Amid the last decade’s boom in the post-workout recovery market, cryogenic tanks hold a particular fascination. Cryotanks are the high-tech chambers seemingly sent from the future for whole-body cryotherapy (WBC), in which the whole body is exposed to freezing temperatures – between -90 and -200 degrees Fahrenheit – for a few minutes.
There are different methods: whole body electrical cryotherapy, in which users enter a room pumped with cold air, and open face revealing head and shoulder saunas, which use liquid nitrogen to achieve extreme temperatures. According to proponents of the WBC and cryotank, both methods trigger an anti-inflammatory response in the body and have an antioxidant effect, releasing endorphins and norepinephrine. By tricking the body into survival mode, circulation regulates itself, metabolism increases, and ultimately healing speeds up, they say. Sounds like Wolverine’s hyper-restoration powers.
Manny Albano, 30, worked for the fire academy. He followed an intensive routine, training twice a day for four to five days a week for three weeks. Then the pulled hamstrings blocked it.
“I’ve tried a Theragun, foam rollers, massage, hot tub, lots of stretching,” Albano said. He made it clear that he wasn’t trying to reduce muscle soreness or improve performance – he just wanted to keep going. “I took a fitness test before the academy started, so I had to heal [my hamstrings] before it started,” Albano recalled. Cue his visit to Brrrr Cryotherapy in San Rafael, California. After ditching a fluffy robe and stepping into a nitrogen-cooled open-face sauna, the cooling began.
“It was like standing outside in cold weather if it was snowing and you went out on the deck with no pants on,” he describes. After a few minutes, during which Albano was ordered to turn for uniform exposure, it was over.
“It didn’t solve the problem, but I think it was in the right direction,” he says of his hamstrings. “My whole body felt good.” However, for him, the price was not at all exorbitant; he had a discount. It cost him $25. “It’s hard to say if I would do it again without this reduction,” he admits.
Cryotherapy is not a new method. (“Cryotherapy” by itself simply means “cold therapy” and also encompasses smaller scale methods like a plain old ice pack). People with arthritis, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis have also turned to cryogenic tanks, according to the FDA. Still, cryotanks have truly resonated as a method of hip training recovery, thanks to their top users like Lebron James, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Cristiano Ronaldo, the Dallas Mavericks, and other top athletes.
And, there’s a star-power price tag. Although there are companies like Groupon that offer deals, average sessions range from $50 to $100. Is up to $100 for a service of less than five minutes worth the chance to improve sports performance or to be able to train more frequently?
We spoke to three experts to examine this cool trend of the past decade: exercise physiologist Tom Holland, author of The micro-training program and host of the Fitness Disrupted podcast; Dr. Alex Harrison, sports performance coach at Renaissance Periodization and former member of Team USA; and Rachel Nesseth Litchfield, vice president of health and wellness clinic RISE Prime Wellness in San Diego.
Here’s how to determine if it’s worth it for you.