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The Playbook

Here’s what ice can and can’t do for your recovery

I’m always up for experimenting. Whether it’s a personal push-up challenge or dabbling with intermittent fasting, I am fascinated by the ways we can push our bodies and discover new things about ourselves. And often, I find, I’m better off because of these experiments. Of course, others have called me a sadist or glutton for punishment. But I’ve now come to recognize that I’m part of the “positive stress” movement. The theory is that periodically exposing your body and mind to stress can train you to become stronger and more resilient. So, not surprisingly, it’s been embraced by CEOs, athletes and Silicon Valley biohackers for its ability to help you power through your day and blast past your goals. Not such a bad thing, right?

One of the most popular discomforts in the positive stress world is cold therapy. I started dabbling with cold showers after hearing that lifehackers like Tim Ferriss swear by the Wim Hoff Method, which utilizes cold exposure. I’m anything but a morning person, so the shot of frigid waters raining over me is extremely effective - more potent than even the strongest espresso. But I also found that my muscles were way less sore post grueling morning workouts after giving up hot water. So we consulted some experts and gave the most popular options a try. Here’s what we found.

 

The easiest option at your disposal. Cold showers improve circulation by means of sending a rush of blood throughout the body, down to your organs to keep them warm. That helps clear away lactic acid in muscles and feed recently worked muscles. A study by London's Thrombosis Research Institute found that as the body tries to warm itself during and after a cold shower, "the metabolic rate speeds up and activates the immune system, which leads to the release of more white blood cells," which is the key to fighting off sickness. In short, they’re great for everyday and especially beneficial after training. 

* Ease into it. Start with warm water, lather up and then step out of the stream and turn the water to all-the-way cold. You’ll rinse off in the cold water, try to stay under the stream between one to two minutes at least.

There’s a reason why so many teams have an ice bath tucked into the corner of their training rooms. They’ve long been relied on to reduce inflammation, bring down swelling and soothe post-workout pain. The water hovers around 50 to 55 degrees and let me tell you, it takes your breath away as you sink in. It’s recommended that you stay in for 10 to 15 minutes. Mike Reinold, a physical therapist and the former head athletic trainer for the Boston Red Sox, says he recommends this method for all athletes. I definitely felt the soreness of a previous workout completely disappear afterwards. 

Ice Barrel, $999.99 

This is the flashiest option, which is why we see images of A-listers like Mark Wahlberg and pro athletes like LeBron James among the fog emitting from chro-chambers. Some look like a futuristic shower. Others look like a walk-in freezer. During treatment, temperatures plunge to below-freezing levels of anywhere between -166° Fahrenheit (the average temperature for an electric cryotherapy chamber) and -256°F (the coldest temperature for liquid nitrogen cryotherapy). The idea is that the skin is exposed to extreme cold that activates the central nervous system—essentially sending shock signals to the brain and boosting blood circulation when the cold is removed. One thing I appreciated was that it’s a shorter process than an ice bath. Just two minutes in the chamber was the equivalent of 15 in the ice bath. While it was a shock—and you definitely feel the cold everywhere—it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and not as painful as the ice bath. But the price of individual sessions could add up quickly and it does come with the risk of frostbite if you’re in too long, have any excess moisture on your body or don’t wear the protective gear properly.

* Restore Hyper Wellness is a health and performance studio with locations across the country that offers cryotherapy.

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