These days we’re so inundated with tips and life hacks, it’s tough to sift through it all to find what’s worth doing and what’s not. This blog post will attempt to do that for you with regards to a current craze: Cryotherapy. For those who don’t know, Cryotherapy is a type of cold water immersion therapy where you sit in a dry-chill chamber for up to 4 minutes in temperatures as cold as -200 degrees.
Why on earth would anyone want to do this, you ask? It’s said to enhance muscle recovery post workout and some people think it might help reduce inflammation.
There are records of cold treatments dating back to 2500 BC when the ancient Egyptians used them for wounds, injuries and anaesthetics. Cold-water therapies became popular in the mainstream sports world in 2002 when a long distance running champion attributed her success to them.
Unfortunately, the science isn’t quite there. Studies have shown no major differences in functional muscle recovery when looking at subjects who did whole-body Cryotherapy treatments following their workouts versus those who did not. Other studies have shown partial-body therapy having better results than whole-body. One study shows that muscle soreness returned to baseline in a group that did post-workout partial-body Cryotherapy treatments in 72 hours, and the non-cryo group’s muscle soreness didn’t return to baseline for 96 hours. So, with these studies in mind, something can be said for cold-water immersion therapies when it has to do with muscle soreness, but not necessarily muscle function.
This doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. It makes sense that cold therapies would help reduce muscle soreness, if you think about any time you’ve twisted an ankle or pulled a muscle, an ice pack becomes your best friend. Most gyms have a massive supply on hand for this very reason. So there’s gotta be something to the ice therapy thing when it’s to do with pain… it just makes sense. But to take it to the next level and say it can increase performance seems a little harder to believe based on current research.
A study was done comparing a group of athletic men doing an intense lower body workout twice a week for twelve weeks. One half of the group did 10 minutes of cold-water immersion therapy post-workout and half did 10 minutes of low intensity cycling to cool down. Improved muscle mass and improved strength showed in the cycling group, not the cold water group.
The bottom line: more research needs to be done to know for sure, but based on what we have now, it seems safe to say it could be a good way to reduce muscle soreness but it’s unlikely that it’s going to have any sort of major impact on your performance. So far there’s no evidence to show that Cryotherapy post-workout is any better than low intensity cycling, walking, stretching or foam rolling. So, contrary to what you may have been hearing lately, the good is you don’t HAVE to go freeze your balls off in a tank for 4 minutes to get good recovery results. But if that sounds good to you, go for it!