This is what it's like standing in a -220 degree fahrenheit chamber.
The other day while eavesdropping on a training session at the gym, I heard a statuesque trainer tell his client he recently started cryotherapy to help with his recovery. Since I was between sets—checking all of my social media pages and taking selfies—I took the time to Google this procedure. My knees had been bugging me recently, and I was desperate for any kind of relief.
The images that filled my screen showed people with their heads sticking out of machines resembling tanning beds except standing up and surrounded by fog. I came across testimonials from pro athletes like LeBron James and rave reviews from people with sculpted bodies who probably have never tasted Taco Bell's nacho fries.
It turns out that one of the hottest fitness trends is making your body think you're dying. That's how cold it gets in those chambers. Allegedly it's good for you.
In a nutshell, cryotherapy is a procedure that involves standing upright in a cryochamber with temperatures ranging from -184 F to -256 F. The extreme cold stimulates the skin's temperate receptors to activate the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. Basically, all the participating systems in your fight or flight response activate like Captain Planet characters. Any pain or inflammation is reduced. Your mood ring turns from a filthy brown to a sunny orange. And all of that happens in less than 3 minutes.
Any longer and, well, you saw Titanic, right?
I needed to see if it was worth the hype, so I paid a visit to a center recommended by a friend—Kryo X—in midtown Manhattan. Apparently one of the Real Housewives went there, and it's a block from my apartment, so why not.
After being greeted by a friendly technician, hearing about their pro hockey player clients, and getting all of my safety questions answered—it's very safe unless you're pregnant, have unmanaged hypertension, deep vein thrombosis, acute or recent myocardial infarction, uncontrolled seizures, fever, Raynaud's syndrome, cold allergy, acute kidney and urinary tract diseases, open wounds or ulcers, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or are being treated for cancer—I began my first of three treatments.
I stripped down to my boxer briefs, wiped away any moisture on my body to avoid frostbite, and put on the tube socks, mittens, earmuffs, face mask, and Ugg-like boots the center provided. Then I stepped into the cryochamber. It was kind of like walking into a very bright walk-in freezer...initially. For my first go-round, the technician took it easy on me and set the temperature to -215 F. And for three minutes he made small talk with me to take my mind of my body shaking uncontrollably. You know when Andre 3000 chants, "What's cooler than being cool? Ice cold!" He should really update that last line to "Doing cryotherapy!"
I could feel my legs quaking, my stomach tightening, and my teeth chattering by the 2-minute mark. At the 3-minute mark, I was like "Alright, alright, alright, alright, alright."
As my body started to thaw, I felt alert, and alive, and aware. It was as if someone gave me an injection of sunshine, or maybe just a really good night's sleep. Apart from all these sensations, I was most interested in how my knees felt. I do a lot of spin classes and my knees have been sore and tight lately. I did a few squats as got dressed in the changing room to test them out, and my pins felt limber and pain-free. According to Kryo X's website, after you exit the chamber, filtered blood flows back to the peripheral tissues. Now, cleaner and enriched with oxygen, nutrients and enzymes, the blood warms and enriches skin and muscles, and range of motion increases. As I walked home, there was so much pep in my step. I leaped over a puddle in the street and it was like bounding over all of the negative drama in the office where I work. That evening, I even held the elevator open for a stranger.
I didn't recognize myself.
I went back to Kryo X two more times that week. Each time, the technician Peter made the temperature colder until we got down to -220 degrees Fahrenheit. Now a pro, I earned the privilege to benefit from the built-in speakers inside the chamber during my treatment. My trembling turned into twerking as Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé blared in the chamber while I was being blasted with cold air.
After each session, I found myself in a sunny mood (or with a "runner's high") and I felt my workouts improved—I cycled faster, lifted heavier, and focused on never checking Instagram even once during my workouts.
"More research is still needed in order to fully understand the benefits of cryotherapy," says psychical therapist Jonathan DeMatteis. "But clients often tell me they feel relief of symptoms including muscle soreness, arthritis, chronic pain, and inflammation."
During one of my visits, I chatted with a middle-aged client in the waiting area who told me before cryotherapy, she and her friend could barely lift their legs due so much inflammation and arthritis. Now they come multiply times a week.
And according to research out of Poland (where cryo machines are born), findings suggest cryotherapymay actually help people with depression, anxiety, and insomnia, which would explain my elevation to Chris Traeger mood.
And even though the FDA's website says: "This so-called 'treatment' hasn't been proven to do any of these things," I would definitely do cryotherapy again. My joints are sore again and the other day I watched the elevator doors close on my colleague's face. But at $55 a session, I may need to become one of those Real Housewives or a pro hockey player first.