I’m told that my neighborhood got more than 2 feet of snow today – yikes! Fortunately, I’m in Dallas, where it’s sunny and with temps in the 70s. But tonight, I headed to a place even colder than Boulder: the cryotherapy chamber at Cryozone Dallas.
I first heard about cryotherapy from a Daily Burn article last year. I found it to be an intriguing concept, but assumed it would always be way out of my price range. Those kinds of techniques are only for professional athletes, right? And then the rest of us can just suffer through at-home ice baths and using a wine bottle as a foam roller instead of getting a massage. But then when I saw Cryozone on the list of participating “studios” at ClassPass, I decided to give it a try.
I’ll be honest – it took several weeks of seeing Cryozone on the list of potential “classes” before I could psych myself up to give it a try. (And even then, I was asking everyone I knew if they had ever tried it and could vouch for it.) I knew there had been an incident where a woman died in a cryotherapy chamber, but I had also read enough to know that it was a technician who went into the chamber by herself without any other supervision or help, and then somehow got stuck in there overnight. From the experiences I had read online, it looked like every reputable cryotherapy place has a technician standing there talking to you the whole time, so there’s no way you could get left in one. So that part, at least, didn’t scare me.
What did really scare me beforehand was the cold. Cryotherapy chambers take the temperature all the way down to -220°F. As someone who gets cold really easily, that sounded unbearably miserable! As I left the office to head to my first evening session, I joked with my coworkers that if I didn’t come into work the next day it was because I was an icicle.
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the shopping plaza where Cryozone was located – I couldn’t even picture what a cryotherapy office would look like! And so I couldn’t find it at first – turns out, Cryozone Dallas is on the second floor of the shopping plaza in a suite of varying doctors’ offices. (There is a sign on the first floor door, but I had been looking for an entire storefront.) When you walk into the small office, there’s a desk area on the right, a waiting area (with lots of pamphlets and materials), and then two small doctor’s-office-exam-room-sized rooms straight ahead. The one on the left has the cryochamber; the one on the right has nitrogen tanks and other equipment. It was pretty low-key, which helped to put my mind at ease.
When I arrived, the office was busy – there was one girl waiting for her treatment who seemed to be a regular, and then there was a couple who, like me, were first-timers. Our technician, Hunter, walked all of us through the details and the instructions as a group. It made me feel better to have other first-timers doing it with me, but it made me feel really better that there was someone who seemed to not mind it enough to come back regularly :)
Hunter really knew his stuff, and walked us through a solid explanation of exactly what would be happening in our bodies while we were getting frozen. Here’s a recap from the Cryozone website:
“Step 1: Nitrogen gas blows into the CryoSauna cooling it to -167°F in 60 seconds. During this process, your skin’s surface temperature decreases from 93.2°F to 33.8°F, while keeping your internal body temperature intact.
Step 2: The skin reacts to the cold, and your body protects your internal organs by pushing blood to the core where it circulates. This sends messages to your brain that act as a stimulant to the regulatory functions of your body.
Step 3: As your blood vessels begin vasoconstriction and circulate blood on an internal tract, red blood cells are enriched with oxygen, nutrients and enzymes, while toxins are flushed from peripheral tissues.
Step 4: Upon the session concluding, enriched blood is pumped from the internal organs to the skin’s surface tissues, muscle tissues and joints, and endorphins are released which provide pain relief to affected areas.
Step 5: For the next three to five hours, the enriched blood continues to be flushed through your body as you experience the healing benefits of cryotherapy.”
In terms of how the session worked, you’d go into the room alone and take off all your clothes except your underwear. Ladies, underwear does include your bra, so leave that on. Then you don some provided socks (you have a choice between knee socks or ankle socks; I did knee socks my first two times and ankle socks my third), a pair of fur booties to ensure your toes stay warm, and cotton gloves to keep your hands warm. If the gloves aren’t enough, you can also lift your arms out of the chamber, since you basically just stand in it upright and the top is open. When you’ve got all those accessories on, you open the door and go into the cryo chamber, shut the door behind you, and then press a doorbell on the wall that calls the technician in to turn on the machine.
So what is it like locked in a chamber at -167°F? It is surprisingly less uncomfortable than you would think. Unlike an ice bath, where you’re submerged in freezing water, making contact with freezing air isn’t nearly as painful. The best comparison I can make is when you’re going to an outdoor hot tub in the winter (like on a ski trip when there’s snow on the ground). You go outside with a big fluffy towel wrapped around you, but then there is that inevitable moment where you have to ditch the towel far from the tub (so it doesn’t get wet prematurely) and make a run for the hot tub in just your bathing suit. The air is cold, but it’s not that bad by any means. I spent pretty much the entire three minutes at my first session telling the technician how surprisingly comfortable it was!
