrees Fahrenheit. 
 
“About a minute,” came the reply. Gulp. What had I gotten myself into when I agreed to try cryotherapy?
 

Basics of Cryotherapy

Ice baths? So 2000. The newest trend in high-tech recovery involves getting naked, stepping into a giant metal pod, and blasting your body with extremely cold temperatures for a few minutes at a time. Several studies have shown the benefits of cryotherapy, including a reduction in inflammation and joint pain and lessening of muscle pain. Depending on your needs, injuries or goals, you might opt for whole body cryo (inside the full-body metal tube) or localized cryo, which typically involves using a wand on the body part in question. 
 
Jocelyn Rivas can vouch firsthand for the benefits of cryotherapy for runners. The 24-year-old is currently attempting to break the Guinness Book World Record as the youngest woman and youngest Latina to run 100 marathons. As she nears the finish line of her goal, cryo has become a major part of her routine.
 
“I started using cryotherapy in 2018 when I read articles about how it helps with inflammation (which I was dealing with) and also boosts the immune system,” she says. Since many of her weekends include running back-to-back marathons, finding a recovery routine that actually worked was crucial.
 
Specifically, Rivas says, “Cryotherapy has helped me recover from shin splints and IT band issues, which I have dealt with numerous times. With just resting and icing at home, it would take me a whole week to recover. Instead, I go for one three-minute session of cryotherapy and by the second day, I feel ready to run again.”
 

What Cryotherapy Feels Like

Let’s get one thing straight: I may live in Chicago, but I am in no way immune to the cold. In fact, you’re likely to find me bundled up in a cozy sweatshirt, even on a warm day. So I approached my cryotherapy session with a fair amount of trepidation. 
 
As Alyssa Martinez, director of operations at CryoEffect, led me to a changing chamber, she gave me the rundown and tried her best to relieve my fears. “It’s better to be cold and dry than cold and wet,” she pointed out when I wondered out loud if an ice bath would have been less traumatic. And, she noted, if I was really miserable, I could always come back for an infrared sauna treatment the next day.
 
At the changing area, Martinez had me remove everything I was wearing (including jewelry) and change into a freshly laundered bathrobe, as well as CryoEffect-provided socks and slippers. This ensures that everything is totally dry—a major must in below-freezing temps. I padded out into the cryo area and sized up my nemesis: the full body chamber. All too quickly, the door opened and I stepped in, at which point Martinez took my bathrobe and gave me a pair of fuzzy gloves to put on instead. 
 
The countdown started, and a dry, icy mist surrounded me. I watched the temperature gauge drop, but I was stunned: I didn’t actually feel that cold. “This isn’t bad!” I exclaimed. 
 
Then, 90 seconds in—the halfway mark—the chill got real. I tried my best to let Martinez distract me with small talk and I started hopping from foot to foot, practicing my best boxer’s shuffle as the clock (and temperature) kept dropping. My chest and stomach felt the most sensitive to the cold, and strangely, so did my elbows. As the clock closed in on three minutes, I experienced that “pins and needles” feeling in my calves and feet. 
 
Sweet relief came when, with 15 seconds left, Martinez returned my bathrobe to me over the chamber wall. I fumbled into it just as the timer went off and the door opened, releasing me (and my trail of mist) back into room temperature. 
 

So, Does Cryotherapy Work? 

Just like Martinez promised, I felt energized and weirdly euphoric from my session in the freezer. There’s something to be said for the mental toughness of trying something you didn’t think you could do, even if it’s just standing naked in the cold. Martinez described it as “fight or flight” mode, noting that she saw many clients experience the same adrenaline boost.
 
Back in the soft fleece sweatpants I’d packed for the occasion, I walked home, noticing a knot in my quads had eased and my hips had loosened up in the chamber. Later that night, I slept deeply, another reported benefit of cryotherapy.
 
The perks of cryotherapy may be felt after a single session, but most experts recommend a regular routine of icy blasts if you’re dealing with a particular issue. “If you’re coming in for an injury, I recommend every day for two weeks and then maintenance after that,” says Martinez. “With no health concerns and just to feel better, I’d say the average is three times a week.” 
 
Rivas agrees, although her visits are fewer. “I normally go to cryotherapy three to four times a month,” she says. “I tend to go when I’m really sore from triple marathons or when I’m injured. I do two sessions pretty close to each other; for example, if I come on Sunday after a marathon, I will come back Thursday.”
 
And actually, repeat visits does make the freezing chamber a little easier to bear—eventually. Rivas, a self-proclaimed warm weather lover from California has learned a trick to make the three minutes go by quickly. “Pick a song and listen to the whole thing while you’re inside the chamber,” she says. “I normally put on ‘Whatever It Takes’ by Imagine Dragons and try my best to sing it so it can help me.”
 
Ultimately, the feeling you get after cryo is worth a few minutes of discomfort. “I see cryotherapy as a place where I’m putting my recovery as a priority,” says Rivas. “Once I’m out of the chamber, my body is ready to go again a lot quicker.”
 

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Experts / December 2021
Kristen Geil, Reebok Contributor