If you're following any professional athletes these day, you've likely seen them getting their chill on in a whole body cryotherapy chamber. But does it really work and is it beneficially to athletes? What actually happens to a person in a cabinet when the temperature is lowered to colder than minus 200 degrees? I want to use this post to explain the physiology of whole body cryotherapy or WBC.
As a human being, you are endothermic. When the temperature around you changes, your body adopts various strategies to keep your internal temperature in a very narrow range. If the air around you cools down, your metabolism increases to generate more internal heat. Increased metabolism is one of the reasons that some people tout WBC as a weight loss method. If increased metabolism is not enough to warm you, your body will goad you to move. Physical activity raises your temperature. And if you won't move, your body will make you move, by shivering. But thermoregulation takes time. If you have ever done a workout outside in the winter, you know that it can take 10 to 20 minutes for your physical activity to raise your temperature to a comfortable level.
Cryotherapy works because of two things:
1) the cold in the cryo cabinet is instantaneous and
2) at three minutes, the process doesn't take long enough for your thermoregulation processes to catch up.
In effect, WBC bypasses your thermoregulation. Instead, when your body senses the extreme cold, it goes straight from thermoregulation to survival mode. While you are in the cryo cabinet, your body redirects your blood from your skin and extremities to your core, where it can warm and protect your vital organs. As it circulates in the core, the blood is enriched with oxygen, and it takes on additional enzymes and nutrients. Then, when you leave the cryo cabinet, and your body begins rewarming, the enriched blood flows back out from your core and creates a renewal effect. It does this by replacing damaged cells and eliminating dead ones. The result is the panoply of benefits I listed in the beginning of this post, as well as general rejuvenation, usually accompanied by slight euphoria caused by a rush of endorphins.
Wouldn't an ice bath work just as well? It might, but note that ice water reduces your body temperature about 25 times faster than cold air does. So an ice bath needs to be much shorter. Plus, after you exit the bath and until you get dry again, the cold will continue to work on you. It is much more difficult to time and regulate an ice bath with the same precision as WBC. An ice bath is a lot more uncomfortable and can also cause harm to your skin.
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, there are strict guidelines that need to be followed. You must have staff supervision for WBC. You must wear 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.
If you follow all that, I have very little doubt you will really appreciate and benefit from WBC. It can significantly speed up recovery, reduce muscle soreness, and increase your energy levels. I'd highly recommend you give it a try.