I’ve always been dramatic and said that I hate heat. I’m in the minority in that spring and summer are my least favorite seasons, I keep my windows open at night during the wintertime, and I’m one of those people who drinks iced coffee year-round (even when it’s blizzarding). So you’d think that locking myself into a chamber where the temperature is a cool -166 degrees F for three minutes straight—to help rehab my sore muscles that have happened as a result of working out—would be right up my alley.
Cryotherapy has been a practice that’s been around for quite some time. Immersing your body to those subzero temps could actually have some health perks beyond aiding post-workout muscles. “Some of the purported benefits of cryotherapy include a decrease in inflammation, pain relief, and improved mobility,” says Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York-based gastroenterologist. “For older patients, they may experience instant relief of chronic joint pain and improved rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Patients may also benefit from dramatic stimulation of the immune system (a boost), hormones, and nervous system, and feel increased energy.” He adds that it also aids in your body’s recovery time, as it increases muscle resistance to fatigue (hence why athletes love it). As with everything though, talk to you doctor before you make the decision to take on the chill.
With all those health perks—and the added benefit of involving the cold, my favorite—I had to hop into a cryo pod ASAP. So as I entered New York’s CryoEmpire—a super-chic wellness hotspot that offers full-body cryotherapy treatments as well as cryofacials, hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy, and IV drips (and more)—founder Arty Perlov showed me to the cryo-chamber as he explained to me what I was about to get into.
“There are different levels of cryotherapy you can choose from—it ranges from -166 degrees, drops to -184, -202, then finally -220 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s whatever you choose,” he tells me as I eye the chamber, which looks like a fat, padded refrigerator with a partial window in the front. My jaw drops when I hear these extreme temperatures—but Perlov assures me it’s not as bad as it sounds. “The way it works is that when you’re outside, your body temperature is warm—when you go inside the chamber, all the blood rushes to your body’s core,” says Perlov. “All the blood starts picking up extra oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. As soon as you come out, all that extra-oxygenated blood triggers an immediate anti-inflammatory response.”
What cryotherapy is *really* like
Now onto what the treatment really feels like. First things first: I’m instructed to strip down and wear knee-high wool socks that they gave me, clogs, a thick robe, an ear-covering headband, a mouth cover, and wool mittens. I think to myself—wow, how bad can this be? I’m wearing a fluffy robe. Joke’s on me. As my technician turns the cryochamber on—and the temperature inside quickly drops to well below zero—she instructs me to remove my robe and go in.
Drake’s blasting (because you can choose your soundtrack), I’m down to my skivvies, and I just suck up my fear and walk right in. “Usually the first minute, minute and a half, you’re chilling—it’s not so bad,” Perlov told me before. “Although the first word everyone says when they walk in is oh f**k.” He’s right about the second part, because I immediately curse out loud as the subzero clouds of air swirl around my mostly naked body.
I find myself unable to stand still. I’m jumping up and down like a child at a birthday party, only I’m not doing it out of joy—I’m doing whatever it takes to generate any semblance of heat. “The last 30 seconds, your legs get really cold and you feel it getting more intense, so you want to move around in there,” says Perlov. He’s really not kidding. My cryochamber starts at -140 something degrees and makes its way down 20 degrees over the course of three minutes, and it only gets harder to make it the entire time.
The first minute takes about five minutes (or so it seems), and the second minute feels even longer. I honestly think I’m going to have to cut out as my technician screams: “one minute left!” I tell myself that I love the cold (which I do), and that I’ll feel amazing afterwards (which I will). My mind also drifts towards workouts, and how I can always tolerate a minute-long sprint, so that means I can handle this, right?
Miraculously, I survive the three full minutes. And I somehow come out smiling and feeling great, immediately, as though I was riding high on endorphins. I’m given a cup of hot tea and taken to relax on a heated mat to restore my body’s warmth. I see in a mirror that my nose is red, as if I just went skiing, and my legs are really red too from the cold. But I feel extremely invigorated and refreshed, and I feel warm and back to normal pretty quickly.
I’m excited to walk around and see how my usually sore legs feel, and to see how I sleep. I do feel like I’m walking lighter on my legs once I leave the place, which is great. While I probably won’t be hitting up a cryochamber on the reg as a form of recovery, I can at least rest assured knowing that if I wanted to, I could.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can turn to infrared sauna heat for a serious detox. This is what it’s really like to sit in an infrared sauna session, where the temps hit about 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
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