Once the technician turns the machine on, you feel cold puffs of air that are definitely very cold, but the technicians at Cryozone Dallas do a great job of talking to you the whole time to distract you from the cold. My first time, Hunter got me to play a rapid-fire game where he’d ask silly questions and I’d have to answer as quickly as possible. (“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” “To be able to stop time. Then I could catch up on sleep, catch up on work, and clean my house, without having to miss a second.”) All three times I’ve tried cryo, the time has really flown by, and I’ve been very surprised that three minutes have already passed. Like, so surprised that it’s over that part of me wonders if they’re cheating me on time in there ;)
Updated on April 6 to add: Cryozone has replaced their machine with a new model by Impact Cryo. The new model has a top that goes over the machine (with a cutout for your head, of course), so that more of the nitrogen gas is contained in the tank, while there is a smaller hole for your head to poke out. It means that your shoulders and arms get more of the benefits of cryo, and the whole experience feels colder. Fortunately, my technician Kelly talked to me enough that I wasn’t too miserable until the last twenty seconds… at which point, I only had twenty seconds to go, so I could just suck it up :) I actually recommend cryotherapy more now with the new Impact Cryosauna!
So to continue on that theme: after my first totally painless experience, part of me started wondering if they had gone really easy on me since I was a first timer. For my second time in the cryo chamber, the technician turned it up a bit (while talking to me and confirming that I was fine) so I was actually at 195°F. I could tell it was colder than the time before, but it really still wasn’t bad. So far I’ve been three times, and I have yet to even shiver, although I do come out with goosebumps. Honestly, it is only the last few seconds that start to get cold – it’s generally my butt and thighs that get a little bit numb. (Which is weird, because aren’t those the fattiest parts of my body and therefore shouldn’t they be the warmest??) After coming out of the cryo chamber, there’s a bit of a tingling sensation as they warm back up. And literally within just a few minutes, I feel as good as new!
…except, I usually feel better than new. Hunter told me that cryotherapy is primarily used in Europe not for the physical benefits, but for the mental benefits. Since cryotherapy stimulates the body to release endorphins, it’s often used as a treatment for depression. I can say that every time I’ve left a cryo session, I’ve been in a pretty awesome mood, no matter how exhausted/stressed I was going into it. Call it the placebo effect, but today I felt like I was pretty darn bubbly after my time in the cryo chamber! :)
As far as the physical benefits go, I found those a little harder to distinguish. But my highly unscientific test went as follows: I took Beyond’s Reform and Run class on Monday night followed by Burn Dallas on Tuesday at 5:30am, and got really sore Wednesday, which lasted all the way until Friday. So that week was my control. Then I took the same two classes the following week, but headed straight from Burn to Cryozone. (The two are only about a mile apart.) Of course the classes were different from week to week and my intensity may have varied, but I was definitely less sore the week I added Cryozone… which is why this week, when I’m pretty sore from some workouts, I made the last-minute decision to book an appointment tonight. I’m a believer!
The most conclusive benefit I’ve noticed, though, has been my resting heart rate. I got my Fitbit Charge HR in September and have worn it nearly religiously, and between September and February, my resting heart rate has fluctuated between about 50 and 55 beats per minute (lowest I ever hit is 48 bpm). But now check out what my resting heart rate has done since I’ve started going to Cryozone weekly (starting on March 9):
On the actual scientific front, though, researchers are still conflicted about the benefits. There are a lot of studies that clearly indicate mental and physical benefits of cryotherapy, but a review of ten different studies found only improvements in subjective recovery and muscle soreness, not actual functional recovery. I think there is definitely a lot more research to be done, since cryotherapy is still so new, but I don’t think that improvements in subjective recovery and muscle soreness should be dismissed! Muscle soreness is what keeps me from pushing hard at the gym (or sometimes, what I use an excuse not to go to the gym at all), so alleviating that is a definite benefit in my book. (Oh, and for my mom’s peace of mind, I’ll add that the review also found absolutely no adverse effects of cryotherapy.)
In my opinion, the only downside of cryotherapy is the price – it can definitely be expensive! At Cryozone Dallas, your first time is $20 but subsequent sessions are $75 each. I am really lucky to have Classpass, or I could never pay those kind of prices! I understand the technology is new and expensive, and I certainly don’t want them to go cheap with equipment like this, but that’s definitely too expensive for the average person. Though if you’re a marathoner who regularly suffers the pain of ice baths… maybe $75 to get the same benefit but avoid the miserable horrible ice bath would be worth it? ;)
Anyone else ever tried cryo?