Daily Dose of Coach #391: Cryotherapy Chambers? Are They Worth It?

A few years ago, I did my first cryochamber session? It was one of the coolest (no pun intended) things I'd ever done for recovery.

In my mind, as a former athlete and current strength coach, I thought this machine was genius. Plus, one of the smartest people I knew was endorsing it; so how could this not be a fantastic tool for recovery?

Cryochambers use liquid nitrogen to quickly present the body to temperatures to negative 250 degrees Fahrenheit or below. This is done by getting into a giant cooling chamber with nothing on but socks and gloves. When you're ready, the chamber quickly fills with the liquid nitrogen, and the temperature immediately starts to drop. You stay in for around two to two-and-a-half minutes and then it's all over.

Though it's uncomfortable because of the cold, it's nowhere near as unbearable as sitting in an ice bath. This is another reason I thought this was great. I've never been able to get any farther than my knees into an ice bath, and that was miserable. Here, I was able to cool my entire body and felt great afterward

And why do you feel great? Some people who put these 50 or 60 thousand dollar machines in their facilities say it's because all the blood rushes to your heart and "superoxygenates " your blood. So you will not only feel the effects right after you step out, but will benefit from this supercompensation for hours after.

This is false.

Dr. Darry Willoughby from Baylor University says in the book, Good to Go , " It's physiologically impossible to superoxygenate the blood, because the blood leaving the lung is already nearly 100% oxygenated under normal conditions. There's no such things as superoxygenation."

But what about recovery? Do cryochambers help your muscles recover? If we're talking the pure benefits of cold, the old ice bath still seems to take the cake.

The author of the Good to Go book, Christie Aschwanden wrote, " Water is a better conductor of heat than air is, basic physics. One study found that muscles cooled even less, about -1.1 degree celsius, and concluded that these differences are smaller than you'd experience by using an ice pack or cold tub."

She concluded that the reason that people enjoyed this method of cyrotherapy over an ice tub is that it is clearly a more pleasant experience.

To conclude, there is no real research to prove that cryochambers present any of the benefits they claim, from recovery to supercompensation, to improving medical conditions.

I'm not saying don't do it. I'm a big believer in if you think something is helping you and you want to pay for it, do it. The placebo effect is a powerful thing. I've used it for my professional athletes who are here for only a few weeks of intense training (6 days a week). If they do it two to three times per week, they seem to think it helps them recover better between days.

And that feeling you get when you step out of the cylinder of liquid nitrogen? It's your body's fight or flight response. Like I told a friend of mine yesterday. You can get the same feeling if you turn your shower on as cold as possible and step in for a few seconds. When you step out, you'll get the same rush and maybe even more.

There is no doubt that these machines are really cool and sold well. With recovery spas opening up everywhere, they are accessible to most people. They are also much better for photo ops and Instagram stories than sitting there miserable in a cold tub. Just know the facts. From there it's up to you to spend $25 to $50 a pop in less than three minutes.