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Ice Bath or Whole-Body Cryotherapy?

Human beings are endothermic or “warm blooded,” which means we maintain our body temperature with internal heat sources. But maintaining your body temperature is not always a comfortable process, as athletes who take ice baths for muscle recovery will tell you. Wikipedia quotes champion weightlifter Karyn Marshall, who took an ice bath after the 2011 CrossFit Games: “The hardest part was the first two minutes. Others who do it often told me to just hang in for two minutes and then it would be easier. After two minutes I was numb. Afterwards I was shivering for two hours in the hot California sun with a warm up jacket on.”

The Ice Bath Ordeal

Sitting in an ice bath is so unpleasant that many athletes take it as proof that it’s good for you. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Ice water reduces your body temperature about 25 times faster than cold air does, so you should be careful not to spend too much time in it. The traditional ice bath is 8-10 minutes. Longer than 20 minutes can be dangerous, risking frostbite or hypothermia. And note that after you exit the bath, it may take some time to recover your effective operating temperature, as Karyn Marshall discovered.

But cold temperatures can resolve muscle soreness, so it’s worth looking for a way to get cold without the discomfort, inconvenience, and danger of an ice bath.

The WBC Experience

Whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) has a major advantage over an ice bath: at three minutes, the process doesn’t take long enough for your thermoregulation processes to catch up. Thus, no shivering or chattering and very little discomfort. In effect, WBC bypasses your thermoregulation. Instead, when your body senses the extreme cold, it goes straight from thermoregulation to survival mode. Your blood moves away from your skin and extremities in order to warm your core, where it receives nutrients and enzymes. After three minutes, during which you never get numb, you leave the cabinet, and your nutrient rich blood floods back from your core to create a rejuvenation effect, often accompanied by a flood of endorphins.

The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports reported in 2014 on a clinical test of WBC. Two groups of athletes did five sets of 20 drop jumps (an exercise in which you step off an elevated surface, land on your feet, then jump vertically to a preset height) with two-minute rests between sets. Ten minutes after the exercise, each participant went into a cryo cabinet for three minutes. The control group got three minutes of room temperature (69-70 degrees F) and the test group got three minutes of extreme cold (-230 degrees F). When researchers measured muscle recovery afterward, each measurement showed an increase in force as participants’ muscles healed, but the population treated with extreme cold improved more and faster, and the difference actually became more pronounced as time passed. 

Our WBC Guidelines

WBC is a safe and convenient way to take advantage of the body’s survival mechanisms to rejuvenate itself. In order to keep it safe and convenient, however, we follow certain guidelines. You will never be allowed to use the cryo cabinet without supervision. You will never be allowed to use it without wearing warm, dry slippers and gloves (which we supply). Also, we don’t recommend it for anyone with a history of stroke, high blood pressure, seizures, or infections. And you should avoid WBC if you are pregnant or have a pacemaker.

Recover safely, quickly, and comfortably. Book a WBC session to follow (within a day) your next intense event or workout.

Photo: “ice ice baby” by 19melissa68 is licensed under CC BY 2.0