When it comes to sports recovery and pain relief, some people are going to extremes — extreme temperatures, that is. Check almost any Instagram feed, and you’ll find friends freezing in cryotherapy chambers or basking in the heat of an infrared sauna.
But beyond serving as selfie settings, both methods are highly effective. They can help soothe sore muscles, reduce inflammation, and detox the body. The best part is you burn some serious calories on the way.
Developed by a Japanese doctor to treat patients with arthritis, cryotherapy exposes the skin to subzero temperatures for three minutes. That exposure causes blood to leave the extremities and move to the core, where the heart cleans, oxygenates, and enriches the blood.
“When the session is finished, your circulatory system is what I like to call ‘supercharged,’ with blood moving through the body at a much faster rate,” explains Heather O’Neill, owner of Cryofit Alamo Heights in San Antonio, Texas. “This helps reduce inflammation and pain, decrease recovery time between workouts, and it releases endorphins for a big energy boost.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended). Other perks include improved sleep, increased collagen production, and increased calorie burn (in the 400 to 800 range) that can last up to six hours postfreeze.
I began using cryotherapy regularly after a nasty spill on my bike resulted in bruised ribs and a sore shoulder. I’m not going to lie: It takes some getting used to at first, but the results are well worth it. My aches and pains decreased dramatically after just one session. After that first session, I was hooked.
When you enter the room, you strip down and put thick socks and gloves on. Women are told to cover their breasts with their hands, while men get a third sock for obvious reasons. You stand inside a capsule-like chamber with your head sticking out, which helps tremendously with anxiety or claustrophobia issues. For the next three minutes, music plays, and a “coach” standing in the room tells you when to turn (every 30 seconds) and distracts you with a conversation.
The price of cryotherapy ranges from $40-$65 per session. If you want to try it out, here is one of my favorite places to go.
If you just can’t brave the cold, infrared saunas offer a warmer way to reduce inflammation, while removing seven times the amount of toxins from the body than a traditional sauna.
“If you are looking for a killer detox, this is it,” says O’Neill. Unlike a traditional sauna that uses hot coals to heat the air, producing a dry, intolerable heat, an infrared sauna exposes the skin to far, near, and mid-infrared waves. By penetrating the skin at three levels, infrared heat helps the body purge up to 30 percent of its toxic load at a more bearable temperature. “The infrared sauna gets very hot, but it’s a comfortable heat,” says O’Neill.
Like cryotherapy, the sauna is an excellent way to reduce inflammation, and it too burns an insane amount of calories — up to 600 in 30 minutes! Research has shown that an infrared sauna is an excellent way to help prevent high blood pressure and improve heart health. Perhaps that’s because it’s incredibly relaxing and an excellent stress reliever.
“It hits all the ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the body, increasing dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins,” says O’Neill. O’Neill adds that it’s just as popular among busy moms who want some me time, as it is among athletes.
The price for infrared sauna ranges from $20-$30 per session. Here is one of my favorite spots.
For my workout recovery, I like to combine the two, using cryotherapy the day before a long run or bike ride, and going to the sauna the day after an event. Clinical trials have shown that cryotherapy is very useful in alleviating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. There is less research on infrared saunas as a treatment for joint pain, but early research is very positive.
“Both are excellent recovery tools for the body,” says O’Neill. “It really comes down to a matter of preference.”
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