Freezing for Fitness: My First Cryotherapy Experience

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This weekend I pushed my body to the max. On Saturday I knocked out a killer 8-mile run, and on Sunday I tackled a full-body 1-hr. cycle + circuits workout. Both of which left me in zombie mode for the past two days, hobbling around the house, and only leaving the couch for a bowl of ice cream (or three..) Being a competitive runner all of my life, I've been sore a time or two. And we've all dealt with those brutal workouts that keep us pretty much bedridden the next day. But I've never turned to anything more than a couple of Advil and a bottle of Bengay to relieve my aching body. Well today I took a peek at this week's workout calendar and realized I've got a pretty packed schedule ahead, with no room for down time: Tuesday: 3-mile; Wednesday: 4-mile race pace; Thursday: 3-mile; Friday: 60 min. cross training; Saturday: 10k race. And since I made a pact with myself to check off every single workout of my 12-week Charlotte half-marathon training, this morning I knew I had to do something drastic to get my body moving again.

A couple of weeks ago, my Instagram fit-friend @sweatmoore told me about a Groupon special for Restore Cryotherapy, a Charlotte cryotherapy studio that was offering one 3-minute full body session for $29. First thoughts: that's almost ten bucks a minute 😮. Well considering these sessions normally will run you about $45 each, I figured this was kind of a steal and I was pretty desperate to regain movement in my struggling limbs, so why not.

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I've never experienced cryotherapy before and I'm only familiar with it as a go-to trick celebrities and pro-athletes use to either revitalize their muscles, regenerate their skin, or torch a few extra calories. But considering I wasn't on the hunt for a quick weight-loss solution or the fountain of youth, and my mission was simply to bring some life back into my body, my expectations weren't very high.

When I arrived at Restore, I was greeted with an incredibly friendly staff. Lauren, the manager, gave me a quick tour of the place and explained to me that cryotherapy is just one of the healing services they offer (next on my bucket-list: their IV Drip Therapy). We wound our way through each room as she showed me the facilities, finally ending up in the glorious cryotherapy room. Naïve little me: I was expecting to find a giant freezer, complete with stalagmites and possibly a couple of snowballs ready to throw. Well I was totally wrong. See, these chambers are chilled by liquid nitrogen vapors, with no moisture in sight, which produces a more bearable "dry cold".

Lauren then pointed me to a small room, where I would undress and suit up in a comfy white robe, wool socks, and slippers. When I returned and entered the chamber, she instructed me to disrobe and put on a pair of wool oven mitts. (See, since your hands and feet don't have as much flesh on them, they need more protection from the cold than your meatier counterparts). She then explained to me to keep my head above the vapors, and to brace myself for negative 240 degrees for three minutes. Three minutes, piece of cake.

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At first, the adrenaline and excitement of the experience practically had me dancing inside this little space pod. But then after about 10 seconds, the coldness began creeping up my body. My bravery soon fled as my teeth began to uncontrollably chatter after a mere 30 seconds. Thankfully Lauren stayed in the room to 1) keep me entertained and 2) make sure I didn't turn into a human ice cube. But after a minute in, it became increasingly difficult for me to hold a conversation, because I was more focused on the overwhelming tingling sensation in my legs. As a kid, did you ever play soccer in the winter with shorts on? Know that feeling when the rock-hard ball smacks your frost-bitten leg in the thigh? Well, that was kind of like what my legs and stomach were feeling inside this chamber.

Therefore, three minutes wasn't as brief as I thought it would be. When I reached the 2:30 mark, my excitement turned to doubt, followed by fear that I wouldn't be able to take it much longer. But just as I was questioning how tough of a cookie I really was, the machine's humming came to a halt and the vapors quickly dissipated. Time was up! And I was absolutely freezing!

I was so gracious that Lauren was already handing the robe out to me to bundle up, and as I looked out to grab it, I caught a glimpse of how bright red my lower half was (partially surprised that it wasn't Violet Beauregarde blue). I quickly hobbled back into the dressing room to cover up and within my minutes, my body started returning to its normal temperature. It was at this time that the euphoria of it all began to take place. Lauren explained to me that when we are in the chamber, the oxygen in our bodies moves towards our mid-section to protect our heart from freezing. However, when we return to normal conditions, the oxygen then flows back towards our extremities, creating this warming, tingling rush, which is so energizing and glorious at the same time. This sensation lasted for the next ten minutes or so.

When all of the feelings in my body returned back to normal, I noticed there was significantly less muscle soreness in my legs than before the treatment. In fact, I would say I only felt a remaining 25% of the original aching. I also noticed that my mood was lifted and my energy levels were soaring. (And I can't even begin to tell you how even more cheerful I became when Lauren informed me that one 3-minute session burns up to 800 calories! :) :) Icing on the cake right there.)

So the big question: will I do it again? Absolutely. I mean I might not be getting my frequent shopper card anytime soon, considering freezing yourself isn't the most enjoyable weekend activity. But I will definitely turn to cryotherapy again when my body needs an extra boost before or after a big race.