We have many clients who use whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) for athletic performance. But the relationship between WBC and increased fitness is not a direct one. Getting cold does not necessarily increase aerobic capacity or muscle strength. What it does is to enhance your recovery, and that speeds your increase in fitness.
Exercise in Order to Tear Down
To make sense of this apparent incongruity, you need to understand that intense exercise causes minor damage in muscles and bones.
When you stop exercising, this tissue damage begins to heal. It’s the healing process that causes bone density to increase, muscles to strengthen, and cardiac function to improve. This healing is the essence of the training effect. To facilitate the healing, your body may crave protein. (Give it a generous dose — say, a protein shake, an egg sandwich, a handful of peanuts, a protein bar — within 20 minutes after the workout.)
Recover in Order to Build Up
Exercise is a process of tearing down, while recovery is a process of building up. If you think recovery only exists so you can get out there for another workout, you have it exactly backward. Recovery is the whole point of training. Exercise doesn’t build you up or improve your performance. It only runs you down so you need to heal. It’s the healing that builds you up and improves your performance.
When you overstress your body, which is the only way to stimulate a training effect, you must wait until you heal before stressing it again. Trying to work out again before you’ve recovered from a workout can lead to overtraining, injury, even illness. But cryotherapy has been proved to stimulate healing within your cells.
Cryotherapy for Athletic Performance
A paper published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports in December 2014 reported on a clinical test of two groups of participants. Both groups 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 WBC chamber 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). Researchers measured muscle recovery by assessing the force participants were able to apply to a task with their muscles.
The researchers made these measurements at five intervals, ranging from immediately to 96 hours later. 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.
This page offers an informative video on the healing effect. That healing property is what has created such a cryotherapy bonanza among athletes. The faster you recover, the more you can work out. The more you work out, the more you can recover, and the faster you improve your performance. If you want to speed recovery from a high stakes physical activity such as a big race, book a WBC session at Peak Recovery & Health Center for about 48 hours after the event.